SANTA FE – Although the U.S. Department of Energy decided three years ago to have separate contracts for operations and environmental cleanup work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the first long-term cleanup contract has been awarded to a group including a company that has helped run the lab since 2006.
The $1.4 billion contract went to a consortium involving BWXT, which also is part of lab operator Los Alamos National Security LLC.
According to a news release issued Wednesday by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, the cleanup contract with Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos LLC is for five years, with an additional five years in two optional extensions. BWXT’s partner in the group is SN3, part of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The contract is to remove nuclear waste, demolish and clean up some facilities and “protect” and monitor the regional aquifer, where a chromium plume was discovered a decade ago and, according to recent readings from wells, may be spreading.
The contract amount comes to “cleanup on the cheap,” said Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a frequent lab critic. A federal estimate shows that $3.8 billion in cleanup work remains at the lab, even while leaving much of the waste buried, Coghlan said.
In 2014, DOE decided to separate remediation of radioactive and other hazardous materials generated by decades of nuclear weapons work from the overall Los Alamos lab operating contract, held since 2006 by LANS, which also includes the University of California and Bechtel.
The move was part of a shake-up after a drum of radioactive waste packed improperly with a combustible mix at Los Alamos breached in February 2014 at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant at Carlsbad, resulting in a shutdown of the nuclear waste storage facility.
But LANS subsequently was granted a temporary “bridge contract” to continue doing the cleanup work for an interim period while a long-term cleanup contract was put out for bids. Three proposals were received, Wednesday’s news release said.
LANS failed to get extensions of the $2.2 billion annual operating contract beyond next September due to inadequate performance reviews. Competition for a new operating contract is underway.