The University of Texas’ board of regents narrowly approved a bid Monday on a potentially decade-long contract to manage the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The University of Texas’ (UT) board of regents voted 4-3 in favor of the motion, which will pair the university with at least one corporate partner as part of a limited liability corporation, regents said during a webcast meeting Monday evening.
“The team we’ve assembled is one that will be able to identify and mitigate a lot of the risks there,” Regent Paul Foster said during the meeting.
If UT wins its bid, it will nab a potentially 10-year, $20-billion-plus contract to manage the Department of Energy’s (DOE) oldest weapons lab. Annual fees under the contract could be as high as $50 million. DOE plans to produce new plutonium pits at a new plutonium-pit plant to be built at Los Alamos during the span of the contract UT is now officially pursuing.
Bids are due Dec. 11 with an award expected in April or May.
Voting for the bid were regents Ernest Aliseda, Paul Foster and Jeffery Hildebrand.
Voting against the motion were regents Kevin Eltife, Steven Hicks and Janiece Longoria.
Longoria spoke most forcefully against a bid.
“I really believe this is outside our mission and our core capability,” Longoria said during Monday evening’s webcast meeting. “UT administration is really driving this, not UT Austin.”
Moreover, Longoria said, UT has “no experience running a nuclear laboratory, and no experience handling weapons-grade plutonium.” Longoria worried that “it is also possible that our costs could exceed the reimbursement and the fees that would be received.
The incumbent Los Alamos prime, Los Alamos National Security, is a partnership led by longtime lab manager the University of California and senior industry partner Bechtel National. AECOM and BWX Technologies are also part of the current prime, whose contract is set to expire Sept. 30.
DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the branch of the agency responsible for nuclear weapons, decided in 2014 not to renew the incumbent’s contract after a poorly packaged barrel of nuclear waste from Los Alamos leaked radiation into DOE’s underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.
The University of California officially approved its long-expected bid on the next Los Alamos contract last week.