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Interview of Alan Schriesheim by Catherine Westfall on 2008 December 19,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31871
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Alan Schriesheim obtained a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic University in New York and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Pennsylvania University. After a long career at Exxon Corporation he was appointed director of Argonne National Laboratory, where he served from 1983 to 1986. This interview focuses on his successful effort to bring the Advanced Photon Source to Argonne.
This is Catherine Westfall. It’s December 19, 2008. I’m with Alan Schriesheim. So, as I understand, you had a long career at Exxon before you were Argonne director, but where did you get your original schooling? Did you go right out of graduate school into Exxon or what?
I have a Bachelor’s degree from what was then the Polytechnical Institute of Brooklyn. Grew up in New York. I have a Ph.D. degree from Pennsylvania State University. Following that, I had a two-year, well I don’t know, post-doc you might say, in what was then the National Bureau of Standards. In 1956, I went from the National Bureau of Standards to what was then Standard Oil of New Jersey. I was at Standard Oil of New Jersey, which became Exxon, and then Exxon Mobile until 1983. I held a variety of positions, starting out as a research chemist, and along the way I ran their central basic research operation, and I finally was in charge of all of their engineering throughout the world. Along the way, I published a lot of papers. I had, I think, almost 60 publications by the time I was 30. I gave a lot of talks and won a lot of awards.
22 patents, I understand.
22 patents. I don’t think any of them made any money for Exxon, but 22 patents. I became an executive, so I ran a lot of different things. I finally wound up as a senior executive, but always in the research and development operations.
Yes, and it says that your Ph.D. was in chemistry.
My Ph.D. was in physical organic chemistry.
In 1983, I accepted, essentially, the directorship of Argonne National Laboratory. I’d been on advisory committees at Argonne. I’d been on advisory committees at a lot of different places. Google me and you’ll see it all. So in 1983 I came out to Chicago, and Walter Massey was the director of the laboratory. I became senior deputy director with the agreement with Hanna Gray that I would become director of the laboratory. Gray was then the president of the university. So six months later I was Director, and stayed Director until 1996. I’d like to say that I was not the longest serving director; I was the longest surviving director.
It’s a really unusually long tenure for an Argonne director. The usual shelf life of an Argonne director is 3-5 years so far.
3-5 years. I think I may have been the only director at that time in the whole Department of Energy (DOE) circuit to have come out of industry.
Yes, I’ve read that you were the first national laboratory director to be recruited from industry.
Well, I never made a study of it, so that could very well be true.
It was interesting times. When the Reagan administration started in the ’80s there was talk of shutting down the national laboratories, and I know that my friends at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory were terrified. David Shirley says terrified is the word he uses that LBL would be shut down. And I found out the day before yesterday from Ed Temple, who of course was at DOE at the time, that he heard that, of all the national laboratories, Argonne was the weakest link (weakest link was the term he used), so there was a real feeling that if DOE got pressure and had to shut down one lab, it would be Argonne. Also, coincidentally, Temple was part of the leading edge of a movement within DOE to have greater project management, expertise, and metrics. According to him, one of the things that the Office of Energy Research, that part of DOE, wanted to do was to make it so that the projects were managed properly enough to protect them from the financial pressure that was coming down through the comptroller in the DOE and, of course, the Office of Management and Budget. So that’s the some of the background I know. Also, by the way, at one time I had a delightful conversation with Walter Massey, very short but very interesting. He was obviously very passionate about putting Argonne on a more secure footing. I’m just wondering, when you came, why did you come? What did they tell you about what was needed? What’s that story?
