Plenty of work

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By Roger Snodgrass

POJOAQUE  – Asa Kelley compared the economic future at Los Alamos National Laboratory to a big, juicy peach, a Georgia Belle, which he described as the best and tastiest peach of Georgia.

“There’s a lot of work for a lot of people for a lot of years,” said Kelly, the lab’s associate director for project management services, at a small business forum Thursday.

Anticipated construction projects are slated to bring in $250-$350 million a year for the next decade or so. That’s compared to $47 million in Fiscal Year 2004, a total figure that has grown to the current $220 million.

The small-business forum, held about twice a year, brings buyers and purchasing managers together with small business suppliers, bidders and opportunity prospectors. There were at least 200 of them on hand.

More work in the pipeline was music to their ears.

Kevin Chalmers, acquisition services manager at the laboratory, drew approving applause when he told the audience that the laboratory spending might rise for all procurements, closer to $850 million than last years’ $750 million.

After the meeting, Chalmers said through a spokesperson that the laboratory’s figure of $800-850 million for procurements this year was a moving target that the lab hopes to clarify as it begins its mid-year budget review process.

Joe Martz, the lab’s project leader for the Reliable Replacement Warhead project, gave a keynote speech, describing a federal plan for transforming the nuclear weapons complex.

He did it without written notes and without using a single acronym that wasn’t first expressed in terms of what the letters stood for.

The new plan for the laboratory, he said, means that LANL will have more work than anybody else in the complex. Under the government’s preferred alternative, the laboratory will maintain ongoing responsibilities for design and engineering of nuclear weapons, and take on new designations under the plan as centers of excellence for plutonium research and for supercomputer and simulation work.

Martz recalled that LANL previously was known for having the biggest and fastest computer in the land, but that the lead had been lost a while ago.

“We’re going to get that title back this summer,” he said.

He portrayed the lab’s new high-performance supercomputer contender, the Roadrunner, as capable of petaflop speed, million billion operations per second.

Of the plutonium pit production, Martz said the new plutonium production demands would be minimal compared to the plutonium metal the laboratory made for Rocky Flats.

The point of it all, he said, was that the plan was going to make it possible to maintain the advantages of nuclear deterrence without the prohibitively expensive cost trends and environmental risks of the past.

Martz compared nuclear weapons of the past to Ferrari’s. They were big and powerful, but costly and somewhat temperamental.

“We want to build Fords now,” he said. “We’ll give up some of the yield for systems that are more robust and easier to build.”

After the talks, Ed Jimenez, a manager with IT supplier Abba Tech in Los Alamos, said he had seen the ups and downs for more than 30 years.

“This year has been slow, but it’s starting to pick up now,” he said. “As long as there is money flowing through, then it’s not a given, but there are opportunities.”

Bart Davis, area manager for J.B. Henderson Construction in Los Alamos said his company is working on the new Department of Energy Los Alamos Site Office building.

His company has been recovering slowly after hitting a low point in mid-2007.

“Looks like, hopefully, it’s going to take an upturn this year,” he said.

The laboratory’s figures for last year indicate that $346.8 million out of a total $734.5 million went to northern New Mexico businesses large and small.