LANL Operating Contract To Be Extended 5 Years
Scott Wyland / The Santa Fe News-American
LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico (December 6, 2022) — The consortium that operates Los Alamos National Laboratory will have its contract renewed for five years in 2023, marking a change from the one-year extensions that have been the industry norm.
Triad National Security LLC will have its contract extended until 2028, indicating federal officials have confidence the operator will ensure the lab can carry out its mission of modernizing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a US Energy Department branch, is shifting back to lengthier contracts with operators that have earned the agency’s trust, partly because it improves efficiency in longer-range planning, officials said Tuesday.
“NNSA’s continued confidence in Triad’s leadership of the laboratory is a recognition of the positive gains we have made as an institution since 2018 and the growing strength of our partnership,” lab Director Thom Mason said in a statement.
Triad took over lab operations in 2018, the year Mason became head of the lab and Triad.
Triad is made up of Battelle Memorial Institute, the Texas A&M University System and the University of California. It replaced Los Alamos National Security, which had a troubled history and poor yearly reviews.
The yearly evaluations will continue, officials said, but they will no longer dovetail with annual contract renewals.
Toni Chiri, a spokeswoman for the nuclear security agency, said Triad’s performance combined with the need to ensure stability at the lab convinced the agency it was in the government’s best interest to go with a longer contract.
The agency is moving toward longer contracts at its nuclear weapons sites, deeming the system of requiring operators to earn one-year extensions as outmoded, according to a report in the Weapons Complex Monitor.
The publication reported agency Administrator Jill Hruby rebuked the system she inherited.
“The one-year contract for award terms were incredibly destabilizing at our labs, plants and sites because they couldn’t keep leadership,” Hruby said in an online forum. “So we acted.”
Craters left by nuclear weapons tests.
At Los Alamos, the one-year renewals appeared to have come after Triad’s predecessor, Los Alamos National Security, had its contract put up for bid in 2015 in response to serious incidents, such as an improperly packaged waste drum bursting at an underground storage site, causing severe radioactive contamination.
Yet Los Alamos National Security remained the lab’s operator for three more years.
Mason has said consistent management is important as the lab pursues a goal of producing 30 nuclear warhead triggers per year, known as plutonium pits, by 2026. Plans also call for Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce 50 pits a year by the mid-2030s.
Mason, along with military and political leaders, says the pits are required to upgrade the nuclear arsenal to deter Russia, China, Iran and rogue states from acting rashly with their nuclear weapons.
New pits also are needed for at least one new warhead.
In his statement Tuesday, Mason applauded Triad and the lab’s workforce for their efforts, which led to nuclear security officials lengthening the contract.
“It is my hope that the stability and continuity of focus this decision provides will help propel our missions forward without disruption,” Mason said.
Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group
Yes, Jill Hruby and Thom Mason say many things, but are they true? This newspaper is afraid to meaningfully ask that question, apparently. The overall answer is, “Sometimes.” Here’s something true: Triad LLC is getting at roughly $20 billion contract extension (~$4 billion x 5 years) based on little more than faith that it will do its job well.
Prior evaluations are a) cursory and b) secret. They used to be public information; now we are litigating to get them along with other public documents that have been pulled behind the veil of secrecy to prevent democratic debate.
So how is Triad doing, say on pit production? Temporary, provisional pit production at a rate of 30 pits per year at LANL was supposed to cost a total of $3 billion to set up, all-inclusive. Triad is required by current law to produce at least 1 “war reserve” pit this fiscal year, 10 next year, 20 in FY25, and at least 30 in FY26.
As NNSA and LANL now admit, LANL will have a hard time meeting this schedule, as they are more than a year behind already. And the cost is expected to be at least $14 billion, not counting the additional facilities that will have to be built to shore up LANL’s aging — and, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — unsafe infrastructure. And why should LANL meet that schedule anyway? What material difference would it make? Very little.
So even the $14 billion price tag which NNSA now documents (but hides) is still unrealistically low. LANL was not built to be a factory. The full extent of the transformation required is still hidden.
As far as worker safety goes, the work will proceed at a lower safety standard than would normally be required. NNSA has reneged on a key safety promise made more than a decade ago, to provide a true “safety class” ventilation system for LANL’s plutonium facility.
By 2015, LANL had already caused the premature deaths of 1,600 workers according to the US Department of Labor, and has injured thousands more. That’s why DOL has by now paid well over a billion dollars in death benefits and medical costs to families in northern New Mexico.
The contracting changes being wrought by Hruby are being supplemented by a major reorganization within NNSA, where some of the internal “watchdog” functions have been eliminated to implement a “contractor support” ideology.
The overall goal is to design and produce more kinds of nuclear weapons and do so faster than at any time since the 1980s. And lest we forget to mention it, LANL now wants a new “low level” nuclear waste dump on site to be operating by April 2025 to facilitate all this, as its web site proclaims if you know where and how to look. See https://lasg.org/press/2022/press_release_23Nov2022.html.
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