Containers of radioactive waste on the way to storage in Carlsbad, NM
❝On May 3, an electrical accident at a Los Alamos National Laboratory substation injured nine workers, burning one of them so severely he was hospitalized for more than a month.
Federal officials in December cited the incident as a “significant failure” on the part of the contractor charged with managing the nuclear weapons repository and research facility. The contractor — Los Alamos National Security — lost $7.2 million in federal performance fees because of the accident.
The incident also might have been the final straw that cost LANS — a consortium in which the University of California and Bechtel Corp. are the primary players — the lucrative $2.2 billion-a-year contract to manage the lab that it has held for nearly a decade.
❝The electrical accident was the latest in a string of problems for LANS that include injured workers, improperly handled hazardous waste, missing enriched uranium, stolen tools and the public release of classified documents. The most costly incident occurred in 2014, when a container of radioactive waste repackaged at the lab later ruptured in the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository, contaminating workers and costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to clean up.
❝Federal officials told Congress in December that they will put the LANL contract up for competitive bid for only the second time since the lab opened in 1943. The current LANS contract ends Sept 30, 2017.
Investigators say the problems stem from repeated management weaknesses, the kind that were supposed to get fixed when the Department of Energy turned to private industry in 2006 to oversee the lab. It was the first time the federal government had put the lab’s management up for bid, with the idea that a for-profit model, operating under an incentives-based contract, would fix the problems that haunted the nonprofit University of California, which had run the lab since World War II.
RTFA. You really should. Most of our few and treasured national labs probably are managed as erratically, poorly, occasionally as dangerously or worse – as LANL. Folks “up on the hill” are so well-paid they make Los Alamos the richest city/county in the United States. Not all are as dedicated to death and destruction as they once were required to be. News which Congress in its current 19th Century incarnation probably would not welcome. But, since the Beltway crowd mostly fears or hates anything that includes some knowledge of science – they ain’t about to peer too closely.
This is a long detailed, tightly edited history. The topic is worth volumes some of which have been written. Just wandering through I’ve noticed a few omissions, mostly unimportant, just local color. Wen Ho Lee’s avocation away from the labs is well-known. An avid, talented fly fisherman especially with light tackle. I sometimes bumped into him at a stream that also was a favorite of Al Capone.
The Santa Fe NEW MEXICAN has done stellar work criticizing the labs and oversight from the Nuclear Regulation Commission. An award-winning series for the editor BITD. The previous generation of the family that still owns the paper was sufficiently dedicated to the Republican Party and conservative ideology to fire that editor after congratulations. 🙂