On January 31 of this year, I resigned from a permanent, highly paid, classified position in the Stockpile Stewardship Program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. I went to LLNL believing that I would be useful in helping to dismantle nuclear weapons and in disposing of their deadly byproducts. That was my desire. Instead, very soon, I found myself expected to work on the maintenance of nuclear weapons. When I realized that within the Lab, environmental or nonproliferation work was but an illusion, I decided to resign. My conscience simply does not allow me to work for the development or maintenance of nuclear weapons. I believe that if a foundation or institution is corrupt you must wash your hands and withdraw from it. Today I would like to tell you my story.
I was born and raised in Rethymno, a city of Crete, one of the many beautiful islands of Greece. My ancestors were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I learned from them my first lessons, that “Science without virtue is immoral” (in fact it is a fountain of evil!) and that I should know myself. I received my Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1990. Since then I have spent my career as a chemist in two national labs, in industry, and in academia.
After receiving my Ph.D., I began my search for a job. I was invited for an interview by Amoco in Naperville, Illinois and was impressed that they had a limousine to bring me to my hotel. That is called corporate luring. There were other interviews by Dow Chemical and by Dow Corning in Midland, Michigan, and by some other smaller companies around Ann Arbor. A trip to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LLNL) to interview for a post-doctoral position was fascinating. First of all, the landscape was extraordinary. I had never seen the sky so big and blue, and the unique green color of the little green that there is there. During this trip, I also met Dr. Gregory Kubas, whose work in sulfur dioxide and hydrogen had fascinated me when I had read his papers before meeting him. His unique combination of child-like character and great intelligence made me think for the first time in my life that it is possible for an educated man, especially in the sciences, to still maintain a child-like heart even at the age of 50. I felt that I could work with him forever.
Next there was a fellowship announcement from the Michelson Laboratory in China Lake, California for which I applied by writing a proposal on organometallic cadmium and mercury species, although I knew nothing about their use for night-time war plane sensors. At that time, we had taken out a lot of loans because I was a graduate student and my wife was only working part-time in order to take care of our two small children. I thought industry could provide the best solution to our financial problems. Also, getting into academia was not easy at the time even though I had excellent letters of recommendation. I received two offers from my applications and to my amazement both were post-doctoral government jobs. From Michelson laboratory I received pamphlets with warplanes on the covers and I lost any desire to do basic research for them, so I did not accept their offer. I finally had no choice but to accept the LANL offer with Dr. Gregory Kubas. I was glad because I liked Greg very much as a person and as a scientist. The work was purely basic research with no connection to weapons programs, but I had no idea what the future would hold for me eight years later because of my association with Los Alamos National Laboratory. Looking back I know now that these purely academic projects are sustained in order to lure young scientists into the national labs. I heard this in plain language one Thanksgiving afternoon, sitting around the table with senior weapons scientists: “We need new blood to carry on our weapons research; we need new post-docs in purely basic research”. It was not a surprise that at that time a post-doc in academia was making around $18,000/year, but at Los Alamos National Lab I started with $35,000, certainly good bait to attract new scientists.
We arrived in Los Alamos in the summer of 1990. The family settled and I started working. My working experience with Dr. Gregory Kubas was the best I have ever had. But the system was not working. Despite his continual efforts to obtain a hood for me, I never got one during my entire stay in Los Alamos as a Post-Doc. I did all my work on the bench with a vacuum line and I breathed a lot of organic solvents and sulfur dioxide, an extremely noxious gas. I had to use glassware that other researchers were using for radioactive chemistry, even though I myself was not working on radioactive chemistry. One day I left the door of my lab open in order to be able to breathe when a staff member passing by said: “Close your doors, don’t you see the sign?” I did not argue because I already knew that she did not have much sympathy for those below her, especially for foreigners. I had talked about this with a lab-mate from another country and he had felt the same way.
Someone suggested that I work in a nearby hood, but I did not take their advice because radioactive waste was stored there. A few months later, I noticed a spill on the floor next to that hood and I talked to my roommate. He brought a device and found that it was radioactive. He called the decontamination service and they came and put yellow ribbons around the area until they cleaned it up. Technical area 21 (TA21) in Los Alamos was as old as the first atomic bomb. One day the room where basic research was done on radioactive elements was flooded because of some failure overnight. Our desks were in rooms next to rusty drums holding radioactive waste. No one would speak because everyone was hoping for a staff position. The work environment was totally unacceptable even though there was much talk about safety. In addition to all the other problems, almost every time I wanted to run a reaction, the cooling water system was down. I could not do much work. Eventually I left, with only one publication.
