TA-55 project resumes

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Lab > Completion date is slated for September

By The Staff

The Los Alamos National Laboratory announced on its website that it has resumed the troubled Nuclear Material Safeguards and Security Upgrade Project at Technical Area 55 and it is shooting for a completion date in September.

Workers from the laboratory and four subcontractors will complete construction and commissioning of the critical security project in the September timeframe, managers said.

“We’ve mobilized the subcontractors and will have two phases of construction,” said project manager Ty Troutman. “The first starts in February, and it involves things that are not impacted by the weather. I expect a full restart in the late March timeframe.”

Originally, the system was supposed to cost $213 million, but cost overruns increased the project to $254 million, according to a memo written by Lab Director Charlie McMillan to employees. The revised cost is now $244 million, according to lab spokesman Fred DeSousa.

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 TA-55 Plutonium Facility security perimeter upgrade project.

The lab sought legal counsel to help deal with the original botched construction of the project.

Los Alamos National Security, LLC along with the National Security Administration then agreed to pay the government $10 million in non-reimbursable, non-taxpayer funds to settle project costs deemed potentially unallowable by the NNSA and work with its subcontractors to develop plans to restart work at NMSSUP as efficiently and economically as possible.

The joint statement read, “LANS and NNSA both recognize the missed opportunities in project execution and oversight that took place with the NMSSUP project. LANS conveyed an understanding of the seriousness of the situation and the value of its partnership with the government.

“Implementing stable improvements to our infrastructure operations is vital to maintaining a 21st century nuclear security enterprise. With this agreement, both parties are now positioned to complete this critical project as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

With work now continuing on the project that was originally suspended in late October, the lab reported that the facility and all nuclear material have been and will remain secure during construction.

The next major milestone is expected to be testing of the first sector of the security system in the early spring.

“We’re very pleased with the collaboration and teamwork from NNSA to restart this project,” Troutman said. “The project integrates a number of security technologies for the first time and will give TA-55 a better, modern, more efficient security system. We have the right federal and lab team in place to bring this project to a successful conclusion.”

Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor obtained a preliminary analysis of the project’s problems a couple of months ago. 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.”

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, Nov. 3. Other issues included problems with the perimeter lighting system and a perimeter denial system.