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Editorial: LANL’s new ‘guesstimates’

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PUBLISHED: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 12:02 am

The “L” in Los Alamos National Laboratory could just as well stand for low ball – their estimates only go up.

The nuclear weapons lab in 2006 projected it would cost $729 million to clean up “transuranic” radioactive waste, such as gloves and equipment from years of weapons work. It said the task would be done in 2012.

That initial completion date is so three years ago. The work is nowhere close to done, and the cost estimate has been greatly exceeded.

According to the General Accountability Office, the National Nuclear Security Administration had spent about $931 million by the end of the last federal fiscal year to move waste from LANL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. LANL now is working on a new estimate of about $1.6 billion and a new projected date for completion – October 2022 – a decade later!

Twice the time at double the price.

Plus, the new estimate does not appear to include the cost of cleaning up and reopening WIPP. That alone might cost a half billion dollars.

The NNSA said it is working on “realistic out-year funding profiles to support a planned renegotiation” of the lab’s 2005 cleanup agreement with the state Environment Department. Given the NNSA’s track record of failing to meet deadlines or complete projects within budget, if at all – a multibillion dollar replacement for LANL’s aging Chemical and Metallurgy Research building, now sidetracked indefinitely, comes to mind – a pledge of coming up with a reality-based projection does not inspire confidence.

Perhaps LANL and NNSA officials should start imagining that public funding, including money to pay their salaries, might become unreality-based if they can’t do better.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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