Technical hindrances have prompted the United States to defer the development of a protective mechanism to help secure a plutonium research and processing facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Thursday.
Preparation of the equipment has cost $213 million over the last seven years, and its activation at the laboratory's Technical Area 55 site was scheduled for around the beginning of next year. Officials have not said how long the effort might remain in suspension.
Deploying additional defensive systems to compensate for the gear's absence is expected to require between $21 million and $25 million, according to National Nuclear Security Administration records obtained by the newspaper. One possible means of freeing up funds to cover the expense would be to reduce fees provided to Los Alamos National Security, the laboratory's contract operator, according to the report.
Nuclear agency spokesman Josh McConaha stated: "The performance on this project has been unacceptable, and we will hold LANS fully accountable for all costs.”
NNSA auditors are expected within days to assess the initiative, with an eye toward holding the laboratory "accountable for poor project management," states an agency document quoted by the Journal.
LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said the apparatus incorporates scanners, alert devices and “denial systems,” but certain data pertaining to the equipment is confidential. Unacceptable fiber optic equipment deployments and other findings of concern turned up in a final check of the almost-finished security mechanism, he said, adding that another firm had carried out the problematic building activities in 2010.
The laboratory received an NNSA admonishment as early as May 2010 that the effort might not wrap up within its intended time line or spending projection, but the atomic agency only received notice of the latest hindrances on Oct. 17, according to the records.