“Through strength, you can control your destiny”

The Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico)
August 2, 2004 Monday



Raffi Papazian once spent a year and a half doing double duty, or
close to it, almost 1,000 feet under the Nevada desert.

Each day, he took the same ride down a mine shaft to work on the same
nuclear test, dubbed Ledoux after a small town in New Mexico. He was
six years into his career at the Nevada Test Site and 30 years into
his life as an American citizen.

Given his childhood experiences in Egypt and Lebanon, a career in the
United States’ nuclear-weapons program must have seemed a bit
surreal. But somehow it all made sense.

His grandparents fled to Egypt to escape the Turkish slaughter of
Armenians in 1915. He was born in Egypt at a time when Christians
were under persecution there, and he remembers sitting on the balcony
of his boyhood home worrying and waiting for his father to come home.

The family left for Lebanon in 1966, when Raffi was 10. They waited
four years for a ticket into the United States, during which time
Raffi and his sister went to an English-speaking school.

“Believe it or not, that left a tremendous impression on me,” he
said. “When I left college, I always wanted to work in the national
defense industry, because I wanted to make sure my kids never had
that feeling. … That might sound hokey to you, but it’s not.”

Papazian is a mechanical engineer who worked his way up through the
ranks at Los Alamos National Laboratory, substituting post-graduate
studies with under-the-ground experience designing nuclear tests. His
job was to ensure the physicists got what they needed when the ground

The lab detonated Ledoux in 1990, on the tail end of nuclear testing.
Two years later, the testing moratorium went into effect, and things
changed at the Nevada Test Site. All three of the major
nuclear-weapons laboratories still have operations there, and
Papazian is among a small group of Los Alamos employees who make the
commute each week.

Papazian’s work on the nuclear-weapons program might have made sense
to him, but he says his two daughters have had their doubts. Over the
years, Papazian has spent a lot of time explaining what the lab does,
and why, and how he feels about it.

“At some level, if you look at history, wars have been minimized by
nuclear weapons,” he said. “I’m one of the people who believes
there’s a lot of validity in being strong. Through strength, you can
control your destiny.”