Well, I came because at that time in my career I’d spent 27 years at Exxon. I had achieved a high level position, and in ’83, the industry was going though one of its usual bouts of lower oil prices and so forth and so on and there didn’t seem to me to be opportunity beyond the job that I currently had. So I poked around, without going through all the details, some interesting job offers. One from Armand Hammer who ran Occidental Petroleum. Anyway, Ed David, a friend of mine who was Nixon’s Science Adviser and head of oil operations at Exxon, mentioned me to Walter Massey. They were running this international search. He said, “You should contact Al.” So he did or Hanna Gray did. And as I say, I had been serving a couple of terms, advisory committee for Argonne. I came out here and looked at it among the different options I had. I mean I had done the industrial thing. I was loaded with stock options and what not and so forth. I was on an advisory committee for the DOE. I was on the Energy Research Advisory Board. Al Trivelpiece’s board. So, looking back through the mists of history and time, at that time it seemed to me to be a relatively lowly paid compared to what I think was making, but extremely interesting. To run a national laboratory is just a vastly different thing. And no, I did not have a clear picture of the issues that a lab had when I took the job. I think that’s really fair to say. I was sitting around, actually, in my house in New Jersey with my wife, wondering which one of these options I should take. Should I take petroleum, should I do something else? Then I got a call from Hanna when I was sitting there, saying, “You must come out and take this job.” So, anyway, I took the job.
And, by the way, that’s Hanna —
Hanna Gray. She was President of the University of Chicago. The university had the contract, the sole contract at that time. So that’s how I came to Argonne, with some knowledge of it.
Well the interesting thing is at the first annual Advanced Photon Source users’ meeting; David Moncton said that he has notes for synchrotron radiation sort that go back to 1982. So that was just the year before you came, but of course at this stage, it was kind of in the dream machine stage. Also he says that there were ideas for such machines elsewhere, in Europe for example. People were kind of talking about a third generation light source. So you came to Argonne at ’83.
In 1983, when I showed up there and finally took over the lab, it was clear that the lab was considered to be the sick man of the DOE. That was the word.
You got that.
Yes, it was the sick man of the DOE lab system and it was ripe for whatever the powers that be were going to do to it. And the first thing, when the Reagan administration took over, a lot of the soft programs around the laboratory system were canceled. A lot of studies were canceled. The first thing, we had to lay off some people.
Which is painful.
200 were laid off, I think. We protested, but it had to be done. In poking around the lab and looking for major projects to be supported, with the limited number of poker chips that I had, my first choice was the nuclear programs, which you’ll find in Jack Holl’s book (Argonne National Laboratory, 1946-86) I’m sure. And then there was this Eisenberger-Knotek report floating around.
That came in October of 1983. That was Peter Eisenberger and Michael Knotek, of course. One of the others things that happened was that the major reactor project which started life known as the Experimental Breeder Reactor 2, but then morphed into the IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), was starting to fall on hard times, and in fact its funding is cut during your tenure. But in March of 1983, Berkeley’s Advanced Light Source put out it’s Conceptual Design Report, and according to Moncton, that proposal caused a furor and many in the materials science community that the next machine should be a hard X-ray machine instead of the soft X-ray machine such as the Advanced Light Source. So I want to take a slight step back and say that, of course, what is happening during this period in science is that you have the rise of material science in the country. Then in the October, there’s the Eisenberger-Knotek committee, and Peter Eisenberger was at Exxon and was one of the people who was important in finding ways to use large machines for material science, which was one of the important parts for expanding the funding for and the reach of material science. So when you were at Exxon, were you involved in materials research? Did you know Eisenberger? Was he even there? I suspect he was because he was, by the time of the Eisenberger-Knotek, which was in October of ‘83.
I ran the corporate research laboratory for ten years. Then I was promoted upward, you might say, to run the engineering operation. That I did for five years. So from 1978 to 1983, I was in a different geographic location, still in New Jersey, than the corporate research operation, which was where Eisenberger was. I was not responsible nor was I intimately involved because I had other things to do at that time. So I only had a general knowledge of material science. And I was not involved with Peter at Exxon at that time.
So in November of ‘83, Yang Cho remembered being at lab in Control Room at Aladdin. I’ve spoken to him about this.
I would be surprised if you hadn’t.
The light bulb went on over his head and he realized that the Eisenberger-Knotek committee comes out and says that there should be a six GeV hard X-ray machine. Cho’s story is that he was sitting in the control room. He and other accelerator experts had gone to help the people at Wisconsin with the light source, Aladdin, and he realizes there is an approved machine without a laboratory to support it so he says he went back and proposed the idea to you. Do you remember hearing about the idea for the first time?
