When a high school counselor recommended that Dave Eyler consider going to college at the U.S. Naval Academy, that’s exactly what he did. “I liked the idea of serving the country and getting a good education at the same time,” he remembers. “I didn’t know anything about submarines, but traveling around the world was definitely going to be different than my hometown of Monroe, Michigan.”
Eyler went on to spend 29 years in the Navy. In 2018, he was hired to lead the Weapons Production associate directorate at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Eyler is responsible for the 1,300 employees who develop and produce plutonium pits; nonnuclear weapons parts, such as detonators; and other national security components, including those for deep space missions.
Here, Eyler talks to NSS about his time at the Laboratory.
What drew you to Los Alamos?
Los Alamos has a certain gravitas and history. And it’s in a part of the country I’d never lived in before. Like the Navy, the Laboratory is national security–focused. The work is really interesting. I’d worked around nuclear processes, nuclear facilities, and explosives my entire life, but Los Alamos is different in that here we’re actually manufacturing with plutonium and manufacturing explosive components.
What’s a strength of Weapons Production?
There are a lot of hardworking, dedicated people who are figuring out how to work at different stages of production. I’m seeing people learn from each other about how to manufacture, how to make process improvements, and how to scale up.
For example, in the Detonator Production division, we’re producing at scale. In the Plutonium Facility, we’re ramping up production in the heat source arena for NASA and other customers. When it comes to plutonium pit production, we’re in the development phase, proving our processes. A lot of people believe that we’re only thinking about pits. I won’t deny that we think a lot about pits. But we do a lot of other things that are important, too. We need to keep them all in balance.
What is the Laboratory’s biggest strength?
Our technical expertise. There’s a lot of brain power here. Our other strength is leveraging that expertise and using it to advance the interests of the United States, from a national security perspective and in other scientific areas. When it comes to nuclear materials, you can do things at Los Alamos that you can’t do anywhere else. It’s a very dynamic and interesting place to work. Is it hard? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Yes. But nothing worthwhile is easy. The people who work here are here because it’s a really worthwhile mission.