ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Supervising one of the top nuclear weapons laboratory in United States that has had security and safety hiccups will be the responsibility of a new administration team that includes a couple of universities and a research and development (R&D) company that does work across the globe, the U.S. government announced on Friday, June 8.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) opted to hire Triad National Security LLC as the winning bidder to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb has invented. Comprised of Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, Texas A&M University and the University of California, Triad National Security will begin taking over later this 2018.
The contract deal — worth an estimated $2.5 billion per annum — marks a big leap as federal officials look to get the laboratory back on track after safety failures and missed objectives.
NNSA in the recent years has mishandled plutonium (a dense silvery radioactive metal and chemical element of atomic bomb) and wrongly delivered nuclear material to other federal facilities through a commercial cargo plane. It also inappropriately parceled radioactive waste that led to a radiation release and a nearly three-year closure of the country’s only underground nuclear waste reservoir.
Criticism of the nuclear weapons laboratory’s safety record has escalated as the federal government forces to restart production of plutonium cores for the United States’ nuclear weaponry.
Following a weighty concerns regarding the management more than a ten-years ago, the University of California formed the Los Alamos National Security LLC consortium alongside Bechtel and other private firms.
Complications persisted, however, and federal government officials announced back in 2015 that the contract wouldn’t be renewed due to failed performance goals.
The NNSA followed up last year with a request for plans that called for the contractor to promote a “security conscious culture,” something critics have said has been missing at the laboratory.
NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty didn’t address the laboratory’s previous mishaps in a press statement issued earlier this week. Instead, Gordon-Hagerty said that its history of scientific innovations related to national security.
“For 75 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has been at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation to enhance our national security,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “The lab will continue to be a critical resource to ensure the future safety and security of the United States as we begin work on new endeavors, like the effort to recapitalize our plutonium pit mission.”
She was referring to a recent proposal by NNSA that Los Alamos at least produce 30 plutonium cores each year — the triggers for nuclear warheads.
The plutonium cores production has been based at Los Alamos since the 1990s, although none have been turned out since 2011 because of safety predicaments and concerns regarding the lack of accountability.
The effort is worth hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in federal government funding that would be needed to either renovate existing structures or built a new factories to support the labor.
NNSA said Triad National Security was “the best value” when all aspects were contemplated and will provide future safety and security for up to decade should all contract options are exercised.
Governor Greg Abbott congratulated Texas A&M and its partners on securing the contract deal, stating that it “charges the Texas A&M University System with the management of one of the world’s premier laboratories in the areas of defense, nuclear weapons and nuclear nonproliferation.”
“I commend Chancellor Sharp and the Texas A&M University System for securing this contract that will provide significant opportunities for skilled workers trained in Texas to make lasting contributions to our national security,” Abbott added.
Bechtel lost out on the contract in the bidding process, which it had bid for in partnership with Purdue University. The University of Texas System also joined and submitted a bid worth $4.5 million and turned down an offer to partner with A&M.
Texas A&M, the University of California and Battelle — also manages the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California along with other partners.