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LANL Officials Present Update To Community Leaders

on August 24, 2017 - 6:28am

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan

 

By MAIRE O'NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post
 

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan told Los Alamos community leaders Wednesday morning that the Lab is committed to executing its national security mission safely and securely while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) carries out their process of finding a new contractor.

“We will remain strong through the transition as we work on what the Lab does on behalf of the nation,” he told more than 270 gathered for updates from McMillan, NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Kim Davis Lebak and NNSA Environmental Manager Doug Hintze.

McMillan confirmed that the Lab’s five-year staffing plan is on track and that the Lab expects to hire 1,000 more employees this year. Some 1,100 people were hired in 2016 and the Lab currently has 11,064 employees, he said.

McMillan said 45 percent of the new hires in 2016 were under the age of 35. Between June 1, 2016 and May 31 of this year, 35 percent of the people hired were born in New Mexico. He said the Lab is collaborating with New Mexico colleges to meet its needs.

“Together we are building a work force to meet the Lab’s needs for 2030,” McMillan said.

He went on to outline some of the work currently in the spotlight but is particularly proud that the Lab’s Trinity supercomputer, which he said is the fastest in the country. He said he has seen calculations coming off Trinity that are solving problems in nuclear deterrents that the Lab couldn’t solve a year ago.

McMillan also spoke about the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, which has delivered test results in non-destructive magnetic fields up to and exceeding 100 tesla or two million times the earth’s magnetic field.

McMillan announced the restart of a Lab program that will allow 30 New Mexico school districts and tribes to receive excess furniture and supplies beginning in September.

Lebak gave a brief update on NNSA activities focusing mainly on the new interim storage facility for transuranic waste prior to shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad. She said start-up for the $99.2 million facility she called “modern and robust” is anticipated to occur in November.

When asked about the NNSA request for proposal for management and operations of the Lab, Lebak said the rules are “pretty prescriptive” and asked people to use the NNSA website, nnsa.energy.gov, to find answers.

Hintze reported on the remediation of 60 barrels of nitrate salts and said 27 have been completed with the project going slower than expected. He also addressed the arrest of the migration of the chromium plume on the top of the aquifer toward San Ildefonso Pueblo saying that the extraction and treatment of the water is a temporary measure until a final solution is found. He said one idea is to inject molasses into the water that would convert Chromium 6 to Chromium 3, which he said is found in multivitamins.

Questions asked by community leaders mostly concerned the effects of the new contract on communities, the LANL Foundation and economic growth in the area. Davis Lebak again deferred to the NNSA website for information, saying her office is not leading this procurement.

Hintze said that community involvement going forward would be common practice for Environmental Management contracts. He said it is not required but EM wants to make sure they get the best product and include community impact in their proposal.

Asked what the community could do to help the Lab with the transition, McMillan said the quality of education is incredibly important to families. He said the second thing would be housing because Los Alamos is a beautiful place and retirees like to say here.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan who was also part of this morning's panel said people should participate in decisions being made in the community.

“Get involved in the issues. Stay active otherwise decisions will be made without your input,” he advised. He also suggested that people push those responsible to speak on their behalf.

Asked about the length of time it currently takes to get a security clearance for a new employee, McMillan said the average time is well over a year. He said this is a government-wide problem and not just for the Department of Energy.

“There’s no silver bullet and we will have to live with it for some time to come,” he said. He admitted that the Lab is losing some employees but that there is no flood of people leaving because of the clearance issue. He said he was more concerned about the impact on getting the work done.

“We have 1,400 waiting for clearances,” McMillan said. “I am trying not to yell.”

He said the Lab is starting to hire people and get their clearance process started while they are still studying so that they will be able to start work immediately.


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