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Accidents contribute to loss of contract for LANL operator

SANTA FE – Among the accidents that contributed to Los Alamos National Laboratory’s private operator losing out on a contract extension were an electrical fire in which a lab worker suffered severe burns and incidents at a Nevada nuclear site run by LANL in which workers were exposed to potential contamination, as well as continuing problems with waste cleanup.

Last week, the National Nuclear Safety Administration informed Congress that it would not be extending the contract with Los Alamos National Security LLC to run the lab beyond the contract term that ends at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 budget year, after the lab failed to get a high enough ranking in its latest NNSA annual evaluation.

That means the $2.2 billion contract will go out for bids, although lab director Charlie McMillan told employees last week that NNSA is offering some kind of temporary contract extension, possibly to allow more time for preparing and completing a contract competition.

LANS – a consortium including Bechtel and the University of California – needed to win a series of one-year term extension awards to keep the contract going. By missing a term award for fiscal 2015, LANS’s window to meet that requirement closed.

The latest performance review calls for docking LANS $7.7 million in incentive fees for the May incident at an electrical power substation that left one worker hospitalized for more than a month with burns over 30 percent of his body, and for potential contamination stemming from the handling of highly enriched uranium at a Nevada facility twice in 2014.

LANS has also been under fire – including in a critical NNSA evaluation last year that cost the lab more than $50 million in fees – for a February 2014 radioactive leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation’s nuclear waste storage facility, that came from a drum packed with an incendiary mix at Los Alamos. WIPP, a fellow Department of Energy site near Carlsbad, remains closed.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, in a joint statement, confirmed that NNSA had informed them that the LANS contract won’t be renewed.

“We have high expectations of the Department of Energy and its contractors that they will go above and beyond to ensure our communities are not endangered,” they said. “DOE must hold all of its contractors accountable and be responsible stewards of federal funds. It also must take the appropriate actions under the LANL contract that are in the best long-term interests of this essential national asset and that ensure the safety of workers, the community, and the environment.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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