27 August 1997 Link to Jessica Glicken's Sandia Labs assessment

24 August 1997

For an inside view of Sandia Labs see: http://jya.com/whpfiles.htm

See also the NY Times August 18 report and editorial (below) on test-ban treaty violating nuclear weapons work at Sandia

The New York Times, August 22, 1997.

The Private Sector Life Of a Government Lab

Drumming Up Business to Survive in a World Without Cold War

By Claudia H. Deutsch

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company wanted to predict, without weeks of test drives, how its tires would perform under various conditions. So it went to the Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., for help. "Their computer models show how a nuclear weapon will react to different conditions, so why shouldn't they show how a tire will react?" asked William Sharp, president of Goodyear's global support operations.

A Federal weapons laboratory might seem an unlikely partner for a tire maker, but with the cold war over and military spending shrinking, Sandia is putting out the welcome mat to private industry. And American corporations, which have emerged in this era after downsizing as far more willing to turn to outside sources, are lining up to tap into its technology storehouse.

They are using Sandia to develop new manufacturing processes, to run what-if simulations on new products, to solve environmental problems. In the process, they are helping Sandia move beyond its once singleminded focus on the arms race.

For example, a consortium of 17 casting and forging companies, recognizing that few young engineers were joining the industry, asked Sandia to help it simplify software so that employees who were not engineers could create and test new casting equipment. "None of us have the time or money to do this ourselves," said Robert B. Kervick, chief executive of Komtek, a casting company in Worcester, Mass.

And Motorola asked Sandia to run reliability tests on computer chips without using the standard chemical cleaning agents -- the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the atmosphere's ozone layer. "Customers feel more comfortable buying a product whose reliability is verified by a Government lab," said James F. Landers, a manager in the Space and Systems Technology Group of Motorola.

For Sandia, the money pouring in from its corporate partners helps keep many of its 7,642 employees -- about 800 fewer than two years ago -- gainfully employed. But the real winner, Sandia insists, is the American economy. "National security starts with economic security, and that means helping our industries compete," said C. Paul Robinson, Sandia's president.

Sandia (pronounced san-DEEuh), which has operations in Livermore, Calif., as well as in Albuquerque, is not the only Energy Department lab sounding that theme. Although documents emerged last week indicating that some of the labs, including Sandia, are still hard at work on new or modified designs for nuclear arms, private-sector projects are nonetheless occupying an ever-larger share of their time.

Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore -- the heart, lungs and brain of the Manhattan Project's atomic bomb and its progeny -- all have been accelerating their industrial endeavors since 1989. That was when Congress removed many of the legal impediments that had kept them from transferring intellectual property or licensing technologies to private industry. Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, which is grappling with environmental problems caused by the leak of radioactive tritium from a research reactor's storage tank, is looking to commercialize its medical and environmental technologies.

In the last eight years, the labs have written more than 3,000 Cradas -- the acronym for cooperative research and development agreements -- that spell out who pays for what, and how the results can be used. Some call for companies to foot the entire bill in return for proprietary rights to anything that is developed. But more typically, the labs chip in some cash, retain the rights to the resulting technology and give the corporations that contributed several years of free, exclusive use.

The Federal labs, even when shrouded in secrecy, have always intermingled with industry. Many of them have been managed by private corporations -- under contract to the Energy Department and its predecessors -- for several decades. Sandia, for one, was run by AT&T for nearly 44 years and is now managed by Lockheed Martin.

But while all of the labs are devoting more time and resources to projects in the private sector, the effort seems most crucial at Sandia. Unlike Oak Ridge, which has always been a multipurpose energy lab, Sandia's raison d'etre has always been the arms race. And Sandia, which designs the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, also is responsible for stockpiling spare parts, and for maintaining the existing supply of nuclear weapons. So, unlike Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos which design and develop nuclear warheads, its duties have not lessened much with the end of the cold war.

Even so, Sandia's operating budget is slowly being whittled away. It was down almost $50 million this year, to about $1.28 billion, and Sandia expects it will drop to $1.1 billion in 1999. And a lot of those cuts have come out of the-money available for use as matching funds for industrial projects. In 1995, Sandia got about $100 million from the Government for those purposes, it received $56 million last year and $20 million this year. Warren Siemens, Sandia's director of technology partnerships, doubts it will rise above that again.

"Apparently, Congress has said, 'Oops, this is corporate welfare,'" Mr. Siemens said.

So, while most of the laboratories are looking for ways to apply their existing technologies to corporate use, Sandia is the most willing to develop new processes for industry, with the hope that the companies will cover most of the costs.