My memory does not include the specific detail of Yang Cho proposing it to me. On the other hand, I had a number of conversations with Yang Cho, and it could very well be possible. I had only a very limited amount of mad money, so to speak. That’s the lab director’s fund. It was the clear that we had to put money into the nuclear reactor program, which accelerated and built up, and then as you say, in the last years ran afoul of Hazel O’Leary and Al Gore and proliferation issues, which was unfortunate.
I have these documents that, by the way, talk about how you used program development funds.
That would be LDRD; we called it, Lab Director’s Research Development.
Yes, I’ve got documents that talk about how in those early years, despite the pressures on you to fund other things, that you did give some money so that Yang Cho and the hardy band of Argonne people could go on.
Let me give you my take on all this stuff. I didn’t go back through refreshing my memory so it doesn’t make a difference.
I have a lot of documents. It was particularly important that you kept it afloat in fiscal year ’87 because it didn’t get funds from the DOE. But even more interesting than that was the fact that at that very beginning time, Argonne wasn’t the only lab that was going for this machine. In fact, David Moncton and Peter Eisenberger, who were probably the ones who had the new photon source as their brainchild, were at Exxon at the time. So one of the things that I’m interested in is any memories that you might have. Obviously you had the insight that, even though you had limited funds, you kept the light source group going.
Well, if we forget the specific time of events, which you’ll have to fill in, it was clear from the very beginning to me that the lab, in order to survive, had to have some major programs. Nuclear reactor R&D was one. What was the other? It was also clear that the photon source, early on, the six GeV machine, had the possibility of being that second important project because it appealed not to a narrow segment of the science community, but to a very broad segment of the commercial community, to materials science, drugs, so forth and so on. So that, to me, at the time meant that I should take funding out of this LDRD program into that and see how we could push that forward. Now, at the same time the Superconducting Super Collider was moving along, and that occupied a lot of attention, especially in Illinois where the potential site was at Fermilab. So we were at the time a little under the radar screen.
That’s exactly what Ed Temple said.
We were under the radar screen. We couldn’t really get Illinois congressional support at the time because we were under the radar, so that was negative. The positive was that we were under the radar screen. And as Yang Cho and these people began to develop specific costs analyses and so forth, I began to put more money into it, and there began to develop this competition out there. We had different machines: the Berkeley Light Source; the Brookhaven RHIC, Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. At that time, a neutron source at Oakridge, but a reactor neutron source, not a pulsed neutron source. And this six GeV machine. There was Los Alamos making noises like hell, not only with a six GeV machine, but also a reactor and so forth and so on. There was a lot of stewing around out there. And in there at some point, I met Sig Hecker, Dave Shirley, and the Brookhaven director, who I know quite well, Nick Samious, and Nick Samious met with Al, we met with Al.
By the way, that’s Al Trivelpiece.
And in Washington and we cut a deal. Basically, Brookhaven gets RHIC, Oakridge gets the reactor neutron source, Berkeley gets their light machine, and we get the six GeV machine. I wasn’t too happy with the timing because Berkeley wound up getting the two GeV light source first. The reason for that was that Al felt (I’m sure he’ll tell you this) that if we got the six GeV machine first, they’d never build the two GeV machine.
Now he remembers that the Trivelpiece plan came together at his initiative.
Al had it in mind, without my putting words in his mouth, he had in mind that the labs needed an infrastructure built around these major machines, that they wouldn’t survive otherwise, but that being a cottage industry, we’re competing with universities and the machines could be better. Which I agree with today — it’s a better rationale.
He was worried in particular, too, that basic research was going to die at the national laboratories and that he wanted to make all of the core laboratories vibrant and robust in basic research. Ed Temple remembers that Trivelpiece in particular, took that very seriously; it considered that to be part of his job to be an advocate for the research, the R&D enterprise at the national level.
