Looking back, I can say with certainty that we rose to the challenge.
Like other entities all around the globe, the National Security Research Center was tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a young organization (we celebrated our second anniversary in June 2021) and one that is critical to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s national security charge, we faced the difficult task of continuing our mission-essential work while keeping our staff safe.
The NSRC is one of the largest libraries in the United States, and it houses the country’s most-comprehensive collections of nuclear weapons-related national security material. The NSRC contains millions of documents, films, photos, and other materials on the development, testing, and production of nuclear weapons. These are accessed on a daily basis by scientists, engineers, and researchers at Los Alamos and other National Nuclear Security Administration’s labs and sites, as well as partners in the Department of Defense.
It was not an option for us to close our doors — our nation’s security depended on us not to. Not only did we continue operating under new safety protocols, we successfully accomplished many pre-pandemic goals. Thanks to the NSRC’s dedicated staff, our accomplishments during our second year are too numerous to list, though two in particular come to mind.
The NSRC stood up seven high-speed digitization labs to make one-of-a-kind nuclear weapons materials from the past accessible to today’s researchers. Standing up a lab is no small endeavor; it is a lengthy project that requires researching industry best-practices, hiring new staff, and implementing new equipment. Creating these labs is absolutely critical to weapons-related mission work at Los Alamos. Millions of hard-copy media are transferred into electronic formats so they can be more easily searched, accessed, and stored, which negates the need to recreate the information, saving vast amounts of time and even more money.
Notably, the newest of these labs was in partnership with the Weapons Production directorate in support of the Lab’s pit production work — a critical endeavor entrusted to Los Alamos to increase the country’s plutonium-processing and pit-manufacturing capabilities. (Pits are part of nuclear warheads. Aging plutonium, security advancements, and other factors mean that pits eventually must be replaced.)
As our growth in materials preservation continues to increase, so too does our role in creating new ways to share information. The NSRC is expanding into book publishing — although we are in the early stages, we already have four titles in the works that range from a coffee table-style book on Los Alamos Nobel laureates to the history of the H-bomb. These books are based on the photographs, data, and other materials that make up the NSRC’s collections.
It’s hard to believe that the NSRC’s second year was just as exciting as our first and, I have to say, I couldn’t be more optimistic for the continued growth and new endeavors that our third year already promises.
Director, National Security Research Center