A&M System expands nuclear horizon; asks UT to be its 'special friend' in Los Alamos bid

By BRETT NAUMAN
Eagle Staff Writer
July 26, 2004

Although the Texas A&M University System has expressed interest in running the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory, its top priority still is to win the management contract for a new nuclear facility in Idaho, officials said.

The system has teamed with a group of corporations that will submit Monday a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy to become operator of the Idaho National Laboratory, system officials said. The new lab will develop the next generation of nuclear reactors, and the 10-year, $5 billion management contract would be the largest linked to A&M.

While hopes are high for that project, the A&M system isn’t going to pass up other opportunities, said Lee Peddicord, vice chancellor for research and federal relations.

The system recently joined universities voicing an interest in operating the Los Alamos laboratory, the federal nuclear weapons facility where the first atomic bomb was developed. A string of security mishaps and other problems at Los Alamos has prompted the government to find new management to take over when the University of California’s contract expires next year.

The University of Texas System filed a letter with Energy Department officials in February formally stating it would bid on the contract. A&M expressed its interest a week ago with a similar letter.

Peddicord said Texas A&M President Robert Gates and University of Texas President Larry Faulkner have talked about possibly forming a partnership between the schools to compete for the contract.

“We have indicated our willingness of teaming with UT to them,” Peddicord said. “Those discussions are under way. There has been no decision reached yet.”

Gates and UT officials could not be reached late last week to comment on the proposed partnership.

Peddicord said A&M isn’t so much interested in overseeing Los Alamos’ $2.2 billion budget as it is in gaining academic benefits by partnering with lab researchers.

“Our interest would be linking up with their scientific and engineering research activities,” he said. “A&M’s got good strengths in a lot of the programs important to Los Alamos.”

He cited high rankings in such programs as nuclear engineering, physics, life sciences, chemistry, geosciences, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

A&M has built a relationship with the lab spanning several decades, Peddicord said. Many faculty members used to work at the facility and sit on its science review boards. Many researchers at the facility also attended A&M.

While an A&M-UT partnership could bolster the two universities’ attempts to manage Los Alamos, A&M officials are prepared to showcase their strengths next year when the Energy Department requests management bids.

“We’re open to doing it either way,” Peddicord said.