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Remarks of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman

Senator Domenici, thank you very much for being here and for that kind introduction. As I’m sure everyone here would agree, it’s terrific to have such a strong advocate for this Laboratory – and for the DOE National Labs in general – in the United States Senate. We appreciate your support.  I’d also like to thank and acknowledge Under Secretary Brooks and Director Nanos for being here today and for their fine leadership. 

Most importantly, I thank all of you – in this auditorium and watching around the site – for participating in this session. I want to use this time to hear from you . . . but first I thought it might be useful to tell you a bit about myself and share a few observations. 

Let me start off by saying that I consider it to be a personal and professional honor to have the chance to work with you. The Department of Energy, with its critical national and economic security missions, is one of our nation’s most important federal agencies. And this Laboratory embodies our mission.  From maintaining our nuclear stockpile, to critically important work in the area of nonproliferation, to breakthroughs in quantum computing and nanotechnology, you are applying the very best science and engineering to some of our nation’s most vital and sensitive national security, environmental and energy-related challenges. 

As some of you may know, I was educated as a chemical engineer, and I started my career as an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I went on to work as an executive in both the finance and chemical industries. Most recently, I had the opportunity to serve the American people alongside the dedicated and talented employees of both the Commerce and Treasury Departments. But throughout my career, I like to think that I’ve retained the perspective of an engineer. And so, I must admit to being a bit in awe of the scientific excellence and historical significance that Los Alamos represents.

So, perhaps you will permit me a brief digression . . . Long before I knew that I would have the opportunity to lead this extraordinary department, I read and was quite influenced by the book The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. I’m sure that many of you have read this Pulitzer-prize winner. Rhodes discusses in some depth the progression of science in the first half of the last century; he then examines the forced march approach to developing the chemistry, physics and engineering required to create an atomic bomb – much of it done right here at Los Alamos, as you well know. Perhaps most interestingly, Rhodes provides detailed insight into the personalities and values of the creators of modern science.

Among the brilliant scientists portrayed in the book is Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Bohr, who spent some time here at Los Alamos in the mid-1940s, came to see the atomic bomb through the lens of his legendary theory of complementarity . . . believing it was a device that could at once unleash sheer devastation and ensure peace.   The great Robert Oppenheimer (first Director of Los Alamos) came to share Bohr’s hope that the bomb could be an instrument of peace as well as destruction . . . he, like Bohr, thought that the supremacy of this technology required “an enormous change in spirit” in relations between nations, even adversaries.  He said: “when I speak of a new spirit in international affairs I mean that even to the deepest of things which we cherish, and for which Americans have been willing to die . . . even in those deepest things, we realize that there is something more profound than that; namely, the common bond with other men everywhere.” 

Whatever our personal views on the topic, one of the things that Bohr and Oppenheimer taught your predecessors here at Los Alamos – and, I believe, can teach us to this day – is that science has consequences. It may sound like a simple idea, but it’s worth reminding ourselves. Research has implications beyond the quest for and accumulation of knowledge. Some outcomes are miraculously positive: saving lives . . . improving our health . . . ending wars . . . and transforming economies. Yet some have the potential to cause great harm. Does the fact that scientific advancements may be used for catastrophic ends mean that we should not pursue them? Of course the answer is no. But, we must be aware of potential consequences and carefully consider them. 

In other words, as world-renowned physicists, chemists, biologists, materials scientists, and computer scientists, you embody both vast opportunity and great responsibility. Your responsibilities stretch beyond your commitments to intellectual rigor and ethics. You have real responsibilities to society. It is a public trust that we as a nation place in our scientists . . . and one that is well earned. And those of you who work here at Los Alamos – who have dedicated your careers to public service – have an enormous burden of responsibility and opportunity that is shared with your many distinguished predecessors.

Our nation counts on you for great science. But it also counts on you to safeguard our nation’s most precious scientific information. Information that must be protected from disclosure to ensure our collective national defense. In addition, you have a fundamental responsibility to protect yourself and your fellow workers from harm so that you can continue to provide the valuable science for which this great laboratory is known. Let me be crystal clear here: In my view, it is unimaginable that one can separate scientific excellence from security and safety here at Los Alamos. I expect that safety and security are integral to what you do and how you do it. 

No matter the temptations – scientific or otherwise – we must never lapse into complacency. Complacency is sometimes built into the standard way of doing things. In my experience, complacency is the enemy of safety. In recent years we have seen a few cases here and elsewhere throughout the Department of individuals becoming complacent – or disregarding security and safety rules, for whatever reason. As a result, we have lost output at of some parts this laboratory for more than six months. Neither DOE nor Los Alamos can afford this, nor can our country.

To be sure, you have overcome some significant safety and security challenges . . . but other problems remain and must continue to be addressed. In my view, these challenges are shared by all of us – by me, by the leaders of the Department and NNSA, by the University of California, by Director Nanos, and by each and every person who works here. When we take this seriously and personally, which I do . . . when we focus on safety, security, and compliance, which I do . . . we are enabling a successful future for this Laboratory. And, we are helping to ensure the future security and scientific advancement of our fellow citizens and our nation.

Before I conclude, I do want to address one additional matter. When I take your questions, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specifics of the ongoing competition to manage Los Alamos . . . but let me say the following. As I have said to Chairman Domenici, I am committed to a fair and open competition process that maintains – or even enhances – the scientific capabilities at this Laboratory. Your input in this process is important, and I know that there are issues that you are concerned about, particularly with regard to pensions and benefits. I look forward to working together to reach a solution that treats you and your colleagues fairly, that advances the mission of this Lab, and that is responsible to the American tax payers. I believe we can achieve that. 

The bottom line – on this issue, on the safety and security concerns, and others – is that this laboratory continues to confront some long-standing challenges. I am aware of the fact that I am the fourth Secretary of Energy who has come out here in recent years to talk with you about them. These are serious matters, and I intend to take them seriously. But I also want to get beyond these challenges –I would like to be here while you lead Los Alamos into a new era. I know that you do as well. I also want to hear from you . . . and I will value your input [EMAIL: the.secretary@hq.doe.gov].   At the end of the day, we must work together to come up with solutions, to do the right thing – even when it’s difficult, and to move on. 

So there you have it. If you will permit, I would like you to view me as one of your colleagues. I believe my record and my approach to this job will – over time – earn your respect. I would like to think you will be pleased. This Department started 60 years ago on this very spot. It is not random that I’ve chosen to come to New Mexico first. 

To me, you are the true explorers of our society . . . people who are energetically pushing us forward into the unknown – to better, more prosperous, safer and more secure days ahead – yet ever cautious of the path you are forging. That is how I see you. And that is how I see this Laboratory and this Department. That is how I hope that the American people view us and the work that we do here. I commit to you that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the people of this Lab receive proper credit for what they have done, are doing, and will do in the future. In return, I would ask for your commitment to work with me to find solutions to our common challenges and to move us forward to a future of many more breakthroughs and successes. 

I thank you for your time today. And again, I thank Senator Domenici for joining us here.