SAN FRANCISCO - The nation's top nuclear weapons design lab has laid off hundreds of workers, raising concerns about a brain drain and stirring fears that some of these highly specialized scientists will sell their expertise to foreign governments, perhaps hostile ones.
Because of budget cuts and higher costs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory laid off 440 employees May 22 and 23. Over the past 2 1/2 years, attrition and layoffs have reduced the work force of 8,000 by about 1,800 altogether.
According to a list obtained by The Associated Press, about 60 of the recently laid-off workers were engineers, around 30 were physicists and about 15 were chemists. Some, but not all, were involved in nuclear weapons work or nonproliferation efforts, and all had put in at least 20 years at the lab.
Some lawmakers and others said they fear the loss of important institutional knowledge about designing warheads and detecting whether other countries are going nuclear.
Also, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the layoffs at Lawrence Livermore and two other big U.S. weapons labs represent "a national security danger point." These unemployed experts might take their skills overseas, Feinstein said.
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