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Texas A&M moves toward bid on Los Alamos lab contract

SANTA FE – Football rivals from east Texas may be headed toward a battle in a different kind of field — nuclear weapons science.

The Texas A&M University System’s board of regents voted this week to authorize development and submission of a proposal to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Just last month, the University of Texas System’s regents approved spending $4.5 million to prepare its own bid for to run LANL.

LANL is under the U.S. Department of Energy, whose secretary is now former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — an A&M alumnus.

Los Alamos’ $2.2 billion operating contract is currently held by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a consortium that includes the University of California, Bechtel National Inc. and other corporate entities. The contract expires in September 2018.

The National Nuclear Security Adminstration, part of the DOE, decided against extending the contract after LANL received unsatisfactory performance reviews, including for a radioactive leak from a drum improperly packed at Los Alamos that breached after it was stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility which was shut down as a result.

NNSA already has issued a draft version of a request for proposals for the new contract.

Officials at Texas A&M did not return messages from the Journal on Friday. But the Austin American-Statesman newspaper reported that the regents on Thursday voted unanimously to “take all actions necessary to develop and submit a proposal for management and operation” of LANL. The A&M regents didn’t commit money to the effort at this point. One official told the newspaper the school is “in an exploratory phase to determine if we should move forward.”

Another Perry connection is A&M regent Tony Buzbee, a Houston lawyer, who represented Perry in a successful defense of abuse of power charges leveled against Perry while he was governor in 2013. Buzbee will serve as the regents’ “point person” on the Los Alamos contract, the American-Statesman reported.

Both A&M and the University of Texas were part of a group, along with the University of New Mexico, Battelle and the Boeing Co., that last year submitted an unsuccessful proposal to operate Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.

The A&M official who spoke to the Austin newspaper said A&M had reached out to UT about collaborating again but got no response.

UNM officials have said previously that they will consider being part of a proposal for the Los Alamos contract.