Article Index Next Article Previous Article Feedback to Editor ORNL Review Home Page

Chapter 8: Diversity and Sharing

Back to Chapter 8

THE STATES OF THE LABORATORY 

In 1951, while serving as ORNL's research director, Alvin Weinberg offered the first "State of the Laboratory" address. Since then, Laboratory directors have mused over the Laboratory's accomplishments, direction, people, and future in an annual talk that has become a tradition. Early addresses were classified, subsequent addresses were attended by invitation only, and in 1966, the public was invited for the first time. 

If the directors were to collectively ponder the activities and nature of the Laboratory, they might agree on the maxim, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." 

Consider, for example, the Laboratory's history of concern for environmental management discussed by directors Weinberg and Herman Postma. Commenting on Laboratory activities in 1969, "the year of the environment," Weinberg wrote: 

The nuclear energy laboratories have, for obvious reasons, been concerned with the environment since the beginning of the Manhattan Project. Handling large quantities of radioactivity without endangering the biosphere and particularly without endangering man was part of our task in 1943 when ORNL was started, and it remains an important part of our job. Our concern with the environment gradually broadened, and now some 10 percent of everything we do at ORNL is related to the environment. 

Postma, given the benefit of hindsight, later reflected on these same environmental management activities. In 1989 he said: [There is] growing concern about environmental abuses that occurred over the years...We understand the problems (and) we now know how to solve them. . . Our ability to understand, manage, and resolve environmental problems has been demonstrated but it has required a tremendous effort and has been costly. 

On another score, Acting Director Floyd Culler called 1973 the "time of transition" and spoke about the following changes that had rippled through the Laboratory in the wake of the energy crisis. 

If I believed in destiny, I would be tempted to think that ORNL was predestined to play its most important roles in the next scenes of the great energy dilemma. Destiny or not, we now have the challenge to participate in the most difficult and complex research and development program ever to be proposed. I think that we are ready for the task, but ready or not, we shall be asked. 

Change is not always easy, however. When in 1972 the Laboratory was increasingly in the public eye, Weinberg wrote: 

We find ourselves increasingly at those critical intersections of technology and society which underlie some of our country's primary social concerns. During 1972 these involvements have boiled over into a series of incidents that make many of us long for the good old days when what we did at ORNL was separate plutonium, measure cross sections, and develop instruments for detecting radiation. 

Alvin Trivelpiece delivers a
Alvin Trivelpiece delivers a "State of the Laboratory" address.

Twenty years later, Alvin Trivelpiece offered a similar observation in his 1992 address but with an additional proviso: "You can't go back again." 

Many of us look back with certain fondness or nostalgia for the good old days of the AEC, but I don't think there is any way we can work as we did back then. The Laboratory staff has learned to operate in its present circumstances. The AEC and the ERDA are gone, and the old ways of doing business are not coming back. 

The American public is more concerned about the environment than ever before. Today, the public does not trust DOE. Members of the public want independent verification of the many facts we generate, and their demand for more audits and oversight will continue. Such audits are intrusive, invasive, and a fact of life. We are going to have to learn to work in this climate and compete for scientific and technical programs at the same time. It is not easy now, and it is not likely to get any easier. 

Beginning of Article

Related Web sites

ORNL Review
ORNL Time Line

Historical Photo Gallery

Other ORNL History Resources

 
Search Magazine 
Article Index Next Article Previous Article Feedback to Editor ORNL Review Home Page