ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Nearly three years after being blamed for a radiation leak, the company that manages one of the nation's premier nuclear weapons laboratories is being awarded nearly $60 million by the federal government for its work over the last year.
The National Nuclear Security Administration released documents Wednesday showing Los Alamos National Security LLC, the contractor that manages Los Alamos National Laboratory, received high marks on its annual performance evaluation.
The evaluation comes as the northern New Mexico lab tries to rebuild its reputation after being blamed for the radiation release at the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository more than 300 miles away in southern New Mexico.
A drum of waste inappropriately packed at Los Alamos ruptured after being sent to the disposal site.
Along with highlighting mismanagement and oversight lapses, the incident forced shipments of Cold War-era waste from federal sites around the country to be placed on hold.
Work resumed this week at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, but officials are unsure when shipments will start again.
The incident previously led to less-than-stellar evaluations for Los Alamos National Security and cost the consortium a contract extension. Its current $2.2 billion contract is set to end in 2018.
The new evaluation found the lab greatly exceeded expectations when it came to its nuclear weapons work, including efforts related to stewardship of the nation's nuclear stockpile.
In a memo to employees, Lab Director Charles McMillan praised their work and said they were the lab's greatest assets.
"The mission and operational successes of 2016 are a tribute to your spirit and character," he wrote.
Despite the "very good" rating for the contractor for the past fiscal year, watchdog groups pointed to shortcomings outlined in the evaluation concerning safety issues related to plutonium work and weaknesses when it comes to emergency management, among other things.
Sandia National Laboratories, based in Albuquerque, was rated excellent in its annual review and the management contractor was awarded more than $27.5 million in fees, just short of what would have been possible had the lab met all of its goals for the past fiscal year.
Lockheed Martin has operated Sandia Labs for the past two decades but recently lost out on the $2.6 billion contract to a subsidiary of Honeywell International.