That was my impression. It was a real value-added that Al did it. At that meeting, we agreed that we would not interfere with one another’s projects because if you have two of these major institutions competing and getting their congressman into it, the chances were that no one would get anything. So we agreed that we would support one another and to the extent that could get our congressmen to support the projects as a whole. So we walked out of that meeting with that agreement, but we still didn’t have any funding. Well, Argonne, anyway, didn’t have any funding. So I was ramping up both the nuclear reactor program and this 6 GeV light source program, and essentially sucking most of the money out of the LDRD. I’m not even sure if you can do that today with that amount of money we were putting into it. Then it was up to us, basically, to work out with the DOE how to fund such projects.
Yes, that’s the interesting thing, actually, is that you cut the deal with Trivelpiece who was DOE, but it really is the lower levels of DOE that you had to get on board to get them to sign on that yes, Argonne has a funded proposal.
For a project like this, it had to be a congressional budget line item, which meant that you had to have a cost proposal and so forth and so on. You also had to get the appropriations. You know, you had to get the committees to sign off on it, and that meant that the DOE had to submit it and it meant that you had to get your congressional people to back it.
Let me ask you one thing. Once you cut the deal with Trivelpiece, was it more or less that the others were out unless you screwed up in terms of Argonne getting 6 GeV machine?
What do you mean the others are out?
I mean, I don’t mean the others in the Trivelpiece plan. I mean the other people who originally wanted to do this 6 GeV light source because there were a number of other people who had earlier wanted to build the light source.
They didn’t necessarily have to be out because other labs had powerful supporters, and if they really wanted in and worked the system, which was not unheard of, that could have happened. So no, it didn’t automatically mean they were out, but it did mean that we had to act as though we had the project.
Interesting. Moncton said that the others that who were interested were Stanford and Brookhaven. Cho remembers that it was Brookhaven, Cornell, and Stanford.
Cornell definitely. Brookhaven definitely. We cut the deal with Brookhaven in the Trivelpiece plan, so they were out. And Cornell yes because they had a machine.
But Cornell was a National Science Foundation (NSF) lab, not a DOE lab.
Yes, but you know…
Yes, stuff happens, yes.
Stuff happens, stuff happens.
That’s funny. I said that, and yet Michigan State, which is an NSF lab, just got FRIB. [Laughs]
Yes, when you said, that’s…
That’s exactly what you thought.
Right. And there were other instances of surprising things happening. And again, you’ve got a better fix on the time than I have because I need to go back and review, but at some point in there, I did begin to work with our congressional people, and we had this photon source committee that Eisenberger headed up, I believe.
You did. The Advanced Photon Source Steering Committee under the chairmanship of Peter Eisenberger was established by the ERAB. This was in late 1985. You were on the ERAB.
I was on EARB, right.
Incidentally, when I became director, Al said that I should get off. I said, “I’m not going to” and he said, “Fine, I’m going to stay on.” Al is very nice. He simply didn’t reappoint me. I remember that distinctly.
Okay, there was a committee-sponsored workshop run by Robert Siemann of Cornell and Herman Winick of SSRL and formed a panel under the chairmanship of Jules Godel of Brookhaven and James Patterson of SLAC…
What year was that?
This was late 1985. This was to do a site independent cost and schedule study for the proposed 6 GeV light source facility. Ed Temple remembers that was when he first heard about the project.
I do not remember when we actually got a line item, but I remember we didn’t get it the first time around. It was not a slam-dunk to get that approval.
Yes, you submitted your Conceptual Design Report in February of ’86, and DOE authorized the construction starting in fiscal year 1986, but you only got some piddly little tiny amount of money; that was just R&D funding. I mean, it was yours in the sense that they said, “Okay, it’s going to be at Argonne.” But they didn’t really give you any money and Temple apologizes for that and says that what happened was that they were so preoccupied with the SSC that they didn’t get around to pushing for your funding until the fall of 1989. So you first submitted your CDR in ’86 and you didn’t get construction funding until the fall of ’89, so that’s quite a while to be hanging fire.
Yes. All that time it was being supported with a really large injection of LDRD funds, the light source was sucking that out. Also during that time we had mounted an effort. There was a lot of Washington interaction. And I began to look around for a director.
Aha! And that was the next thing I was going to ask you. So you tell me what you remember and I’ll tell you what Moncton remembers.
Tell me what Dave remembers and I tell you what I remember.
