At an informational meeting for potential contractors, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) officials laid out plans for a 10-year construction program worth approximately $13 billion at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, facility, the Associated Press reported.
Hundreds of representatives from construction companies around the U.S. listened to LANL personnel give preliminary details on infrastructure needed for a planned increase in plutonium production and other projects including housing, parking garages and a highway to reduce commute times between the lab and Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Officials said these projects are necessary to support the extra 2,600 employees expected to be working at the lab by 2026.
The work may include turning an existing bridge that connects the town of Los Alamos to the lab into a greenway and construction of a new bridge, in addition to $3 billion set aside for upgrades at LANL's existing plutonium core facility. The lab's other plans include reaching out to surrounding communities and the state DOT, both of which will have to foot the bill for some roadwork around the lab.
In June, the lab's construction program had to endure some bad press when leaks were found in the radioactive liquid waste system of its new $1 billion Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building. As it turns out, according to the Albuquerque Journal, the issue wasn't that of defective valves but that the valves were made of carbon steel, which is incompatible with the radioactive liquid waste generated by the building's operations.
Activist groups that are opposed to increased plutonium pit production at the lab point to this and a few other construction snafus as evidence that there is not the adequate oversight at the lab necessary to safely carry out the plutonium expansion.
Plutonium pits are fissile cores — the triggers of thermonuclear weapons. Without the ramp-up in production, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration fact sheet, the U.S. will not be able to maintain its nuclear deterrent.
The plutonium pit project is one of two — with the other at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina — intended to "recapitalize its defense plutonium capabilities" by meeting the Defense Department's mission of 80 pits per year by 2030. The production of 50 pits annually is planned for the Savannah River site and 30 for Los Alamos.