$13B in im­prove­ments planned for na­tional lab

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD -

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Of­fi­cials at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory have plans for $13 bil­lion worth of con­struc­tion projects over the next decade at the north­ern New Mex­ico com­plex as it pre­pares to ramp up pro­duc­tion of plu­to­nium cores for the na­tion’s nu­clear weapons ar­se­nal.

They out­lined their plans at a re­cent meet­ing at­tended by hun­dreds of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­struc­tion firms from around the country.

Be­yond the new in­fra­struc­ture re­lated to plu­to­nium as­sign­ment, other work likely will be aimed at serv­ing a grow­ing work­force — from planned hous­ing projects and park­ing garages to a po­ten­tial new high­way that would re­duce com­mute times from Al­bu­querque and Santa Fe for the 60% of em­ploy­ees who live out­side of Los Alamos County.

Lab Di­rec­tor Thomas Mason told the Al­bu­querque Journal the lab has 1,400 open­ings and plans to add an­other 1,200 jobs to its work­force of 12,000 by 2026.

“We’re prob­a­bly busier than we have been since the height of the Cold War,” he said.

Mason said $3 bil­lion in spend­ing is planned for im­prove­ments to the lab’s ex­ist­ing plu­to­nium fa­cil­ity for the core work. An ac­cel­er­a­tor project and a new-gen­er­a­tion su­per com­puter also will re­quire ma­jor in­vest­ments.

Road­work would be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties or the state, but he said the lab is stress­ing the im­por­tance of transporta­tion in­fra­struc­ture and needs to com­mu­ni­cate to the re­gion about the lab’s growth pro­jec­tions.

One piece of transporta­tion in­fra­struc­ture — Omega Bridge, which con­nects the town of Los Alamos with the lab site over Los Alamos Canyon — is owned by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. One pos­si­bil­ity is that it’s con­verted to a “green­way” with a new bridge added nearby.

Mason said what to do with the bridge is a long-term is­sue.

Some watch­dog groups have been con­cerned about the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plans to boost plu­to­nium pit pro­duc­tion at Los Alamos given the cur­rent in­fra­struc­ture and the lab’s track record of safety con­cerns.

Greg Mello with the Al­bu­querque-based Los Alamos Study Group said “ev­ery­where pit pro­duc­tion has been done, in ev­ery country, has been an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter.”

Pits were formerly made at Rocky Flats in Colorado, which was shut down in the early 1990s amid an en­vi­ron­men­tal scan­dal.

The Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­der a man­date from Congress and the Depart­ment of De­fense to make 80 pits a year by 2030 as part of a plan to mod­ern­ize the na­tion’s ar­se­nal.

Only a hand­ful have been pro­duced in re­cent decades, all of them at Los Alamos. NNSA’s plan calls for mak­ing 30 pits a year at Los Alamos and 50 pits a year at the U.S. En­ergy Depart­ment’s Sa­van­nah River Site in South Carolina.

A re­cent con­gres­sion­ally funded study cast doubts on pit pro­duc­tion goals and ques­tioned the over­all plan to ramp up pro­duc­tion, which is es­ti­mated to cost $14 bil­lion to $28 bil­lion.


Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory plans to spend $3 bil­lion on plu­to­nium fa­cil­ity up­grades.

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