Okay. He says that if I asked you, you would tell me that you recruited him, but actually, you had recruited him at one point and he had said no, but when it finally came to the time that he was getting ready to say yes, he called you. He says that you had been at Exxon, and Exxon was hot (his word) to have him stay there, but you needed someone right away. In fact, he remembers there was a bit of a crisis because there wasn’t a director. Moncton wanted to come and make it the machine he thought it should be so he figured after the first year, it would be hard to change things, so he asked you to help make it happen and with your Exxon contacts, you made it happen. That’s what he remembers.
That’s essentially correct. Yang Cho headed up the project for a while. There were a couple of people who headed the project, three people. Anyway, one of the interim people headed the project for a while. I ran a search and offered the job to someone who will remain nameless, who turned down the job and said it was too big of a job for him. Dave I remembered from the Eisenberger committee (I had never met him before).
Yes, he was at Brookhaven. When you were at Exxon he was at Brookhaven, so he wasn’t even at Exxon.
He was the Exxon man at Brookhaven. I remember him because he was very outspoken, and asked me some very pointed questions. I don’t remember what they were, but I remember him. I asked him and he turned it down and he called me up. I don’t remember the sequence at all. But I remember going out to his house in Brookhaven with my wife, drinking wine — he was a wine maker. I remember, of course, working with the Exxon contacts. We cut a deal, actually. I’m sure David remembers. My remembering of that, it was sort of supposed to be a temporary thing.
Yes. It was only going to go for a year.
Yes, I’d forgotten. But it was only going to be a temporary thing and we were going to pay to reimburse Exxon. Anyway, I had no intention of releasing Dave if I could avoid it, especially after he came to Argonne. He was clearly the person to head that project up. He was critical.
Explain to me why, in your opinion, he was critical. Because I don’t just what to listen to what he has to say about that. I want to hear why he was the right person.
He had the combination of knowledge of the details of the machine, what had to be done. He had an excellent grasp of the construction approaches. He was a boat builder, and he had a really good feel for building things and how they went together and the cost issues. He had a marvelous way with people. So he had the technical details that didn’t have to come up from scratch. He had a marvelous memory. He was not a typical bench scientist, but had a lot of construction ability and people ability. He was articulate. He wrote exceptionally well. Commanded respect. He had a lot of gravitas.
He does have a lot of gravitas, so he commanded respect among DOE and in Washington and the staff members he had to deal with. The total package. Exceptional abilities. And he turned out to have the organizational skills so that he could organize it. Since I came from Exxon, there were people in the Exxon engineering operation that I put him in touch with, and they actually came to work (I’m sure he could remember these names better than I do) who were skilled for long years in project management. That’s the one thing that got a lot of national laboratory projects all fouled up; they didn’t have good project management. That was the key from my standpoint, getting Dave to come, putting Dave in charge, giving him the resources.
Dave says that one of your strengths was that you kind of let him do his thing and you didn’t micromanage. Ed Temple had interesting things to say — and I want to talk a little bit about the famous tiger team era.
We laugh now.
Yes, now. Temple says that Moncton had a sense and the project had an even greater sense when Temple himself came to join the APS staff of the rigorous way you have to manage a big facility, including the safety management. Total Quality Management was big then as well as a lot of safety metrics. That wasn’t true so much in the rest of the lab. Temple feels that was one of the things that made the APS a lab within a lab. Moncton says that you pretty much let him run the APS like he wanted to run the APS. So with that mix of ideas and impressions, do you have any reaction to that statement?
Yes, it was clear to me that the lab was incapable. They didn’t have the capability to construct a project such as this. They hadn’t built a project in a long time. Their project management skills were rusty, basically nonexistent. The project team had to be built from scratch. I came out of Exxon. I was there for 27 years. I ran their engineering operation. I built major things. So the only way to get that done was to have the new lab as a lab within a lab. It would have been typical at Argonne to make it a project and have the project head report to an associate lab director. I made Dave an associate lab director with full responsibility for the development and the construction of the project. I knew enough about projects to understand what had to be put in place so that when we got together, I could at least understand what Dave was up to in putting the project in place. So yes, it was a lab within a lab essentially to build a machine and do all the ancillary things that had to be done. So that’s exactly right. Dave had his own —
The project had its own procurement.
