No facility is more important at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons research facility, than the so-called “Superblock.” Situated at the heart of the 820-acre complex, the Superblock handles the facility’s plutonium, a key component in nuclear weapons. The facility is protected by a mesh fence to guard against airplanes, ultra-thick walls, and Gatling guns.
But one recently spotted feature at the Superblock probably isn’t part of those security arrangements. Someone — it’s unclear who — has added a beach volleyball court inside its premises.
That volleyball court is clearly visible in satellite footage of the facility. Note the patch of sand in the lower right-hand corner:
Here’s a closer a view of that satellite footage. It’s unmistakably a volleyball court:
It’s a Strangelovian addition to the facility responsible for America’s deadliest nuclear materials. Unless the volleyball court is someone’s strange idea of a decorative feature, the plant’s scientists could be handling materials used in weapons capable of annihilating millions of people one hour, only to be playing beach volleyball the next.
The facility has been the center of some controversy in the past. In 2008, a commando team posing as terrorists breached the Superblock and were able to reach a mock payload of fissile material. The exercise highlighted what the facility’s critics describe as the massive danger of storing nuclear materials at a base with some 7 million people within a 50-mile radius of it.
Those critics probably aren’t going to be comforted by the addition of that volleyball court.
Update, 4 p.m. 12/4/13:
Lynda Seaver, a spokesperson for Lawrence Livermore, emails with an update about the court:
Yes it is a volleyball court. In fact, the Lab has several sport courts throughout the facility, as do many labs and R&D institutions, for recreational use during lunchtime. Employees enjoy these facilities and consider them a nice work/life balance. In the case of the Superblock, security is quite rigorous getting in and out and as a result many employees assigned there would rather stay inside the area during lunch.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |