The big news on the local economic front this past week came from Sandia National Laboratories, the laboratory that fairly looms on the city’s southern border; everything south of Gibson and north of Belen seemingly has something to do with the mission of the labs. It’s a vast place on the region’s map that influences everything and everyone around it.
As kids we referred to Sandia as the “Watermelon Ranch,” and our fathers and mothers and neighbors drove out there every morning, down Eubank and Wyoming toward the gates. That was funny but even back then, we knew how important the place was; so much so that beyond jokes, nobody really talked about what went on there.
The labs have played a pivotal role in the cultural and economic structure of postwar Albuquerque and that fact, as well as the matter of the industries that the lab engenders and supports, have once again come into the public eye.
This week, there’s gold in the words coming from Sandia. The labs are looking to hire up to 1,900 positions—1,000 of which are totally new to their various programs. The income and infrastructure that results from those new, high-tech engineering, math, research and technical jobs should be welcome in a city still struggling with defining a successful economy. They’re just the kind of jobs our burg needs to earn its sustainability wings. Or are they?
The latest call for employment through Sandia comes in addition to the more than 100 jobs per year that the giant generates through subcontracting deals with local businesses and agreements with the state’s major universities to ensure that the constantly evolving needs of the lab are reflected in the curriculums taught throughout the state’s university system. That’s correct. The labs already wield significant influence in Burque and, in a very tangible sense, determine the shape of postsecondary science and engineering priorities for our culture.
Large multinational corporate entities like Raytheon have also made profitable moves through this subcontracting arrangement. The firm has been hiring since January for a microwave weapons project sponsored by the Air Force. They anticipate a local workforce of 225 will be needed to steer the project to completion.
Although that specific endeavor is removed from research, development and stewardship of nuclear weapons, it does cause Raytheon to share the weapons manufacturer label with Sandia National Labs. The real business of Sandia National Labs—after all the shades of good mystery and of dark truth are passed through a picture of the labs and their operation—is to create, understand, control and store materials and weapons that are capable of destroying all the life on this planet. At Sandia they make and study and protect and catalog machines designed to kill humans and their works by the megaton. And they’re hiring.
Go ahead and ask your abuelita, homie. Before the Manhattan Project and before the folks from the University of Chicago descended on New Mexico—coming through a portal in the space-time continuum that opened at the Alvarado Hotel, by the way—not much was going on in Burque. It was a small bucolic town in the middle of the desert. The highway that runs through here made the exotic accessible and hence, tourism came to drive the economy ... that is after cattle ranching and farming paid for most of the plata stored in state coffers.
Everything here changed with the coming of the Manhattan Project and subsequently the formation of the Sandia Corporation. In the years following the end of the Second World War, a Cold War and arms race, that used nuclear weapons as chess pieces, developed between the United States and the Soviet Union; the population of Albuquerque soared as people came out to work in the growing field of nuclear weapons. During that time, many humans felt that the threat of communism was an aggressive one, necessitating perpetual nuclear readiness.
In 1945, the ordnance testing subsidiary of Los Alamos National Labs was called Z Division and by 1948, the group was providing personnel to monitor the nation’s growing stockpile of nuclear weapons. Later that year, weapons assembly activities commenced at Sandia and continued there until 1952. The next year, a large utility corporation, Western Electric took over management of the labs through its subsidiary unit, the Sandia Corporation.
Beginning the the early 1950s, Sandia Labs began projects to study the wide-ranging effects of nuclear explosions on the physical environment as well as working on weapon designs that would enable long-term storage and near-instant deployment of thermonuclear weapons should the need arise. In the early ’60s scientists at Sandia saw the implementation of one of the first lightweight, tactical nuclear bombs, the B61.
Eventually this super-deadly weapon was outfitted with a variable yield function. Referred to in house as the “dial-a-yield,” the B61 is still a main feature of our nation’s nuclear stockpile. Thousands are stored at KUMMSC, the underground munitions storage facility on Kirtland Air Force Base that replaced Manzano Nuclear Base in 1992.
Sandia continued to dutifully execute its mission with urgency as the Cold War proceeded; geopolitics became more complicated. When the Cold War ended, the organization doubled down, like a black widow spider digging into a concrete foundation, waiting for a winter it was determined to survive.
While on that journey, the entity has continued to contribute to Burque’s economy and culture. This economic effect is clear enough; the lab, its associated subcontractors and even camp followers continue to see support from elected officials who recognize the crucial role that robustly funded defense laboratories and Air Force bases play in the local economies of New Mexican cities as divergent as Clovis and Albuquerque.
And now the hawks have returned. As the local daily noted, the lab conducts all sorts of research, but the nuclear kind is its forte—by design.
The local paper also quoted a Sandia manager who said, “The nuclear weapons programs are at an all-time high. That’s the number one reason for the new positions. There’s huge demand there.”
We wondered exactly what sorts of jobs Sandia has available for Burqueños who have no compuction about possibly being responsible for the end of all things, and so we visited their jobs website, just like the daily suggested. Here’s what we came up with, carnales.
There is a business systems analyst job that seems fab. It’s all about tackling complex business issues across Sandia’s Nuclear Deterrence mission and Nuclear Security Enterprise. In this position you may be working with idea that posits that a large, formidable arsenal is key to preventing war.
If you’re the scientific type, there’s a job as the Research and Development Manager for Plasma Theory and Simulation. In this capacity you would research what ionizing radiation does to environments, systems and organisms. Hint: It’s not pretty, but in a scientific sense, it’s darn fascinating (like how flesh and concrete melt in a similar fashion when subjected to certain forms of radioactivity).
Perhaps you fancy chemistry more than physics, eh, young learner? Well then, shoot for this one. Gas Transfer Systems Hydrogen Storage Materials Engineer. You’ll be working on the technological minutiae whose proper deployment ensures that each warhead fulfills its potential and goes boom in a way that optimizes performance and maximizes destruction.
Those bombs need to get to their target with more than random precision, and you can be part of the team that ensures they sow apocalyptic destruction when properly utilized, especially if you have a background in aerospace engineering and consistently dream of hitting the bullseye or helping design the next generation of autonomous, hypersonic nukes.
There are also plenty of midlevel computer tech jobs available at Sandia too, from solutions architects to systems analysts. Each pays well according to our investigation, and many only require a bachelor’s degree to boot. All are related to the Lab’s ongoing and previously described mission. For the properly educated and trained—as well as for the city—such opportunities loom large.
But at the end of the day—and with a maniacal man in the White House—we question continued reliance on nuclear weapons, both as an instrument of economics and as a deterrent to war. We get it; Albuquerque’s Sandia Labs represents the heights to which American tech has raised itself.
But it also represents the dark place on which much of that success was borne. Nuclear war is horrible and avoidable. But in a culture that is continually and emotionally drawn to the flame—and one that intricately and expensively studies every aspect of the demon we ourselves birthed—we must know when to say enough is enough.
Even if saying no means ending college subsidies, stopping pork projects and not taking advantage of all the cool space-age jobs on offer, freeing our culture from the nuclear devil as it manifests itself in a hungry and controlling corporatized military-industrial complex should be job one for the progressive agenda.