Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation confirmed Saturday that the private consortium that operates Los Alamos National Laboratory will not have its contract renewed after it expires on Sept. 30, 2017.
The New Mexican reported in a story published Saturday that the National Nuclear Safety Administration, the arm of the Department of Energy that oversees the lab’s contract, has decided to put the contract worth about $2.2 billion annually up for competitive bidding. The decision follows a series of federal investigations and performance evaluations involving the lab’s safety record before and after a drum from the lab burst and leaked radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February 2014 near Carlsbad, shutting down the nation’s only underground nuclear repository indefinitely.
The lab has been run since 2006 by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which took over operations after years of accounting scandals, security lapses and other management issues. The company is made up of a partnership between the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., URS Corp. and AECOM. The lab’s latest review for 2015 was better than its 2013 and 2014 evaluations but not good enough to earn the consortium an automatic extension of an additional year to the contract, the lab’s director, Charles F. McMillan, wrote in an email to lab employees on Thursday.
In a joint statement issued Saturday, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján said:
“We have been informed of NNSA’s performance review of LANS and NNSA’s decision not to extend the LANS contract. Among the reasons cited by NNSA were a serious safety incident involving a worker and waste-handling mistakes that have had an expensive and severe impact on LANL, WIPP and DOE’s nuclear waste cleanup.
“We have high expectations of the Department of Energy and its contractors that they will go above and beyond to ensure our communities are not endangered. DOE must hold all of its contractors accountable and be responsible stewards of federal funds. It also must take the appropriate actions under the LANL contract that are in the best long-term interests of this essential national asset and that ensure the safety of workers, the community, and the environment.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory employs some of the best and brightest minds in the country whose contributions are indispensable to our national security. The lab also strengthens our economy by providing quality jobs, and we will always fight to protect its mission. As DOE prepares a new contract proposal, assuring continuity for the employees at LANL and the high-quality scientific, energy, and security contributions they make to our nation will be paramount. We are confident that Los Alamos will continue to have a critical role in national and international security, research and science. We expect to receive further details and regular briefings from NNSA as the process moves forward in the new year.”