Right now, for example, Sandia is working with a consortium of electronics companies on a project to miniaturize certain types of semiconductor chips to handle 30 times the functions they typically do now.

It is collaborating with numerous manufacturers on ways to cast tools directly from powdered metals. And it is encouraging industry to tap into its supercomputer -- a machine that Sandia says is 300 times as powerful as Deep Blue, I.B.M.'s chess playing champion -- not only to answer questions about products and processes but also to suggest what questions should be asked.

"We hold the record for speed of computing," Mr. Siemens said. "We have great strength in microelectronics, and these are exactly the areas companies look to for help in making products more reliable."

Progress in persuading industry to chip in has been slow. Five years ago, about $9 million of Sandia's funds came from industry. Last year corporations provided $27 million. But Mr. Siemens thinks private financing will hit $35 million this year and soar to $100 million by 2000.

And Sandia wants more from industry than simply money. Since it can no longer afford to hire many new researchers, it must rely on industry to keep abreast of new technologies.

Moreover, industrial projects often have implications for the military. "It's a lot cheaper to maintain an air force whose planes need less rebuilding or repairing," said Gernant E. Maurer, vice president of technology for the Special Metals Corporation, a maker of nickel-based superalloys that is part of a consortium working with Sandia to develop defect-free alloys for engine aircraft.

Similarly, weapons and satellites are loaded with semiconductor chips. "Our nation's defense systems rely on semiconductors, and it would not be great if they had to buy all those chips from overseas," said Chris Daverse, manager of national resources for Sematech Inc., a nonprofit research consortium of semiconductor makers and equipment suppliers, which has signed on for numerous projects to develop lower-cost production methods and contamination-free chips.

Sandia's new reliance on industry comes at an opportune time. Companies have grown more comfortable with the idea of outsourcing all kinds of tasks, so letting outsiders work on their research is not as radical as it would have been in the do-it-yourself 80's. Moreover, many have formed strategic alliances with suppliers and competitors, making companies less averse to sharing their technologies with others.

"The thinking is, it is better to get half the rights to a product that is first to market, than all the rights to one that comes in late," said Mary L. Good, a former Under Secretary of Commerce who helped set up a project among the auto industry and several national laboratories to develop a fuel-efficient car.

If repeat business is a sign of satisfaction, the corporations that have tried it clearly believe they have received their money's worth. Goodyear, which has completed four cooperative projects in which it used computer modeling to predict how different tread designs and materials would perform, just signed on for its fifth Sandia project. It is aimed at analyzing and improving rubber processing technology.

A deal between Delphi Saginaw Steering Systems, an arm of the General Motors Corporation, and Sandia to develop better finishing processes for auto parts has metamorphosed into a Detroit-wide project to develop electronic controls for industrial heating and hardening processes.

"We'll save tens of millions just by eliminating destructive testing," said James M. Farago, Delphi's supervisor of controls engineering. "And we're going to get better insights into the materials we use."

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Emulating the Corporate Role Model

While Sandia is becoming the prototype industrial research lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratories is looking more like a corporation.

Until last year, the huge operation in Tennessee was managed as one entity, comprising a basic energy-research laboratory, a factory that made components for nuclear weapons and a plant that reprocessed enriched uranium. Now, it has split into three operations, each managed by a separate Lockheed Martin group: the research lab is courting divers projects with universities and industry; the weapons plant is using its manufacturing and machining expertise for industrial projects, and the uranium processing plant is working on environmental clean-ups.

Industry seems to like the specialization. Fewer than 100 scientists from outside the Government used to visit Oak Ridge's operations each year. Today, there are 4,500, at least a third from industry. "We made ourselves more user-friendly," said Alvin W. Trivelpiece, director of Oak Ridge.

Oak Ridge has worked with the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company on ceramic filters and with the General Motors Corporation on catalytic converters. The lab is also applying its genetics expertise to the pharmaceutical industry's attempts to isolate the functions of specific genes.

Companies that pick up the full cost can also use much of Oak Ridge's equipment on their own. Sematech did that to analyze when in the chip-making process a defect might have been introduced. "Even if we're paying 100 percent," said Chris Daverse Sematech's manager of national resources, "we're getting access to unparalleled technical resources." _________________________________________________________ [Box]

Opening Closed Doors

Many of the country's national laboratories were set up during or just after World War II as part of the nuclear weapons program. Fifty years later, the labs are still involved in weapons research, but many are also teaming up with companies in the private sector to do research with direct commercial applications.


