McMillan says employees should report to work Monday -- updated

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By John Severance

The Los Alamos National Laboratory still is open.

For how long, nobody really knows.

Republicans and Democrats are still scrapping and a solution seems far away to the impasse on funding the government.

LANL Director Charlie McMillan issued a memo to employees Friday, telling them to report to work Monday unless otherwise directed.

McMillan identified the following points as to the current state of the lab.

• Congress has not yet identified a path forward for fiscal year 2014 funding.

• Coordination with DOE and NNSA partners is continuing on a regular basis.

• Laboratory employees should continue to report for work as normal. 

•  News reports citing specific lengths of time that the laboratory can continue operating are simply speculation. 

“As I said in my message to you last week, we have sufficient funds to continue operating for the near term, and that is as specific as we can get,” McMillan said in the memo. “Your efforts to defer discretionary expenses such as travel and non-critical purchases will help conserve available funds.”

LANL officials released the following bullet points as well.

• The lab is currently working to stand down in a safe and orderly manner some operations related to cleanup activities performed for DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM).

• The lab has been regularly communicating with its environmental regulators, including the New Mexico Environment Department and EPA.  

• Protecting Special Nuclear Material, national security information, workers, the public and the environment remains an essential function.

Ninety environmental subcontractors, meanwhile, have been told to stand down and report back to their companies. And as of Friday, no LANS employees have been furloughed. In addition, workers will be asked to report to work Monday unless told otherwise by their supervisor.

With things changing every minute, regular lab employees, who work for the environment team, have been transitioned to short-term duty.

Other news out of LANL includes this:

• The TruWaste 3706 campaign continued this week with numerous shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. And word is that will continue until at least Monday.

• The two storm water monitoring stations along feeds to the Santa Fe Buckman Water Diversion Plant continued to be operational after they were damaged in floods three weeks ago.

• The lab also will have personnel on hand to protect safety and security at the facility. 

• The lab indicated that will not update its website or Facebook page with any science news until the shutdown is over.

“Given an organization of this size and complexity, it is prudent to plan for various scenarios. This would include that we consider a suspension of normal operations and to place the laboratory into safe standby condition in the event of an extended lapse in appropriations,” McMillan wrote. “I remind you that scenarios are just that, and not reality. As soon as we have further information – solid information, not speculation – we will share it with you. “

This past week, NMED addressed the potential impact of a federal shutdown on cleanup at LANL.

“The Environment Department has serious concerns regarding potential disruptions of operations if the federal shutdown continues beyond just a few days,” NMED spokesman Jim Winchester said.

“NMED has concerns the TRU Waste 3706 Campaign to remove all above-ground transuranic waste off the lab grounds and ship it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant by June of 2014 will not be sustained at the current pace if a shutdown lingers.  

“NMED strongly believes the federal shutdown is unacceptable and the department joins Governor Martinez in urging New Mexico’s federal delegation to move toward a quick resolution for the sake of the continued clean-up and protection of New Mexico’s precious resources.”

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, meanwhile, isn’t considering offering state money to try to reopen popular tourism stops in the national park system closed because of the federal government shutdown.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in a statement that national parks are a federal responsibility and the failure “to perform even basic functions like funding government operations is a sign of the terrible dysfunction and inability to work together in Washington.”