WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 17, 2006 -- For the first time in 41 years, the government will seek competitive bids for the management and operations of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash. Department of Energy (DoE) officials made the announcement on Thursday, at the same time denying that opening the contract bidding process was related to problems at the lab regarding hazardous waste data that came to light last summer as part of a lawsuit.
The current five-year contract, held by Columbus, Ohio-based non-profit Battelle Memorial Institute, expires on Sept. 30, 2007. Battelle has managed PNNL since its inception in 1965; the lab was created that year to provide research support for Hanford, a nuclear weapons facility created during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. The Hanford nuclear reservation is now the most contaminated nuclear site in the US, with cleanup costs currently estimated at nearly $60 billion.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is working with Hanford nuclear reservation contractors as they clean up the most contaminated nuclear site in the US near the Columbia River in Washington State. (Photo: PNNL)
The lab and its management were criticized last summer after discrepancies in Hanford's Solid Waste Environmental Impact Statement relating to the impact of waste disposal on the site's groundwater came to light as part of a lawsuit. The State of Washington filed the lawsuit in an attempt to block nuclear waste shipments from Ohio to Hanford; the DoE and the state settled the case last month.
Raymond L. Orbach, director of the DoE Office of Science, said in a statement that the decision to put the PNNL contract out to bid in no way reflects on Battelle’s performance, calling it a "prudent management decision."
“The competitive process is the best method to provide the American taxpayer an optimum management team for PNNL, one of our outstanding national laboratories,” Orbach said.
PNNL has a staff of approximately 3900 and an annual budget of approximately $650 million. In addition to its main Richland complex, PNNL operates a marine research facility in Sequim, Wash., and has offices in Portland, Ore.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; and Washington, DC. More than half of its research is conducted for the Energy Department, with the homeland security and defense departments comprising another 25 percent. Private work and research for other national agencies accounts for the rest of PNNL's research. For more information, visit: www.pnl.gov