During that period the Iraq war was going on, and seeing the insanity of the action, I wept at my desk, hiding my eyes from my roommates because I was embarrassed. At that time, I could not connect the mission of the national labs with the brutality of the war. I accepted an offer from Dow Corning in the spring of 1991 and left LANL. During my two years with Dow Corning I lived in the place of proprietary information and secrecy for profit. The breast implant issue was on the news almost daily and the word about bankruptcy and likely layoffs was going around, and in fact they did file for bankruptcy later after I left. I realized that everything there was done for profit and not for the wellbeing of humans. The vision of the company was to put a deodorant in the hand of every African and Asian citizen. I was shocked to recognize their plans while at the same time they talked about integrity. By then, I was really disappointed about being a chemist. I was providing my skills to immoral science, helping the company make profits at the expense of the uneducated public.
At that point, we decided to go back to my native country to be closer to family and to give my daughters the opportunity to become more familiar with their roots, their second language, and their grandparents and relatives. My wife and I taught at the University of Crete for two years, which we enjoyed greatly, even though the salary was quite low according to American standards. Eventually, after 2 1/2 years, we decided to come back to the USA, however, because we missed living in a multicultural society where open-mindedness and original thought were more common. After having lived in the U.S. for fifteen years at that point, I had grown used to that aspect of life here.
I used my previous connection with Dr. Kubas and I obtained a six-month contract as a visiting scientist at LANL. I did basic research on hydrogen chemistry, and published a paper. The working conditions at this time were many times worse, even though I now had a hood. After another radioactive flooding incident, they began demolishing radioactive rooms in the building we were still working in. After the six-month contract period, I would again be without a job. At that time, I had an interview with the Nuclear Materials Technology Division and I was offered a contract job to evaluate data on the chemistry and properties of plutonium-containing residues produced at Department of Energy nuclear weapons production facilities during the cold-war era. This was the so-called “94-1” project. My official work assignment was: “Work on defining storage criteria for actinide materials and residues. This work will include, but will not be limited to, adsorption/desorption phenomena, kinetics of gas solid reactions in actinide materials and possibly include theoretical modeling of the above.” Formally I belonged to the Pit Disassembly Team in the Weapons Component Technology Group, NMT-5, but my work was strictly on environmental issues. I was given a security clearance because it was more convenient to be inside the plutonium facility than outside.
When I was hired for the 94-1 contractor job, two technical people, Dr. Dove and Mr. Hawk interviewed me. Mr. Hawk told me that Dr. Dove was a very good actinide chemist and that he would be my mentor. From Dr. Dove I was able to learn very quickly the special chemistry of the project. Dr. Dove was extremely knowledgeable about actinide chemistry and a very meticulous scientist with integrity. I had fun working with him. With Mr. Hawk, I hardly had any technical discussion because he was more interested in running the program than dealing with its technical aspects. After several months, I was shocked when Mr. Hawk told me not to talk to Dr. Dove anymore and that he did not want Dr. Dove’s name in the reports anymore. I had the sense that if I did not obey his command, I could lose my job overnight. It made me think about many things. I continued writing my reports. One day Mr. Hawk came into my office and when he saw me working on a graph he commented, “So you are doing some science!” From a few conversations that I had with him, I could see that he was not aware of the basics on the project as Dr. Dove was; in fact he seemed to care only about seeing the project go his way, no matter what the facts were. We frequently had meetings at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque with DOE representatives, and in these meetings I was asked to give presentations. Several times, I was asked by Mr. Hawk to present falsified results. In order to avoid telling lies, I delayed my arrival at the meetings. When I talked to a man from a different DOE site about my problem, I could see that he understood but he could not do anything about it. I could see that the whole project was led by a small number of people driven by personal ego and politics. The DOE people from headquarters seemed knowledgeable and wise, but the DOE people from Albuquerque appeared to be driven only by ego. Several times in these meetings the exchange of words between these groups became explosive and preposterous.
