Luján, New Mexico lab directors cheer more money

·3 min read

Aug. 13—The billions of dollars in federal money made available to New Mexico's two national laboratories will fund science programs not related to nuclear weapons but are vital to the country's security, the labs' directors said Friday.

The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law this week, will create a huge funding stream that Los Alamos and Sandia national labs can tap for research into climate change, sustainable energy, quantum computing, nanotechnology, carbon capture and biomedical studies.

The new law will also fund infrastructure improvements to support the sciences at the labs.

Although Los Alamos lab's primary mission is to ensure the country's nuclear arsenal is safe and effective, the other research endeavors have a vital role in national security, lab Director Thom Mason said at a news conference Friday.

"The preeminence of U.S. science and technology is part of our deterrent," he said, speaking at LANL.

Mason joined Sandia Director James Peery and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján in discussing how the law will benefit the labs.

"CHIPS is good for our country, good for New Mexico and good for our national labs," Peery said. "It will fund advances in microelectronics and groundbreaking initiatives in energy and science."

Such investments in semiconductor development, the labs' infrastructure and technology transfer will keep America at the forefront of innovation, Peery added.

The purpose behind CHIPS was to help the U.S. to better compete with Asia in developing and producing microchips and to eventually regain its dominant place in the world market.

A key CHIPS' fund is $17.7 billion for the U.S. Energy Department's science and innovation efforts. Of that, $16.5 billion is will be used to strengthen research and development, including at national labs.

Luján said he and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., drafted a similar amendment earlier, but it was removed.

It later was put into the CHIPS bill in the final stretch before it was passed in the Senate.

"It's one those days where long-term work pays off," Luján said. "It makes a profound difference for the state I call home, and these two national labs that are crucial, not only to New Mexico but to the United States."

Luján noted that the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the U.S. House on Friday, will help fund infrastructure improvements as well. Overall, about $14.7 billion in infrastructure money will be made available to the labs.

One Los Alamos facility that could benefit is the linear accelerator, which produces medical isotopes that treat tens of thousands of patients each year.

The money also could be used to upgrade the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, a facility Los Alamos and Sandia jointly operate and could contribute to microelectronics work.

Other funding provisions include $250 million for

clean energy innovation and

$975 million for the Microchips and Energy Innovation Act. Los Alamos and Sandia will have to compete with other national labs across the country for funding.

Mason said they are up for the challenge. "We thrive on competition," Mason said.

Luján said enacting this law was important because, ultimately, funding drives innovation.

"We would not have GPS if it was not for these kinds of investments," he said. "And we all benefit from that."