Had its own procurement. Had its own safety operations, basically. Had its own recruiting operation. You know, Dave and his staff had to coordinate with the lab to do stuff — they were a lab within Argonne. And the guy, who runs the project now, Murry Gibson, as far as I know, is still an Associate Laboratory Director under Argonne’s director.
He is. It was your idea that it would continue that way? Because when you left, the machine had been constructed and it had started to do experiments — the beam lines were up and people were taking data.
Dave then went to Oakridge, and Dave came back and all this other stuff happened after I left. You know, it’s hard to say in retrospect. It was a lab within a lab that got built as a lab within a lab, and when I left, it was a lab within a laboratory. Ten years later, still a separate ALDship. Ken Kliewer was important. He ran the ALDship for awhile. He was the Associate Laboratory Director, and he ran it for a while. Then he left and I think Tom ran it. Tom Fields ran it. And then Dave came. I set up an oversight committee headed up by Bill Brinkman. Don Engesser who had been a general manager at Exxon in charge of construction engineering was also on it. We put together an oversight committee that met two times a year maybe, reported to me —
So Don was at Exxon while he was —
No, he retired.
But he wasn’t a lab employee?
No, he was outside…the way I was on an oversight committee when they were building the pulsed neutron source at Oakridge —
What do you see as Ed Temple’s role? What was his particular contribution?
Well, Ed at the time headed up DOE’s project management group, whatever the title of that was, so Ed and his team would go to the laboratories that were building projects and conduct a review and make the report to DOE on the project. Project management — that’s what I see as his role at that time.
One of the things that when I spoke with Ed Temple, I asked him why he came to help with APS, and he said and that one of the big issues is that James Watkins became Secretary of Energy and Watkins was an admiral and he wasn’t a good sailor. So this is a way to edge into the Watkins era, and I was very interested when I looked at the records from the ’90s that it looks to me as though Watkins came to visit the lab and you thought things had gone pretty well, and then all of a sudden the so-called “Tiger Teams” came to evaluate the lab and it was kind of a slap in the face. So I wondered just what you remembered from that.
Well, those are two separate issues. Watkins and his wife came to the lab. I liked him because he was a knowledgeable Energy Secretary. And they came and specifically walked through the APS construction. He understood it, understood what it was useful for. He was quite enthused about it, and from that standpoint, it was a useful visit for us, a useful visit for DOE. The Tiger teams are a separate issue. There’s no question that the laboratory’s approach to safety was not an industrial approach. You know, industry was really moving into the direction of OSHA and all that. So there is no question that labs at that point, were not in that era, in general. Watkins had this military approach — you know, Team A, Team B — of getting a group of experts in, in our case, like 60 people to go to the laboratories and report on the safety, find out about it. So when I first heard about it, I said, “Well, that’s a good idea.” Go though Argonne and they will find out the opportunities to make things better. We began to get some noise out of the system from the labs that they had visited and began to worry. Anyway, I thought that there was nothing wrong with the concept. Write it up, give us a report, and we look at it, check it off. But the teams — I think even Watkins at the end, did have to check with me because the thing got out of control. It just got out of control. They became inquisitors. So they came through and they did an inquisition at the lab. Because not only did they have to go through it once; they had to go through it twice because first in Illinois, then at Argonne West in Idaho. They did them both. What was the result? A lot of hard feelings. If you looked at the system totally, the extraordinary expenditure, it was just extraordinary, the expense involved in it. It could have done more effectively without so many really hard feelings afterwards. They did their inquisition, everybody got upset, got this report, and we went through it.
Then Watkins left, and it was an irritation.
Yes, yes, then it wound up the Washington circuit, because they had a video — they taped a video. They did these outtakes of session and then they came through to do a verbal review. There I was up there, listening to these people. I was astonished at the vituperation. They were vituperative. It was just absolutely out of control.
It was very clear to me. In fact, I saw some outtakes. Actually the outtakes I heard were you listening to their comments. I guess that’s what you’re talking about. And you did look, I would say, shell-shocked.
