LIVERMORE -- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the nation's leading federal research centers on topics from nuclear weapons to supercomputers, will shutter nearly all of its scientific work and send home at least 5,500 employees without pay by Wednesday if the government shutdown has not been resolved, officials confirmed Friday.
"Right now, everyone is taking it day to day," said Lynda Seaver, spokeswoman for the lab.
The facility, opened in 1952 and based in Livermore, is the second largest employer in Alameda County, behind only UC Berkeley.
Seaver said that roughly 6,000 people work at the lab. After the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, employees will begin shutting down operations on Tuesday and all but 400 or 500 workers involved in security and other essential functions will be sent home at the end of the day Wednesday.
"We'll be keeping safety, security and environmental management systems going," she said. "But we'll be in essential operations mode and programmatic work will go on hiatus by October 16."
The closure news is part of an order by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which also ordered Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, which make up the majority of the nation's nuclear weapons programs, to cease most operations by Oct. 21 if the federal government shutdown was not resolved.
The government shutdown began Oct. 1 after House Republicans refused to pass a federal budget unless President Obama's health care law was repealed or delayed, something Democrats and the White House have refused.
The possible closure of Livermore has Bay Area congressional members alarmed.
On Friday, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asking him to work with the White House to allow furloughed employees at Livermore and other national labs to receive back pay when the shutdown is over. Many of the 13,000 federal lab employees in the Bay Area are government contractors, who are not eligible to receive back pay unless federal regulations change.
The letter was signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and nine other members of the Northern California House delegation.
"National lab employees in Livermore should not have to suffer because of a shutdown caused by the tea party," said Swalwell in a statement. "Lab employees are dedicated public servants who are supporting our country's national and energy security, and just because their paychecks stop doesn't mean their bills won't keep coming.
"At my town hall last week many lab employees expressed to me their anxiety about keeping up with their mortgage payment or child's tuition once the furlough begins. Our hardworking lab employees at the very least deserve to be reassured that they will be paid once the current crisis is resolved."
Funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy, Livermore lab's principle responsibility is helping to ensure the safety of America's nuclear weapons. As the Cold War ended, it expanded significantly into other fields, including laser research, detection of bioterrorism weapons, advanced battery research and climate change modeling with some of the world's most powerful computers.
Swalwell scheduled a town hall forum for employees of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Martinelli Event Center in Livermore. Many of the lab's employees live in the area between Livermore, Pleasanton, Tracy and Stockton.
It was unclear Friday evening how many employees at other federal labs in the Bay Area, including Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University, also could face furloughs without pay.
"The government shutdown has put over 1,500 SLAC employees at risk of being furloughed," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, in a statement. "They are our nation's premier scientists and engineers who daily are engaged in cutting-edge research that is changing the world. To add insult to injury these employees are not entitled to back pay if they're furloughed because they are employees of an operator of a federal facility, not the federal government."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.