A second company disputed the award of a $3 billion contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear waste site near Carlsbad, potentially pushing back the transition to a new contractor by another week.
On July 11, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the contract to Bechtel subsidiary Tularosa Basin Range Services doing business as Salado Isolation Mining.
If ultimately awarded, the contract would last for an initial four-year period, with six one-year extension options and would entail the contractor taking over the daily operations and capital projects at WIPP from Nuclear Waste Partnership, which formed in 2012 as a subsidiary of Amentum.
On Aug. 1, Carlsbad Operations Alliance filed a bid protest notice with the Government Accountability Office, giving the GAO until Nov. 9 to issue a ruling before any contract for the project can be enacted.
Until the new contract is finalized, Nuclear Waste Partnership will continue running the repository.
Records show an address listed for Carlsbad Operations Alliance in Hopkins, South Carolina which an internet search tied to a location of manufacturing company Westinghouse Electric.
John Heaton, co-chair of the Carlsbad Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force confirmed Westinghouse was the latest protestor.
Attempts to reach Westinghouse by the Carlsbad Current-Argus were unsuccessful.
A Bechtel spokesperson declined to comment on the issues.
The U.S. Department of Energy also declined to comment on the ongoing contract process.
This was the second protest of the contract awarded to Bechtel. National Tru Solutions, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries, filed its protest July 26, with the GAO’s deadline to rule on that matter set for Nov. 3.
At WIPP, transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste is disposed of via burial in an underground salt deposit about 2,000 feet beneath the surface.
The winning contractor will be tasked with overseeing transportation of the waste to WIPP from DOE sites around the country, while also emplacing the waste for disposal at the site and mining the repository.
The contractor must also provide constant maintenance of the facility and execute capital projects such as an ongoing rebuild of WIPP’s ventilation system expected to conclude in 2026 costing almost $500 million.
Known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS), the project is meant to increase airflow that was restricted in the underground following an accidental radiological release in 2014.
The release was caused by a mispackaged drum delivered to WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory under the oversight of Los Alamos National Security, of which Becthel was partial owner.
Los Alamos National Security was the primary contractor at the lab until 2018 when it was denied an extension due to the 2014 event, records show.
Heaton said the local community surrounding WIPP hopes the contract process will produce a company that focuses on safety.
“Number one, we want a company that is competent at the site,” Heaton said. “A company that values safety and respects the workers and the projects that are going on.”
He said he did not expect any job losses among the rank and file at WIPP, many of which reside in Carlsbad, but there could be turnover at the top executive level.
“They’ll bring in some executives that have presumably been well-vetted by the DOE,” Heaton said. “But 99.9 percent of employees will stay the same. It will just be a new leadership group.
“We hope they continue to serve the country, bring safety to the facility and continue to provide good jobs to our community.”
In a news release announcing the initial award to Tularosa Basin Range Services, Bechtel touted its “44 years of experience managing DOE sites in New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina.
“The mission to safely dispose of defense-related nuclear waste is vitally important for protecting people and the planet,” said Dena Volovar, Bechtel National executive vice president. “We’re honored to be entrusted with this mission and look forward to joining the WIPP team and the Carlsbad community.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.