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Ex-Los Alamos director Harold Agnew dies

October 1, 2013 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Harold Agnew, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director who worked on the Manhattan Project and later led the effort to train the first group of international atomic inspectors, died Sunday, his family announced. He was 92.

Agnew died at his home in Solana Beach, Calif., while watching football and had been suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, his family said.

According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Agnew was its third director and served from 1970 to 1979. Under his leadership, Los Alamos developed an underground nuclear test containment program, acquired the first Cray supercomputer, and trained the first class of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

He is credited with developing “fail-safe” methods for nuclear weapons that are still used today, the lab said.

“His contributions to the laboratory made us the institution we are today,” current LANL Director Charlie McMillan said in a statement. “It was his vision — decades ago — that recognized that national security science brings value to a broad spectrum of breakthroughs. Los Alamos and the nation will be forever in Harold’s debt.”


During the Manhattan Project, a World War II program that provided enriched uranium for the atomic bomb, Agnew went to the top secret city of Los Alamos as a graduate student. He was a scientific observer on the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

Agnew completed his graduate studies under Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago following World War II and returned to Los Alamos to work in the Weapons Nuclear Engineering division, where he stayed until he became lab director.

In a 1998 interview with the National Security Archive, a nonprofit group that examines formerly secret U.S. government documents, Agnew said he felt that the world wouldn’t see another nuclear bomb attack but still had fears about one during the Cold War.

“I thought that we had such a retaliatory capability that no sane individual would attack the United States. I just didn’t see that happening,” Agnew said. “Clearly we were worried with the transport of missiles into Cuba, that being that close that could be a threat and in a way you could argue that Soviets were always very clever.”

Following his career at Los Alamos, Agnew became president and CEO of General Atomics, a position he held until 1985. He chaired the General Advisory Committee of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and served as a science adviser to the White House from 1982 to 1989.


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