LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos was the perfect spot for the U.S. government's top-secret Manhattan Project.
Almost overnight, the ranching enclave on a remote plateau in northern New Mexico was transformed into a makeshift home for scientists, engineers and young soldiers racing to develop the world's first atomic bomb. Dirt roads were hastily built and temporary housing came in the form of huts and tents as the outpost's population ballooned.
The community is facing growing pains again, 80 years later, as Los Alamos National Laboratory takes part in the nation's most ambitious nuclear weapons effort since World War II. The mission calls for modernizing the arsenal with droves of new workers producing plutonium cores — key components for nuclear weapons.
Some 3,300 workers have been hired in the last two years, with the workforce now topping more than 17,270. Close to half of them commute to work from elsewhere in northern New Mexico and from as far away as Albuquerque, helping to nearly double Los Alamos' population during the work week.
While advancements in technology have changed the way work is done at Los Alamos, some things remain the same for this company town. The secrecy and unwavering sense of duty that were woven into the community's fabric during the 1940s remain.
James Owen, the associate lab director for weapons engineering, has spent more than 25 years working in the nuclear weapons…