News briefs from around California

The Associated Press
Saturday, January 15, 2005

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - U.S. energy officials said they are looking for ways to make managing Los Alamos National Laboratory more attractive to potential bidders after a second would-be operator appeared unlikely to compete for the job now held by the University of California.

University of Texas Chancellor Mark Yudof announced Friday that he would recommend the school's Board of Regents vote against a Los Alamos bid next month.

The university system is the second major potential bidder to decide against trying to take over the troubled nuclear-weapons lab in New Mexico.

In August, defense giant Lockheed Martin, which already manages Sandia National Laboratories, said it had decided not to bid on Los Alamos because it would cost too much.

The announcement from Texas has raised concern in Congress and the Department of Energy that few corporations or educational institutions will end up submitting bids.

Tyler Przybylek, an attorney at the National Nuclear Security Administration who heads a team of bid evaluators, said he hopes to attract three to five bidders before UC's contract expires in September.

"We've identified a number of issues that we think could be barriers to competition, and we're working on those right now," Przybylek said. The administration has proposed tripling the contractor's fee.

Some competitors are wary about taking on the lab because they don't want to become a target of criticism like the University of California did.

UC has operated Los Alamos since it was a top-secret World War II project to develop the atomic bomb. But over the last five years, security and safety problems at the lab have hurt the university's reputation.

"There has been a lot of politicization of the environment around Los Alamos, and it is inhibiting bidders," said Paul Fleury, Yale University dean of engineering and a former vice president at the Sandia lab. "There's some cause for nervousness now that some of these viable bidders are voting with their feet."