Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo: LANL facebook

Less than a month is left until the deadline for bids for operating the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Two major academic institutions are reportedly considering throwing their hats in the ring – even as concerns mount among Los Alamos staff.

Both Texas A&M and the University of Texas are considering whether to submit bids, according to a recent report by The Houston Chronicle. The latter voted in September to earmark $4.5 million to pursue the partnership, according to the report – which indicated 40 institutions have officially expressed interest in response to the U.S. Department of Energy’s request for proposals late last month.

At the same time, a new memorandum circulated by Los Alamos leadership attempts to address concerns of the staff at the laboratory, according to The Livermore Independent.

The memorandum, acquired by that newspaper, indicates that employees will have a “right of first refusal” in jobs with the new contractor, whoever it may be. The language appears to indicate that workers will be re-hired for their jobs once the handover occurs.

The pay for those who stay in the same position will remain as iswhen the new offers are made, the memo adds. Those who are offered different positions will have salaries and compensation “commensurate with the offered position,” according to the newspaper’s account.

The vaunted laboratory, which was founded in 1943 as the centerpiece of the Manhattan Project, has had some high-profile mishaps recently. Last month, Laboratory Equipment reported the same work crew, same room and same equipment had two plutonium mishandling incidents in little over a month.

The airborne plutonium was released when pipefitters attempting to replace two elbows on the service panel removed a crucial plug, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board weekly report, dated Sept. 29.

“The pipefitters described difficulty in turning one of the elbows because of an interference from a plug and decided to remove the plug thereby releasing the contamination,” the report states. “They believed they had allowance to take such an action because the work document provided only vague constraints on ‘field routing.’”

One of the workers had 100 k dpm alpha radioactivity levels on their skin in the chest area – which was successfully decontaminated, according to the federal findings.

The first mishap, the Aug. 18 “criticality safety event,” resulted in a two-hour quarantine throughout the plutonium facility.