Well, I was surprised.
You were surprised.
All I could say at the end, rather than getting mad, was, “Okay, you come back in a year and everything will be better.”
Clearly, one of your approaches was to get everybody calmed down at the laboratory. [Laughter]
They were really upset. Oh well. To sum up my feelings about, I thought it was a good idea when it was first announced. I thought that the process by which they carried it out was extraordinarily expensive throughout the whole system, and that Watkins let them get out of control I don’t know. You’re going to have to talk to Jim about the whole thing. I thought it was out of control.
Well, it’s really expensive to shut things down.
He made a point, and I’m sure that’s what he wanted to do, but I thought it was a point that could have been in other ways. But you know, okay. It was an instantaneous shock, and then the system responded. No one got fired. But it was needless. Just too damn expensive, and too many hard feelings. And then I said, “Oh good God, I got to go through this a second time in Idaho and it was the same stuff.”
And was it also bad in Idaho at Argonne West.
Yes, it was the same thing. Because you could go examine this office that we’re sitting in right now. I bet you could find a dozen safety violations. Look at over there at those wires hanging down on your left hand side. Right there.
It’s true. I see a bunch of wires. I could probably stand up and trip over them at any moment.
You could trip over them. Look at my briefcase there. It’s in the way.
What do you remember about the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR)? I’ve got documents here of you reacting to that. That was a blow too, right?
Well, the Tiger Team was not fatal. The cancellation of the Integral Fast Reactor was fatal, not only for the lab, but I felt for the nation. When I first showed up and went to talk to Chuck Till and Yoon Chang and they told me about it. I said, “I only have so many poker chips to put on the table. I’ll put one on this.” And they did a marvelous job. We demonstrated it, for all intents and purposes.
This, by the way, is in ’93 and ’94 period.
Yes, ’93, ’94 period. Built it, demonstrated the principle. You could shut down the reactor without any coolant and it shut down, shut down by itself. We demonstrated that. Then when President Bill Clinton came in, the first thing he said in his State of the Union address was that they would cancel advanced reactors. It’s in his State of the Union address. I heard that and I said, “Well, I think that means us.” It was a very anti-proliferation administration. Then we had a fight in Congress. The first time around, we won. We got strong support from Paul Simon. We had this battle in Congress. So we staggered through the first round. Then Hazel O’Leary, the Energy Secretary, refused to go along with us. It got to be really uncomfortable, and there was the threat that they could pull a contract from the lab, from the University of Chicago. They didn’t let me know, but that was a threat if the lab didn’t stop the IFR. And they finally prevailed. In retrospect, of course, it was a mistake. With all that fighting, we managed to preserve the intellectual part of that and the physical part of it, which was the electrochemical reprocessing staff. But the reactor got shut down. Then eventually, two years ago the lab lost the competition for Idaho West. So in retrospect, as I expected at the time, nuclear power is in the best interest of this country. We are cycling back to that in a jerky fashion, so to speak. And the Integral Fast Reactor should have continued to be funded as a research project. So that’s something that the people at DOE and the administration at the time made a mistake, in my view.
So the Integral Fast Reactor gets cut when? The SSC is cut 1993.
The Integral Fast Reactor was cut I believe in ’95. You’ll have to check it out.
The crisis comes up in ’93. This document that I’m looking at that is from you to the board of governors is in ’93, then there’s correspondence about it to Hazel O’Leary. So the fight starts in ’93/’94.
The fights starts in ’93/’94.
Then it’s actually —
Two years of agony, let’s put it that way.
It’s interesting to me, as a historian, that that agony is going on. Thank God Argonne had the Advanced Photon Source, because there’s this ’93/’94 period of agony with the IFR. The SSC goes down the tubes in ’93. The APS starts up in ’95, then experiments really kick off in a very serious way in ’96. So my question is would it fair to say that the APS is really what kept Argonne alive? Let’s imagine Argonne with the IFR down the tubes and no APS. What would its future have looked like?
