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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Federal bureaucracy stifling science in Livermore

Uploaded: Mar 15, 2012
The big science that has flourished for years at Lawrence Livermore National Lab is being strangled by stifling federal bureaucracy. That was the message delivered to a Congressional hearing last month by a number of former lab directions, including retired Livermore directors George Miller and Michael Anastasio (who also directed the sister Los Alamos lab in New Mexico).
The labs have a dual mission of ensuring the nation's nuclear weapons deterrent remains viable without testing it as it continues to age as well as to pursue big science—most notably energy solutions.
Strangling the labs scientific endeavors is the National Nuclear Security Agency that was set up in 2000 to oversee the labs as part of the Dept. of Energy. To the directors as well as other independent examiners, it has been an abject failure—-sucking resources away from vital programs to satisfy bureaucrats seeking to justify their professional existence.
The irony is the nation has invested billions building the National Ignition Facility—the world's largest laser, where researchers hope to demonstrate they can capture the energy of the sun (fusion) this year. If they succeed in generating a fusion reaction—something researchers have pursued since the 1960s—then it opens the door to potential commercial power plants powered by fusion.
Those are at least 30 years away—the same 30 years fusion researchers have been citing for the past several decades as the problem continues to prove way more difficult to solve than they imagined.
The lab already is embarking on the technology necessary for a commercial power plant with the goal of staring construction within a decade. The Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE) is the program to take what's happening in the giant laser facility and make it work second-to-second in a plant that produces electricity. It's quite an immense engineering and physics challenge, but those are the ones that the talented folks there relish—if the bureaucrats would just focus on what's important and let them get on with their work.

Rory Frink checked in from his family's new home in Rwanda (they are missionaries from Livermore) and flew to Africa last week.
The seven Frinks were stuck at check-in for 90 minutes before personnel sorted things out. The good news was the baggage fees were waived saving a good chunk of money. They arrived to a big greeting with 20 church members at the airport in Kigali.
They've settled in and already started ministering while trying to adjust to a 10-hour time difference. Rory related in an email how Pam was meeting with a woman on their front lawn while he was upstairs playing worship songs on his guitar.
Pam asked him to come down and pray for the woman, Ruth, who is HIV positive and has two children. She is worried about their future depending upon her health to say nothing about a house that is falling down.
Rory wrote, "I was singing, 'All who are thirsty, all who are weak, come to the fountain and dip your heart in the streams of life.' When I got to the part of 'let the pain and the sorrow be washed away in the waves of his mercy' something in me broke as the song took on a whole new meaning in light of seeing the condition of this woman."
Her condition—living with AIDS or carrying the virus—is way too common in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The disease has ravaged young adults in many countries, particularly in Swaziland, where I volunteer with Heart for Africa.
In a country of 950,000 people (down from 1,050,000 10 years ago), there are an estimated 200,000 orphaned and vulnerable children—no one knows the true number. The grim situation testifies to the impact of the virus in a country where the traditional culture has accelerated its spread.
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