I was working in a windowless basement room with two other people. Dr. Victim was a post-doc working in the plutonium facility and was doing work in the steel boxes. One day it happened. He forgot about a tiny opening for a few seconds and that was it. He inhaled a small dose of radioactive material and was brought to the hospital by the group leader for treatment that night. It was on the local news. Dr. Victim was fired within one month and was gone: contaminated and without a job. I never heard of him again. The contaminated room had to be cleaned up quickly, before it spread to other rooms of the building. Teams of people from our group were formed to go in and clean it up. They took turns because it was dangerous to stay for too long. I kept getting e-mail messages urging me to participate but I had made up my mind not to because I was not trained and I had never gone into these rooms before. They told me that they would train me within hours but I kept silent. The next day I heard that someone had fallen from a ladder and had been contaminated. That made me more determined not to participate in the cleanup effort. Because of the contamination, all the computers and some very expensive instrumentation had to be disposed of. The culture was such that it made you think that if you were not a hero in the cleanup effort, you would not have a chance to get a staff position. One night at about the same time in a different building, there was a large explosion followed by fire. It was said that if people had been around they would have been killed. Apparently because of the extreme secrecy of the project involved, samples had been mislabeled and put in the wrong ovens.
The rumors at this point were that money for environmental work was not coming in and that I could be without work overnight. We had just bought a house and my wife had only a part time job. I was advised that my chances for work would be much better if I would be trained as a radioactive materials handler and start working in the plutonium facility. I could see where I was going but felt that I had no other choice. Once again, it was like being in hell. I took all the training in order to be able to work in the boxes. After many hours of training, I was astonished at the deception. The reading materials that every worker had to read and be examined on stated that radiation is just like the sunlight; in fact airline stewardesses could get higher doses than plutonium workers could. But if this was true, why had there been such a commotion after the little accident with Dr. Victim?
I started working in the plutonium facility. I could not believe how I had found myself in that position, having to handle radioactive waste in a place worse than hell because of the hundreds of regulations about safety and security concerns. I was in a state of despair. I started believing that I was getting physically sick and I had panic attacks that I would die. I could not talk to anyone, not even to my wife, because I did not want to make her worry. This went on for months, until my many efforts to secure a staff position had failed. In one way I was relieved; on the other hand, I was again in a state of nowhere to go. I had applied to every college and high school in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and even in Albuquerque. I could not get hired in public school because I did not have teaching certification. I had only one offer from a community college in Albuquerque with a very small salary. We decided we could not afford to make ends meet with that salary and we would have to move to a place we really did not like. My team leader came to my rescue when she told me that someone in Livermore was looking for a chemist and that I should write to him. I did. I was given an interview and I was offered the job after a few weeks. I would have a starting salary of $7200 per month, a one-time hiring bonus in the amount of $10,000 payable within 30 days of my start date, and the best benefits you could get. I was never told what I would be working on and I assumed that it would be similar to what I had been doing in Los Alamos, working in the environmental area. When I was writing my cover letter I wanted to state the code number for the job and I called the Lab. I got the code # and I went on the web to read the job description. I saw that it was not really environmental and it was not a good match with my background, so I called again and expressed my concern. I was told that it did not really matter because the Lab was planning to change the description anyway, so I assumed that all this was just a formality and that I did not have to pay much attention. But when I arrived, I soon realized that I was working in the Stockpile Stewardship Program, maintaining the nuclear arsenal. What exactly is the DOE Stockpile Stewardship Program? Here are two quotes that show very clearly the aggressiveness of the program and its incompatibility with the nuclear weapons nonproliferation treaties signed by the USA government:
1) The Department of Energy will ensure the safety, security and reliability of the enduring stockpile, without nuclear tests… through the vigorous implementation of the integrated Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program, a scientific and technical challenge perhaps as formidable as the Manhattan Project.
— Testimony of Dr. Victor Reis, (former) DOE Assistant Secretary of Defense Programs to the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 19, 1997.
2) Our tools under stockpile stewardship are working so well today that we are not only able to certify safety and reliability… but we are also able to meet new military requirements. — Interview with Undersecretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in Air Force Magazine, February 2000.
The Stockpile Stewardship Program has many facets, one of which is to analyze the aging processes of the materials used in nuclear weapons, such as high explosives, uranium, plutonium, organic materials, and polymers. I belonged to the Chemistry and Materials Science Directorate, to the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering division and to the Weapon Materials Compatibility and Aging Group (WMCA). I was trapped once again. During the first months I traveled to several DOE production-sites, I met many people, and I did a lot of reading; I found myself again in a state of despair. By the end of the year, I was asked to write proposals for the Stockpile Stewardship program and that was it. I knew I would never do that. I started looking for a different job, perhaps in environmental or nonproliferation work. My supervisor, a very good person, could see my struggle and I was told that I was free to decide to either stay with him or look for a different job. I remembered his words during my interview: “If it turns out you do not like the job, there are many other opportunities here at the lab.” It was at about that time that he came in my office and told me that effective immediately I would have a 4% salary raise. At that moment I felt that I had to finish the “story.” I started to feel pressure to begin writing the proposal for the new fiscal year and I started talking with a colleague. That colleague told me that he had gone through the same struggle but that eventually he had convinced himself that working on weapons was for the benefit of humanity. I told him that I could not do that. When my supervisor came back I told him that I wanted to find a different job and that I did not want to do nuclear weapons work. He said he had to talk to his superiors because he had never experienced a case like this. He came back, very strict this time, telling me that I was hired to do a particular job and that if I refused, I would be on my own. I was told that I would have a hard time finding a different job at LLNL. Now the statement: ” If it turns out you do not like the job there are many other opportunities here at the lab” did not match with the way I was being treated.
