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The State

UC Names Administrator to Head Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab

Weapons: Michael R. Anastasio gets post after security concerns arose about earlier candidate.

June 05, 2002|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The University of California on Tuesday named Michael R. Anastasio, a senior administrator at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as the new director of the nuclear weapons facility.

The decision to appoint Anastasio, a veteran Livermore employee who has served recently as its deputy director of strategic operations, came a month after the university abruptly dropped plans to appoint another candidate.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose department contracts with UC to run Livermore and two other national laboratories, raised concerns about the earlier candidate's supervisory role at the Los Alamos lab during the controversy surrounding lab scientist Wen Ho Lee. Lee was once suspected of espionage at the New Mexico lab, but was never charged with that allegation.

On Tuesday, UC President Richard C. Atkinson praised Anastasio, 53, as a top scientist and able administrator who will make a superb director of the Livermore lab, which is near Oakland.

The position is among the most sensitive in the national security bureaucracy. The appointment of Anastasio, a 22-year employee of Livermore, comes at a particularly sensitive time, in the wake of Sept. 11 and against the backdrop of the U.S. war against terrorism.

Anastasio, a theoretical nuclear physicist who is considered a national leader in the safe stewardship of weapons, said he would testify in Washington next week before a congressional committee studying how to safeguard the nation's nuclear stockpile.

But in a news conference, Anastasio also alluded to Livermore's increasing role in counter-terrorism research, noting that the government turned to the lab for help during the anthrax scare last fall.

Anastasio said he was not troubled that he was not the first choice for the job. "My focus is forward and how to lead the lab," he said. "That's what I'm putting my energy into."

He also said he hoped to continue building the relationships among the nation's often competitive nuclear laboratories, especially with Los Alamos.

The Livermore laboratory and Los Alamos are the nation's two largest nuclear weapons labs. UC also manages the Lawrence Berkeley lab, which does not perform weapons work, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The labs' directors are chosen by the university's president, in consultation with the Energy secretary and approval of the university's regents.

Last month, the university dropped plans to name Ray Juzaitis, a senior administrator at Los Alamos, as director of Livermore amid questions about his role in supervising Lee, once suspected of spying for China.

Lee, who was held in solitary confinement for 275 days, ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling restricted data and was sentenced to time served. He denied being a spy and alleged that he was singled out because of his Chinese ancestry.

Juzaitis was found to have had little to do with the Lee affair and a selection committee chose him for the Livermore job from a field of 40 candidates.

Still, Abraham raised concerns about Juzaitis' personal connection to Lee. A scheduled vote by UC regents was put off at the last minute and Juzaitis later withdrew, a UC spokesman said.

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