Albuquerque, N.M. and Livermore, Calif. Founded: In 1949 to engineer nuclear weapon components, Currently: Research includes modeling stress on rubber tires, analyzing the reliability of microchips and designing sophisticated software for non-engineers


Argonne, Ill. Founded: In 1946 to develop nuclear reactor technology, Currently: Research includes developing new drugs, studying how adhesives. catalysts and fertilizers work and developing sensors to detect harmful gases.


Upton, N.Y. Founded: In 1947 to develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy. Currently: Research includes analyzing the structure of matter, conducting medical imaging that uses radioactive isotopes and mapping the human genetic code.

Idaho Engineering

Idaho Falls, Idaho. Founded: In 1949 to develop the technology for nuclear power plants, Currently: Research includes developing sensors that detect weapons more effectively, cleaning up polluted land sites and designing robots to work in dangerous environments,

Lawrence Livermore

Livermore, Calif. Founded: In 1952 to develop nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb. Currently: Research includes mapping the human genetic code, studying climatic change and developing processes to detect carcinogens in food.

Los Alamos

Los Alamos, N.M. Founded: In 1942 to develop the atom bomb. Currently: Research includes working on a project with Amoco to simulate how oil moves and reacts underground, designing transformers that use superconductivity technology and simulating the stresses on concrete used in roads.

Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge, Tenn. Founded: In 1943 to provide enriched uranium for the atom bomb, Currently: No longer produces uranium. Its research includes developing materials for uses in high-temperature environments, developing radio isotopes therapies and studying nuclear fusion.

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The Cost of Cutting-Edge Research

The Federal Government spends billions of dollars a year on the national laboratories, With the cold war over, though, some of the labs have lost support, while others have managed to justify increased spending.

Fiscal year Change from 1997 Federal fiscal year 1996. financing in millions

Los Alamos $981.9 + $31.8 Sandia 910.6 - 42.6 Lawrence Livermore 820.7 + 109.1 Idaho Engineering 451.5 + 10.1 Oak Ridge 432.3 - 54.7 Argonne 363.3 - 42.6 Brookhaven 334.5 - 25.0


[Three photos] A technician tests a thermal coating device developed in cooperation with General Motors at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., top. The auto maker uses the device for coating aluminum cylinder blocks with steel; Sandia uses it for coating weapon parts. During the 1950's, the labs were solely focused on building components needed to win the arms race, above. A technician at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, Ruth French, works on an array of wires for use in fusion experiments.

[Map] Based in Albuquerque, Sandia is not far from Los Alamos, where the atom bomb was developed.

The New York Times, August 24, 1997

No Need for Better Bombs

The surest way to improve America's nuclear security in the post-cold-war world is not by developing ever more effective nuclear warheads of our own. It is, rather, by pressing for deep cuts in Russia's poorly guarded nuclear arsenal and by halting the further spread of these weapons, especially to rogue states. Yet the Energy Department and America's nuclear weapons labs are now engaged in a nuclear weapons upgrade program that will make both of these vital arms control objectives harder to achieve.

The problem comes from a misuse of the $4 billion-a-year stockpile stewardship program. President Clinton approved the program to shore up Pentagon and Energy Department support for the nuclear test ban treaty he signed last year.

The Administration sold the program to the public as a way to guarantee the continued safety and reliability of America's nuclear weapons stockpile through advanced computer simulations and other techniques without the need for actual nuclear weapons tests. But its obvious appeal to the military and weapons scientists is that it assures that the nuclear weapons labs will remain open and their bomb designers employed.

So long as the stewardship program is confined to maintaining existing weapons, it does some good and little harm. But documents made public last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council indicate that the Energy Department sees the program as a way to develop designs that add to the power and precision of existing weapons or even to develop entirely new warheads. President Clinton must redirect the program back to its original, more modest goals.

Using the stewardship program to upgrade weapons by computer simulation would not violate the test ban treaty. The treaty simply bans all weapons tests involving nuclear chain reaction explosions.

But it would significantly reduce the chances of Russia's parliament approving the major nuclear arms reduction treaty that is now before it. That agreement, signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and George Bush in January 1993, would cut the number of permitted Russian warheads by half and completely eliminate land-based multiple warhead missiles, the cold war's most dangerous weapon. Russian nationalists can be counted on to resist any paring of Moscow's nuclear arsenal if Washington pushes ahead designing bigger and better bombs.

The bomb improvement program also reinforces the arguments made by countries, like India, that claim that non-nuclear nations should only be obliged to restrain their ambitions to the extent that the nuclear powers move to limit their own arsenals.

Mr. Clinton must resist any impulse to please all sides in this argument and come down firmly on the side of the arms control agreements America needs far more urgently than it needs improved nuclear bombs.