Several days later I was approached again and I was asked if I had any family problems. I said I had no family problems but I had to find a different job. Now my supervisor sat down and told me step by step what would happen to me after he initiated the process. He asked: “Do you know what you are doing? Do you realize what you are doing? Do you really want to do this?” I responded in a very calm way that I had made my decision. I left and went home. I told my wife what I had done. She asked me: “But you said that you would wait until you find a different job; now what will happen?” My reasoning was that if I could not do the job I was expected to do, I would not have the support from my supervisor to find a new job anyway, so why I should wait? To ease her distress I went into the house and I called my supervisor to ask if we could talk again the next day. He had left for a trip and I could not reach him. This time was perhaps the most agonizing time in my life to this day. The next day, 9/15/99, Dr. Leader, the division leader came to my room first thing in the morning, closed the door, and asked me the question: “Do you want to work on nuclear weapons?” “No,” I said. “I came to do environmental work.” He left without a word.
On 9/20/99 my supervisor was back from his trip. He explained to me that going to Employment Between Assignments status (EBA) would not be good for me. A week later he came to my office again and he said that for security reasons I had to move the next week into a cubicle on the first floor, and in October I would be supported by his program only 45%. After October, zero support. I asked how I would be supported. He said: “It will not be my problem; management will look into that.” He also said that someone from AVLIS, (the recently terminated Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation program) without a job wanted to work on nuclear weapons and that he would take my place. In a conversation I had with a colleague, I asked why such an over budget was observed with the NIF project (National Ignition Facility). The answer was so clear. He said: “To secure funding you ask for less than what the project will cost; otherwise you will not be funded. After you start and a lot of investment has been put in place, then you ask for more. Most likely they will not refuse because they do not want to waste all the money that has been spent.”
Down in the cubicle I started having interviews with people from different divisions, but I soon realized that I was fooling myself. I realized that all work in LLNL is directly or indirectly related to weapons. At the same time, I spoke out at two public hearings, one about mandatory polygraphy tests planned for lab employees, and one about the National Ignition Facility (NIF), where I publicly resigned, calling LLNL a place of insanity. The next day it was on the air through KPFA, a Bay Area radio station. The polygraphy tests were planned for 13,000 workers across the DOE complex. After the outcry of a few scientists, they finally decided that only 800 people had to take the test. That reduction from 13,000 to 800 was additional proof to me that something very wrong was going on at my work place, not to mention that some months before we were brainwashed by many hours of lectures given by FBI agents that Dr. Wen Ho Lee was a great spy. Immediately after that, a culture of mistrust fear and terror was placed around everyone. We had to turn our computers off for many weeks, both classified and unclassified computers, and they were giving us lectures everyday about security. Again, after my own investigation from outside sources, I concluded that this man was most likely being used for some purpose I could not understand at that time. But I did find a huge report, the Cox report: “U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY/COMMERCIAL CONCERNS WITH THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA”. I looked at it and I could not understand why there were people spending their time writing all these volumes, http://www.house.gov/coxreport/pdf/gen.pdf. It became obvious to me that the purpose of the report was nothing else but to demonize China. Then I started wondering why a Chinese scientist was accused as a spy even without any evidence of espionage. I could not understand the logic of anything taking place around me. I realized I was working in a mad place. Later on at my press conference in San Francisco, the local Chinese TV channel 66 took me aside at the end of my speech in a different room and asked me what I thought about Lee’s case. I told them that I didn’t think this man should not be in prison. He must be released immediately. The same night they broadcast our conversation.
I was also interviewed by National Ignition Facility (NIF) managers and scientists during my search for a different job. In a conversation with one of them, I asked him about the rumors that there are serious technical problems with the NIF project. He said, yes there are but we are working on them. Again I could not understand why a multibillion project was given the OK while even its own scientists were not sure that it would work. During my search for an environmental position, I was trained for a day and was asked to work on a project that had to do with the verification process for documents about the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. I experienced a very hostile environment and I quit after a few days.
