The management contractor for Los Alamos National Laboratory on Tuesday named a new director it hopes will right the safety and operations issues that have plagued the weapons lab, problems that have prompted the federal government to take a fresh look at who runs the facility.
Terry Wallace, 61, succeeds Charlie McMillan, who will retire at the end of the year. Wallace, a Los Alamos native with ties to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, will become the 11th director in the lab’s 75-year history.
Wallace said that as a Los Alamos High School student, he was enamored by the lab scientists and physicists who would come and volunteer their time in the classrooms. As the first New Mexican to lead LANL, Wallace said, “There is no higher honor.”
“Los Alamos is the only place I’ve ever called home,” he added. “I love the laboratory. It’s my extended family.”
In an interview with The New Mexican, Wallace said he is aware of the challenges and concerns over safety and operations. “There are no accidents that are acceptable,” he said. “We have to get better. We have to do it safely and securely.”
Wallace now serves as principal associate director for global security at the lab, leading LANL programs in international security and nuclear threats. He served as principal associate director for science, technology and engineering from 2006-11 and as associate director of strategic research from 2005-06. In those positions, he integrated expertise from all the basic science programs at the lab and five expansive science and engineering organizations to support LANL’s nuclear weapons, threat reduction and national security missions.
“Dr. Wallace’s unique skills, experience and national security expertise make him the right person to lead Los Alamos in service to the country,” Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the Board of Governors for Los Alamos National Security LLC, the lab’s management contractor, said in a statement. “Terry’s expertise in forensic seismology, a highly-specialized discipline, makes him an acknowledged international authority on the detection and quantification of nuclear tests.”
Los Alamos National Security is a consortium led by the University of California and private partners Bechtel, BWXT and URS, an AECOM company, that has held the lab’s management contract for more than a decade.
But the contract was put out to bid after a series of missteps by the consortium, including the mishandling of a drum of low-level nuclear waste that was shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and burst in February 2014, releasing radiation. The incident forced the closure of the Southern New Mexico nuclear waste storage site for almost three years and led to $2 billion in cleanup and redevelopment work to reopen the site. WIPP is now receiving waste again for long-term disposal.
Final proposals for the LANL contract are due next month to the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, with a decision on the new contractor expected in mid-2018, and the operator expected to commence oversight Oct. 1.
Among those interested in the management contract are the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and General Dynamics, a defense corporation. The University of California also has decided it is entering the competition to retain management.
Wallace said that as the LANL director, he will not be involved in any proposal put forward by the University of California. “My job and what I’m committed to is to manage Los Alamos National Lab through any transition,” he said.
In its own statement, the NNSA praised Wallace for his experience and his leadership in global security.
“He has been at the forefront of integrating scientific and engineering capabilities to address some of the nation’s most serious security threats. We look forward to working with Dr. Wallace over the next year as Los Alamos continues to deliver the leading-edge science and technology needed to support NNSA’s vital national security missions,” said agency Administrator Frank Klotz.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, said Wallace and his family have deep roots in the state, “and I am proud to see a New Mexican assume this important leadership position. Our national labs face significant challenges — from funding battles to infrastructure needs to improvements to security — and I can think of no finer person to lead Los Alamos in the days ahead.”
Wallace holds doctoral and master’s degrees in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and bachelor’s degrees in geophysics and mathematics from New Mexico Tech.
Wallace will oversee a budget of approximately $2.5 billion, employees and contractors numbering nearly 12,000, and a 36-square-mile site of scientific laboratories, nuclear facilities, administration buildings and utilities.
Wallace is a 1974 graduate of Los Alamos High School. He is the son of the late Terry Wallace Sr. and the late Jeannette Wallace, a former state House member, and is a second-generation laboratory employee.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.