September 26, 2013

The Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (Los Alamos) primary responsibility is to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile.  To meet its mission, Los Alamos stores, treats and disposes of low-level waste and transuranic liquid waste (TRU) at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF).  The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Los Alamos have been planning a replacement project for the RLWTF since 2004, have made multiple changes in the design of the facility with plans to construct two facilities in 2005, one facility in 2006, and then returning to the two facilities approach in 2011.  The current two facility design has a total estimated project cost as much as $214 million and respective completion dates of 2017 and 2020. 

While NNSA has recently taken action to address RLWTF replacement project issues, we observed that the NNSA and Los Alamos had not effectively managed the project over most of its lifecycle.  Despite more than 7 years of effort, and the expenditure of $56 million, design work for the TRU facility has not been completed and the project's completion date is 11 years behind schedule.  Furthermore, the total estimated cost for the replacement project has increased from $86 million to as much as $214 million, a 149 percent increase.  Additionally, independent peer and internal control reviews have noted that NNSA and Los Alamos had not developed reliable life cycle cost estimates, used a Risk Management Plan, and applied Value Engineering principles to optimize the design of the facility.  NNSA and Los Alamos have made improvements in the project management of the RLWTF; however, we made suggestions for further improvement. 

Topic:  Environmental Cleanup