Well, the lab is not solely dependent on the photon source. The nuclear reactor programs continued, but not supported the way they were. And then there are other smaller programs: the waste management type programs; programs that are related to the environment; math and computing science programs; they’ve got a fair material science division and material science programs. So there are a host of programs being conducted at the laboratory. The issue is that it is beneficial to the health of the lab to have a couple of flagship programs.
Flagship is just what I was going to say because that’s what the people at LBL said too.
So to that extent you are correct in the sense that the photon source is a program that, as long as it exists, it will continue to be supported and is a flagship program. The other programs are important, but they do not have the same high profile. Now, in all fairness, although I still have an office out there, I’m simply not close to the laboratory’s programmatic content at the moment. I do not know what is true now. I do know that the lab’s budget has declined.
Let’s go back to budgets in your era, because that’s my final question is budgets. I do have some documents here of when you were giving budget updates to the board of governors. What were the budgets like then in that period of ’92 to in your last several years?
It seems to me, you’ve got to check the numbers, but in the dollars of those years, they must have run around $600 million, I would guess. The photon source and the nuclear reactor programs, the lab personnel, what, 5000?
I don’t have that.
You have to check those numbers. If you look at inflation dollars, it would be significantly more than the last budget statement. Inflate those numbers up and it’s probably close to a billion dollars.
Okay, well it says in December of 1995 that it looks like the budget isn’t particularly bad that year.
I don’t know. What is it?
It says here that your total operating expenditures will be approximately $480 million in FY 1996 down from $490 million the year before.
Yes, before that I think the construction probably was running from $500 to $600 million. $496, say $500 million and inflate that up to today’s dollars.
Yes. It says your projected operating budget for fiscal year 1994 was $450 million, consistent with the previous estimates. The total budget, excluding expenditures for construction (just like you were saying), and capital expense was approximately $600 million.”
Yes, that’s the number I remember.
And, remarkably, the operating budget has risen every year for the past decade, even after adjusting for the affects of inflation. So it goes up every year until fiscal year 1994, but then with the construction stops it goes down.
I consider that a remarkable achievement on my part, considering we were the sick man of the system.
And now we’re back to the — So you left the patient in better health.
I left the patient in better health. The demise of the nuclear reactor programs, the demise of the IFR were not the result of a lack of aggressive fighting on my part.
Do you have any memories of any problems with the APS. We were talking about these other problems that were going on outside of the APS project. Do you remember being concerned at any point about the construction of the APS, about the construction of the experimental program, about the experimental capabilities?
To the best of my memory, there were no critical issue problems that were of the nature that they required my attention.
None that rose to your level.
They didn’t rise to my level. As usual, noise was in the system, we went week to week and month to month. But no, nothing that I can remember that was a make or break issue that I spent my nights worried about with respect to the Advanced Photon Source.
Ed Temple says that he was up a lot worried about problems. He said that the biggest issue was that the RF system that they thought would take some number of months took some number of years, so apparently that gave them some grief. But I don’t see it coming up in their reports to DOE. It wasn’t like the magnet problem at Fermilab had in the construction phase, for example, or some other big project buster.
The project was built on time and within the budget constraints. We didn’t have to go back and ask for more money.
Which must have been a great relief.
Yes. Ed Temple is better able to comment than I. There was nothing that rose to my level.
In one of the documents that I just put away, you say, when the SSC was canceled that you’re doing due diligence to make sure that everything was going to be on the up and up. You didn’t want to have to go back in that environment and ask for money, because, of course, a big problem with the SSC was this budget that got it in trouble.
I remember having a visit. The Undersecretary of Energy came out to the lab when the SSC was having it’s problems. They had gotten a former military man to be chief operating officer or something out there. They were quite enamored with that. And he had a private session with me and said that we should bring this guy over or something and consult of something; I’ve forgotten the details. The last thing I wanted was to have someone from the SSC come to help us on the photon source. So I never followed through on that. I was never pestered. I remember talking to David. I don’t know if David remembers, but I remember talking to David about that. So no, I don’t remember anything that caused me to stay awake at night. We were well on budget. Exceptional management. Same with the nuclear reactor programs. Chuck was a marvelous manager. Chuck and Yoon Chang made a great team.
Terrific. Thank you very much.