Livermore, Calif. — Employees once more drive their pickups and Porsches through the gates of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory unhampered by antinuclear demonstrators. Gone are the hundreds of protesters and police, not to mention the scores of reporters, who on June 20 and 22 were more a distraction than an impediment to managers and workers at the laboratory, operated by the University of California under a contract with the US Department of Energy.
But the issues that brought them to this agricultural-community-turned-weapons-development-center remain. Of the 900 people arrested, some 600 remained in custody as of Thursday. The demonstrators hope they have caused lab employees associated with weapons development, administrators and students of the University of California, and the nation as a whole to think a bit more about the consequences of what goes on behind the fences of this one-square-mile facility.
Previous demonstrations have dramatized the extent and depth of opposition to the arms race and nuclear weapons development. Last week's activities, along with demonstrations elsewhere in the United States and other countries on ''International Day of Disarmament'' June 20, were aimed at maintaining the momentum of the antinuclear movement. But the effect on public opinion is in dispute.
Tamara Thompson of the Livermore Action Group (LAG), the central organization in the protests, says she has reason to believe many workers are reexamining involvement in such projects, that the employment ''turnover rate'' is increasing, and that ''morale is low'' at the facility.
Roger Batzel, director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, says the demonstration at the facility's main entrance had little effect on work there or on the employees.
''We feel very strongly that what we're doing here is in the best interests of the United States,'' he says. Most lab workers say almost word-for-word the same thing when asked about involvement in nuclear weapons projects.
But a former, highly placed employee at the lab who left and became active in the nuclear freeze movement, says that rationalization often hides growing doubt.
''The lab needs two things to keep going - a constant supply of money and a constant supply of young, bright scientists, engineers, and technicians,'' he says. ''Over the long term I think it (the opposition) will affect the recruiting. As to whether it's changing people's minds at the laboratory, I've noticed that if you ask [employees], 'How do you feel about working at this place that makes nuclear weapons?' they'll very quickly tell you, 'I don't have anything to do with weapons, I work over here, I file papers' or what have you.
''I don't think any single demonstration will have a noticeable effect, but over a long period of time I think it begins to have a wearing-down effect.''
It affected him, the former lab employee attests.
That's what LAG hopes for. But stiff fines and probationary conditions imposed on demonstrators pleading guilty threaten to cripple the demonstrators' strategy. Fines of up to $250 were levied and the municipal judge handling the cases ruled that participation in any demonstration during a two-year probationary period would result in a jail sentence.
Protesters who pleaded not guilty were released on bail with warnings by the judge that if they were found guilty when tried, they would be subject to 45-day jail terms. LAG spokesmen admit such ''harsh'' terms could severely hamper future demonstrations. With possible appeals-court action pending and unfavorable publicity building, the district attorney's office on Wednesday offered a deal - five more days in jail or a $150 fine. The 600 demonstrators still refusing arraignment were considering the offer at this writing.
After similar demonstrations last year at the lab, most of the 1,300 people arrested were assessed minor fines. Charges against many were dismissed.
County officials say the cost of processing, housing, and feeding those arrested last week has exceeded $1 million. Lab spokesmen say security measures in connection with the demonstrations amounted to $1 million also.
Ms. Thompson said there probably would be no further demonstrations here until at least October. Although the immediate objective of the demonstrations is to ''make people think'' about the consequences of continuing to develop and deploy nuclear weapons, long-range goals are to get the University of California out of the nuclear weapons business and to see the manufacture of those weapons by the US halted.
A wide spectrum of people is involved in the demonstrations. But LAG spokesmen admit that many supporters of the demonstrations probably would not agree with the LAG belief in unilateral reduction of weapons systems by the US.