On January 13, I found a note on my chair telling me to go and see the division leader. I will refer to him as Dr. Leader here. That day, I was planning to submit my resignation letter to the lab director’s office. I took that letter, along with the open letter I was planning to give out to the press, and I went to see Dr. Leader. He was nervous and didn’t seem to know what to say. I waited. After some effort he hesitantly told me that they had seen me on the local TV news a few days earlier and the way I talked they thought that perhaps I had family or personal problems because I seemed excited while speaking. Dr. Leader said that they had decided to ask me to see a counselor. In fact he said that the lab has a policy that if one of its employees talks about the end of the world then he should see a counselor. I asked him if that was a suggestion or a mandatory request and he said it was a suggestion. I told him that I rejected his suggestion and that I did not have any personal or family problems. In fact, I told him that since I had decided to resign, my family and I were happier than at any other time. Dr. Leader could see what I was talking about, but he was a man of the system. He had to follow orders. I forgot to tell him that many scientists love to have Einstein’s picture on the wall of their offices, but that according to their policy, if Einstein was working today at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, they would suggest that he go and see a counselor. Einstein did, in fact, talk about the end of the world many times. Before I left, I did not forget to place in Dr. Leader’s hand the Russell-Einstein manifesto.
I also gave him the open envelope with my letter of resignation for the director and I asked him to read it because after that he would not have any more concerns about me. He read it and said that it was clear. I asked him if he would like to hear my open letter and he agreed. I read all 8 pages to him. At the end, to my amazement he again asked me to see a counselor. And in a very subtle way I was warned that it would not be a good idea if I would be speaking out. This warning was not from him personally; it was rather a friendly reminder that seemed to say, “What can we do? An invisible hand is on the top of our head and we must not speak the truth otherwise the hand might eliminate us.” I was also told at that time that the peace movement would take advantage of me and bring me troubles. Next I delivered my letter of resignation to the Director’s office.
The next day at about 4:00 PM I again found a note on my chair, this time from Dr. Leader himself, not his secretary, telling me to go and see him. He told me that I had to move my things within an hour, and to give him my badge, and that he would walk with me until the gate. We had a very nice conversation for about ten minutes, and since I could see that he was nervous and afraid, I told him that he did not have to be afraid of me. But I also told him that in the future, most likely, they would call someone else crazy. That person, without a job and perhaps without a family, might not be as kind as I was. I explained to him that no matter how much security they had within the lab, an angry man could find his adversaries anywhere if he really wanted to. I concluded that in view of the current policies of the lab and in general of the nation, the future would bring an increase of violence. I told him that I had resigned for that very reason. If national labs build more powerful weapons every day, then the only thing they bring to smaller nations and to the world is fear. Fear brings violence and I do not want to be a part of it. In a few minutes I was outside of the concentration camp, the prison of scientists, where scientific principles are used to build the grave of humanity.
I began working with my new friends in the peace movement, and on February 16, we held a press conference in San Francisco, where I released to the media my Open Letter to the Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, explaining the reasons for my resignation.
The letter is also an appeal to every secretary, technician, custodian, scientist, engineer, and any other person whose participation supports the world war machine to withhold their skills from weapons work and from activities that support or enable weapons work. I also made three specific recommendations:
(1) Establish informed consent hiring practices at national weapons laboratories and all other scientific/military establishments.
(2) Stop bringing high school and college students into the weapons labs.
(3) Encourage and help scientists to withhold their skills from weapons work.
Since my resignation I have been poor but happy. We do not know how we will make ends meet, even together with my wife, teaching in four different colleges. But I believe that I have found my calling: to inform scientists and the public about the deceptive ways new scientists are lured into weapons work; to remind people that nuclear weapons are the perfect tool for humanity to commit suicide; and to call on each person to do his or her best to prevent that from happening.
At this time, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Jackie Cabasso executive director of Western States Legal Foundation and the rest of the staff for their caring and professional support during my difficult times. They have been like brothers and sisters.
I encourage the scientists of every nation to join positions where their work uplifts humanity instead of destroying humanity. After all, it would be to their advantage to stay away from secrecy. Very interestingly in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal of November 3, 2000 titled, “It’s No Secret. This Is a Bad Bill,” R. James Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993-95 speaks in this way regarding jobs behind the security fence: “If you were formerly in the government, remain silent about such issues. If you are already in government, consider a mid-career change to get away from classified material before you expand your exposure any further. And if you are trying to decide about beginning a career or accepting a stint in government, think again.”