US nuclear agency seeks bidders for nuclear lab contract
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons cache and the science behind it has detailed its requirements for the next manager of Los Alamos National Laboratory in a final request for proposals published Wednesday.
The National Nuclear Security Administration has set a deadline of Dec. 11 for potential bidders.
The list of those interested in taking over the troubled lab in northern New Mexico includes defense contractors, technology companies and universities.
Among the responsibilities will be improving the safety and security culture at Los Alamos, which has struggled in recent years with the mishandling of plutonium and radioactive waste. Criticism of the lab’s record has only intensified as it prepares to resume production of the plutonium cores used to trigger explosions in nuclear weapons.
The request for proposals covers everything from worker safety to cybersecurity and transparency.
Agency spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said in a statement Wednesday that the National Nuclear Security Administration is committed to a “full and open competition” and that the proposal addresses many of the local community’s concerns, such as protections for current employees as well partnerships with educational institutions and small businesses.
The current multibillion-dollar management contract expires in 2018. It was first announced in late 2015 that Los Alamos National Security LLC would be losing the contract since it failed to earn high enough performance reviews.
Los Alamos National Security’s partners include the University of California and Bechtel National Inc. Both entities have expressed interest in bidding for the new contract.
The birthplace of the atomic bomb and still one of the nation’s premier nuclear research facilities, the lab has been trying to rebuild its reputation after being found responsible for a 2014 mishap that forced the closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.
A container of waste inappropriately packed at Los Alamos resulted in a chemical reaction that caused the container’s lid to pop, releasing radiation and contaminating part of the repository where it had been shipped for permanent disposal.
Aside from a costly recovery effort, the nation’s multibillion-dollar cleanup program for Cold War-era waste left over from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research was stalled because shipments to the repository were put on hold for nearly three years.
More recently, an independent oversight panel accused Los Alamos of violating safety rules and has raised concerns about many of the safety systems at the lab’s plutonium facility being outdated.