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Los Alamos nuclear lab security fix drags on, with escalating consts

Los Alamos nuclear lab fix to cost $41 million The Associated Press 11/10/2012 09: ALBUQUERQUE – The estimate for fixing a new but inoperable $213 million security system at the nation’s nuclear bomb lab has doubled, officials with Los Alamos National Laboratory confirmed Friday.

Lab director Charles McMillan sent employees a memo this week saying it will cost an additional $41 million and take six months to fix the system, which has been under construction for seven years and was supposed to be complete this summer. That is double what officials estimated a few weeks ago, when problems with the security system were first reported.

McMillan called performance on the project “unacceptable” and said it
has damaged the lab’s credibility.  The revised estimates follow a
review of the project by officials at the lab and the National Nuclear
Security Administration, the federal agency that oversees Los Alamos.

McMillan appointed a new team to oversee completion of the project,
but said it remains in “suspended status” until officials figure out
where to get money for the additional work.

The modern system was designed to protect what is known as Technical
Area 55, the only place in the country where nuclear weapon triggers
can be made. The area is one of the most sensitive at Los Alamos and
includes a cement, bunker-like complex that houses two aging labs
where most of the work with dangerous plutonium is done. Work to
upgrade those facilities and make sure they are structurally able to
withstand a major earthquake

has also been plagued by problems. The complex sits atop major fault
lines. Earlier this year, a federal oversight panel issued a report
saying officials significantly underestimated how much radiation could
leak from the nation’s premier plutonium lab after a major earthquake
and fire.

Also this year, Congress put on hold for five years plans to build a
new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility,
whose cost estimates have ballooned from $500 million to nearly $6
billion over the past decade.

McMillan said completion of the advanced security system is a top
priority. But he emphasized that the lab’s plutonium operations remain

November 12, 2012 - Posted by | safety, USA

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