picture of Charles McMillan

Because of our storied history and because we help to safely and securely maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent, Los Alamos is sometimes seen as only a nuclear weapons laboratory. This perception is far from accurate. Los Alamos is a national security science laboratory.  The Laboratory provides the government with the science, technology, and engineering needed to help solve many national security problems. Readers may be surprised to learn that Los Alamos is engaged in the following:

  • Researching affordable biofuels to lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
  • Understanding climate change and its national and international ramifications.
  • Studying the outcomes of natural- and human-caused disasters so the nation can better prepare for events such as hurricanes,  floods, and acts of terrorism.

Readers may also be surprised to learn that the Laboratory is working to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The spread of nuclear weapons, particularly to terrorists, is—according to President Obama—“the single biggest threat to U.S. security” in “the short term, medium term, and long term.” The Laboratory can help prevent nuclear proliferation and deter nuclear terrorists. Its experience in designing and engineering nuclear weapons gives it the capability to help find others intent on doing the same.

This issue presents three articles on the Laboratory’s wide-ranging nonproliferation work. The first article is about our nuclear crime laboratory. If an act of nuclear terrorism occurred, our nuclear forensic scientists would help to quickly identify those responsible for the weapon. This capability acts as a powerful deterrent. 

The second article reveals that Los Alamos trains the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, who raise the alarm if nations with nuclear power, like Iran, covertly try to develop nuclear weapons. The Laboratory also provides the science and technology behind the IAEA inspections. And many of our staff members serve stints as IAEA inspectors— a tough job, sometimes carried out in hostile environments, with enormous truth-seeking responsibility.

Finally, an article highlights the consequences of nuclear stockpile reduction. Eliminating nuclear weapons leaves behind their plutonium pits, which are a proliferation risk. The United States is storing thousands of pits that must be safeguarded and disposed of, consistent with international treaties. The Laboratory is the only U.S. facility equipped to destroy these pits and is already doing so. Readers may find what happens to the plutonium afterward both surprising and ironic.

So while we maintain the nuclear deterrent, we are working just as hard to reduce the worldwide nuclear weapon threat. I know you will enjoy this issue of National Security Science.

Charles McMillan digital version

Charles McMillan,
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director







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