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It’s really close.
That was the assessment of Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan when he talked about the Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrade Project at Technical Area 55.
“We are very close to completing a complex project,” McMillan told those gathered at a regional leaders breakfast at Buffalo Thunder Resort last week. “I can’t take you out there to show it to you, but I can tell you, it is very cool.”
The project has an interesting history and because of cost overruns, it was one of the reasons why the lab did not receive another year on its contract during its evaluation by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“It’s not just a fence,” McMillan said. “It is a very integrated system complete with sensors.”
According to the Nuclear Deterrence Monitor, the lab is expecting to remain just under the project’s $244.2 million cost cap. That came from an industry official who had knowledge of the project and shared that knowledge with the trade publication.
The trade publication reported that NMSSUP declared interim operational capability in mid-February and is completing a 30-day “burn-in” period — a sort of testing period where the security system is monitored for any hiccups — that could wrap up next week with the NNSA authorizing Critical Decision-4, or the completion of the project.
Before the project got to this point, it had plenty of hiccups.
In late 2012, the project sustained a major shutdown.
NMSSUP was intended as an upgrade to the existing fences, cameras, sensors, and other detection and denial systems around facilities at TA-55. The project was suspended in October 2012.
Originally, the system was supposed to cost $213 million, but cost overruns increased the project to $254 million, according to a lab memo written by McMillan back in 2012.
To resolve the cost overrun issue, Los Alamos National Security, LLC paid the government $10 million in non-reimbursable, non-taxpayer funds to settle project costs deemed potentially unallowable by the NNSA.
According to officials, the lab discovered and reported to the NNSA a construction defect from the 2010 timeframe, and a pair of separate technical issues, resulting in a completion delay for the security perimeter upgrade project.
Back in 2012, the trade publication obtained an analysis of the project’s problems.
The analysis stated that “the project spun out of control as it faced issues with technology and was hindered by contractor interface issues stemming from the project being broken up into five pieces — and didn’t have the proper project management tools to fix or understand problems as they arose.”
According to the trade publication, the most egregious problems were represented by the improper installation of fiber optic cables. The cables were supposed to be physically separated, but when they were installed in 2010, they were instead routed together. The problem wasn’t discovered until September, according to the lab’s estimate at completion submitted to the NNSA two months later. Other issues include problems with the perimeter lighting system and a perimeter denial system.
According to the trade publication, the last set of problems was one involving the cameras used in the system.
Officials had problems getting adequate resolution, performance and fields of view from the cameras planned for the system, including problems with severe glare during the mornings when the sun comes up over the mountains to the east of the lab, but different cameras and lenses were brought in to correct the issue.
Problems with a sensor system known as OmniTrax proved to be even more difficult to fix, the official told the trade publication. The sensor system is embedded into the ground around the facility’s perimeter intrusion detection system, but the close proximity of many portions of the systems created interference, rendering portions of the system unusable.
The trade publication reported that as a substitute, lab officials used a microwave intrusion detection system on some portions of the perimeter system.
“It’s a system of sensor systems,” the official told the trade publication. “The key is how you get coverage in the areas of concern and as long as the sensor systems overlap appropriately and you have coverage it doesn’t necessarily matter what type of sensor system it is. The key is making sure you have that detection coverage.”