Thursday marked the beginning of a new era at Los Alamos National Laboratory, with a new consortium that still includes the University of California taking over management of one of the nation’s leading science and technology institutions.
“The new leadership team at Los Alamos is determined to strike the right balance between mission delivery for the nation and safe, operational excellence across the entire Laboratory,” new lab Director Thom Mason said in a statement. “We are committed to partnering with the National Nuclear Security Administration as an integral part of the National Security Enterprise.”
Mason, a physicist with a long tenure overseeing Department of Energy nuclear facilities, also serves as president of Triad National Security LLC, a new collective led by the Battelle Memorial Institute, the Texas A&M University System and the University of California, all of which are nonprofits.
Triad was created solely to manage and operate the lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The new organization replaces Los Alamos National Security LLC, a consortium in which Bechtel Corp. and the University of California were the primary players. Under LANS, the lab racked up an embarrassing record of security breaches, costly accidents and injuries to employees.
“The Triad team has the right combination of nuclear science, research and development, and management expertise to protect and enhance the critical national security operations of Los Alamos National Laboratory far into the future,” Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of Triad’s board of directors, said in a statement.
Los Alamos County Council Chairman David Izraelevitz said people in the community are excited about the new team.
“What I’ve heard is they like the continuity of the University of California, but also the fact that Battelle Memorial Institute manages several other sites in the complex, and finally, the third partner of Texas A&M,” Izraelevitz said in a telephone interview. “There are many, many alumni of that institution that work in Los Alamos, [which has] one of the largest, if not largest, nuclear engineering departments in the country.”
But Izraelevitz, who retired from the lab, said “some uncertainties about financial questions” remain.
Despite published reports, he said, it’s still unclear whether the new consortium will pay gross receipts taxes because nonprofits generally are exempt from the tax on most business transactions.
The county estimated it could lose $21 million annually and the state $23 million in gross receipts tax revenues if Triad were deemed to have nonprofit status, according to published reports.
“We have no final resolution of that issue,” Izraelevitz said. “I think that we’re still working on it. I’m optimistic that we will figure out a path forward.”
Part of his optimism is “the fact that things have gone well through the initial transition,” he said.
“Some of the financial questions that we have are more for the Department of Energy and NNSA,” Izraelevitz said. “But I think I’ve been very impressed with Dr. Thom Mason and his staff, so I think [the relationship between Triad and the county is] going to be very good.”
The new, multibillion-dollar contract includes a five-year base with five one-year options to extend it for a total of 10 years.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.