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.
John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.| The Complex |