University leaders share insight into Los Alamos weapons lab contract

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Los Alamos National Lab- New Mexico- File

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory are preparing for a change in management after the new operating group got the green light to proceed with taking over in November.

The incoming director of the lab, Dr. Thomas Mason, participated in a discussion with Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp about the transition.

“The primary function of Los Alamos is to make sure that you can certify to the President of the United States that if God forbid you push that red button that these nukes are going to go off,” Sharp said.

The group, called Triad, includes the Texas A&M University System, the University of California system and Ohio-based technology development company Battelle Memorial Institute. Mason, President of Triad, will take operational responsibility of the lab.

“Los Alamos National Lab plays a critical role in our nation’s security,” Mason said.

Approximately 12,000 employees at the facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico, conduct research and develop nuclear technology for the federal government, essentially caring for the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Triad won a five year, $2.5 billion contract from the Department of Energy to operate the facility.

University leaders said U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was not involved in Triad’s bid to be awarded the contract. Perry graduated from Texas A&M. According to the Associated Press, Triad’s proposal was favorably scored by the National Nuclear Security Administration before reaching Perry’s desk.

“One of the reasons this contract was being competed was because there had been some operational issues in the past, and that led to a loss of confidence in the institution by the national nuclear security administration, by Congress, and by the public,” Mason explained.

“Our motto really is ‘continuity with change,'” Sharp added. “We recognize the value that the University of California and the history and the knowledge that they [have] been the sole operator of that lab for a very long time. We recognize that there has to be some changes.”

Sharp said the deal would benefit not only the university system he oversees, but also the state overall.

“This means a great deal to the state of Texas in terms of research, in terms of workforce development, in terms of students being able to get jobs in Los Alamos… workforce training, workforce development, graduate students that are going to be placed within the lab,” he mentioned. Sharp said it boosts Texas A&M and the state’s reputation on the national stage as a “co-equal partner of the premier weapons lab in the country.”

Tuesday’s speaking engagement comes at a time where tensions are high between the United States and global nuclear power, Russia. Sharp also noted that the Texas A&M University System would play a role with the Army’s move to house its Futures Command in Austin, at a University of Texas site, where the military plans to further modernize.

“From everything from cybersecurity to workforce training to providing students and graduate students and researchers and things like that, as well as Los Alamos, fit hand in glove together in a mission to serve the nation,” Sharp stated. “That’s one of the functions of our university, is to serve the country just as a heck of a lot of our graduates have done in the military.”

To watch the entire conversation with Texas Monthly, click here.

Texas A&M Chancelor John Sharp, (left) and Dr. Thomas Mason, right, incoming director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, speak at an event in Austin on July 17, 2018. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Los Alamos National Laboratory (Nexstar File Photo)

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