New Chief for Brookhaven

There's at least one scientist who's willing to wade into the troubled waters at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. The board of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), which operates Brookhaven, yesterday selected David Moncton of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois as the new director of the lab. The Department of Energy (DOE) must approve Moncton's nomination before it becomes official.

The job has been filled on an acting basis since the resignation last April of Nicholas Samios after 15 years. But it is unlikely to be a long-term position, given that Energy Secretary Federico Peña terminated AUI's contract last month to run the lab, which has been plagued with a host of environmental and safety problems during the past decade--most recently a tritium leak from a reactor. DOE officials say the leak does not threaten Long Island's drinking water. However, this and other environmental problems have enraged community activists, who complain that Brookhaven managers have misled them over the years.

Moncton, a physicist and currently Argonne's associate director, oversaw efforts to build the lab's Advanced Photon Source--a massive facility designed to give researchers insight into the structure of materials. A former Brookhaven employee, he will take the reins of a lab with over 3000 employees and an annual budget of $400 million that is home to several major DOE facilities, including the High-Flux Beam Reactor--one of the nation's premier neutron-scattering centers--and two synchrotrons that are used for a host of materials, biology, and medical research experiments. "We felt it was important to bring on a strong scientist with a deep commitment to [environment, safety, and health matters] who has experience with the lab," says AUI Chair Paul Martin.

DOE officials expect to name a new contractor by fall. Although AUI, a consortium of universities, can compete for the contract, the organization is unlikely to win, they add.