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Head of federal nuclear agency visits New Mexico

Thursday - 5/8/2014, 9:14pm  ET

Dennis Miller, senior manager of Sandia National Laboratories' Validation and Qualification Group, explains some of the testing done at the federal lab during a tour in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday, May 8, 2014. National Nuclear Security Administration Director Frank Klotz visited the lab Thursday. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz on Thursday pointed to renovations at one of the nation's top federal labs as examples of what the National Nuclear Security Administration needs to do as it looks to modernize its operations across the country.

Klotz was in New Mexico to get a firsthand look at Sandia National Laboratories' testing facilities as he settles in to his new position at the helm of the NNSA.

More than $100 million was spent to renovate five large-scale facilities around Sandia that are critical to ensuring the safety and durability of the nation's nuclear stockpile. They include an underground centrifuge capable of producing 300 G's of force, a 10,000-foot rocket sled track for measuring high-velocity impacts and a special burn room that can almost melt steel.

The renovations at Sandia came in under budget by $4 million. But watchdogs and government auditors have raised concerns over other NNSA projects, saying virtually every major project under the agency's oversight has been behind schedule or over budget.

Klotz acknowledged those concerns Thursday. He said some of the agency's infrastructure dates back to the 1940s when the federal government began the top-secret Manhattan Project. Facilities age, equipment becomes obsolete and better technology becomes available, Klotz said.

"Because we have not done this in quite some time, the bills are pretty formidable. And in an age in which the budget is a primary concern on the minds of our national leaders, this will become a challenge," he said of balancing the lack of money with the need to advance.

"At the end of the day, every organization including the National Nuclear Security Administration, our laboratories and our plants, must deliver on the commitments that we make to succeed. We have made promises we have to keep," he said.

Without being specific, Klotz said some difficult decisions will have to be made.

Klotz appeared before a U.S. Senate subcommittee just last week to testify in support of President Barack Obama's $11.7 billion budget request for the agency. He told lawmakers the request represented the president's commitment to nuclear security but that the agency also must do better when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars efficiently.

Klotz's visit to New Mexico also marked his first meeting with the directors of Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories since being confirmed in April. He said he wants to form a new partnership with the directors.

Klotz will spend most of Friday in Los Alamos for a series of high-level meetings before returning to Washington.


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