Handling matters at nuclear weapons laboratories can be a risky situation – something the University of California Board of Regents found out last week.

UC President Richard Atkinson and the regents postponed appointing a new director for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after United States Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham made inquiries regarding the professional history of the UC’s first choice for the position.

Atkinson’s choice for LLNL director was Raymond Juzaitis, the associate director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Weapons Physics Division, often referred to as the X Division because of its top-secret priority. Despite Juzaitis’ extensive qualifications as a nuclear physicist and his experience as a laboratory manager, the United States Department of Energy had concerns regarding his position as a former supervisor of Wen Ho Lee.

In a letter to Atkinson dated April 30, Juzaitis announced the withdrawal of his candidacy for director of LLNL. The letter stated, “Events of the last week, including the unwarranted linking of my name to the Wen Ho Lee affair in an attempt to cast a cloud on the appropriateness of my appointment, suggest that the unfounded controversy may hinder my effectiveness in leading the laboratory. I am deeply concerned about the impact this experience has had on my family.”

Juzaitis and Lee’s positions were separated by several layers of bureaucracy. Sources within the UC claim Juzaitis played no part in the Lee controversy, that the DOE inquiries are unfounded and that the DOE is unduly concerned with damage to its reputation caused by the Lee case.

Lee spent 275 days in jail on 59 felony counts in 1999 after being accused of transferring nuclear secrets to an unsecured computer at Los Alamos. The severity of the charges proved to be unfounded, and Lee was released after pleading guilty to one minor charge and being sentenced to time already served.

Los Alamos has seen a number of security breach accusations in recent years, and both of the UC’s weapons laboratories have run billions of dollars over budget. Along with the Lee case, these problems have drawn criticism from the public and the federal government about the management policies employed by the UC and the DOE

According to Science Now, the news service of the journal Science, the remaining candidates for laboratory director are believed to be LLNL Deputy Director for Science and Technology Jeff Wadsworth, Deputy Director for Strategic Operations Michael Anastasio and Caltech Provost and nuclear physicist Steven Koonin.