LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA--In a post-Cold War thaw of major proportions, the government's nuclear weapons program is putting together a new initiative that could funnel as much as $100 million next year to basic researchers at universities. The first announcements could come as early as this month.
A half century ago, universities and the military hurriedly formed the alliance that developed the atomic bomb. Then the vast weapons machine that arose during the Cold War turned inward, doing research in large, secret laboratories and maintaining only selective ties to university researchers.
Now the $3.9 billion weapons program is reaching out again with a plan to shore up waning academic programs in areas of keen interest to nuclear weaponeers, such as radiochemistry and nuclear engineering. One aim, says Victor Reis, head of nuclear weapons programs for the Department of Energy (DOE), is to ensure a supply of ``the right kind of people'' for the national labs to recruit. ``We have to think now about those people and engage the universities in the science aspects of [the nuclear weapons] program,'' he says.
As a first step, DOE has floated a proposal to bring universities into the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative. The initiative aims to develop the hardware and software needed for massive computer simulations. As part of that effort, the weapons program now wants to fund a handful of university centers that would specialize in developing simulation techniques in areas such as hydrodynamics and turbulence, which are crucial for predicting the performance of nuclear weapons. DOE is expected to solicit proposals in the next few weeks.
DOE officials have also discussed awarding $50 million to $100 million from next year's appropriations for a range of other university research activities. ``None of this is set yet,'' says a scientist familiar with the proposal. The agency plans a larger meeting in the spring to discuss specific areas of potential collaboration.