By Marisa Demarco
— James Doyle had an unusual job for 17 years: He was part of a team that traveled the world to visit countries that possessed nuclear material.
In the early ’90s, the United States realized there was a great deal of nuke-making substances in dozens of locations throughout the former Soviet Union.
The Nuclear Engineering and Non-Proliferation Group helps governments measure their weapons-grade nuclear material, establishes computer-based accounting and installs security—making sure the material is in a vault and only people with authorized access can get to it.
“This is something that I was tremendously interested in because clearly it has a security benefit for the United States—and for the world—because we don’t want anyone with nefarious intent to get ahold of nuclear materials,” Doyle said.
I spoke with Doyle in his capacity as a former nuclear security expert about the ongoing dilemma the world faces over nuclear weapons, energy and waste. But there’s more to Doyle’s story.
In early July, he was called into a meeting at 11 a.m. with his manager, a human resources rep and security. They requested his badge and the keys to his office and he was escorted out of the building. Doyle was surprised by his termination, which LANL said was due to cutbacks.
He says otherwise. Doyle had published an article called “Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?” in the February 2013 issue of Survival, the journal for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. His article challenged the logic behind nuclear weapons and supported a vision of a world without nukes.
“There was always kind of a conflict for me—an internal conflict—working at Los Alamos National Laboratory because that is the birthplace of the bomb,” he said, “and the primary mission of the laboratory is maintaining the nuclear weapon stockpile.”
Doyle said he vetted the article with the appropriate people as required before it was published. But after its release, LANL’s Classification Office accused him of revealing classified information.
“I suspect that the decision to classify it was taken in haste and was biased by those at the laboratory who feel it’s not responsible or appropriate for one of their staffers to write such a piece, which questions the role and the value of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Doyle pursued all of the internal avenues for making a complaint at LANL, he said, but his complaints were found unsubstantiated. He said it was uncomfortable to be at work for about a year. LANL declined to comment in the Albuquerque Journal because the issue is a personnel matter.
Doyle also turned to the Contractor Employee Protection Program, a federally sponsored program for people seeking protection against retaliation, and complained LANL had abused its authority in declaring his article classified after it was published. “Unfortunately, it didn’t protect me from retaliation, and I was terminated while I was an active whistleblower,” Doyle said.
He filed a second complaint about his firing and that complaint was accepted by the Department of Energy’s Albuquerque field office. He will enter into mediation with LANL. He said he hopes to avoid a lawsuit.
Now, Doyle is participating in one study with Nuclear Watch New Mexico that’s funded by Ploughshares, which supports non-proliferation and international security. He’s also working for the Belfer Center at Harvard University.
Doyle’s goal is to continue to work toward a nuke-free world for the rest of his career. “I’m a father, and I hope to be a grandfather,” he said, “and I just can’t imagine these weapons serve the purpose people believe they do.”