Two Bay Area national laboratories to close if government shutdown continues

Nathaniel Solley/File

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Two national laboratories in the Bay Area are set to furlough employees and halt research operations by Oct. 21 if the government shutdown remains unresolved.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — the second-largest employer in Alameda County behind UC Berkeley — is set to close along with Sandia National Laboratories, also located in Livermore. The furlough would affect roughly 6,500 and 1,000 employees at the two labs, respectively. Both labs conduct research and development in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation technologies.

In a statement released Friday, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, said, “The 7,500 employees at risk of being furloughed … are among the best scientists and researchers in our country, and through no fault of their own they face the possibility of not receiving their paycheck at the end of the month.”

Swalwell, along with 10 other members of Congress from California including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sent a letter Friday to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz requesting back pay for furloughed laboratory employees after the shutdown is over.

Oct. 1 marked the beginning of the government shutdown due to an impasse over the federal budget.

Sandia spokesperson Michael Janes said the lab is in the process of developing contingency plans around the possibility of “a safe, secure and orderly shutdown of the labs.”

Previously appropriated funds from government contracts will allow Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, located in the Berkeley Hills, to remain open and operational, Berkeley lab spokesperson John Weiner said. The Berkeley lab employs an estimated 4,200 researchers and support staff.

Weiner said in an email that the lab is analyzing how and when programs and operations will have to adapt, adding that if the impasse over the federal budget is prolonged, impacts to research and employees would be “unavoidable.”

Peter Nugent, adjunct professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley and senior scientist at the Berkeley lab, confirmed the lab will stay open as long as funds from existing contracts are available.

“For most divisions, this (goes) into November or December due to carryover,” Nugent said. “Then all bets are off.”

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, another national lab in the Bay Area that employs more than 1,500 researchers, will also remain open past Oct. 21.

At a town hall meeting held Sunday in Livermore, Swalwell addressed more than 200 employees from the two labs in Livermore.

“Not only will the labs’ cutting-edge scientific research be put on hold during a furlough period, our national labs could face an irreparable brain drain as our bright young scientists opt for the private sector,” Swalwell said in a press release.

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected].