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TROUBLED NUKE LAB UP FOR GRABS

After a black, scandal-filled six months, the future of Los Alamos National Laboratory is only getting cloudier.For 60 years, the government has automatically renewed its contract with the University of California to run the lab. But a stream of allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement changed all that. On Wednesday, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the $2.2 billion-per-year deal would be put up for competitive bid for the first time.University officials said they aren't sure they'll even bother with such a bid when the current term expires in September 2005. And it's unclear whether any other academic institution or for-profit company can take over from the University of California without driving scientists out of the world's most important nuclear research center."If another university or a corporation takes over," said Bill Priedhorsky, chief scientist of the lab's nonproliferation division, "you could lose a lot of people."My Wired News story has more on the lab's uncertain future.THERE'S MORE: For only the second time during this six-month scandal wave, the big, East Coast newspapers took notice of the Los Alamos mess. But their stories are pretty ho-hum. The Washington Post has a plain-jane article -- re-write of wire copy, basically. The New York Times' piece is better, sort of a lite version of what you'll find at Wired News.The San Francisco Chronicle has been all over this story, however. And the paper's James Sterngold turns in another hot piece on whether or not Los Alamos should be in the bomb-making business at all.AND MORE: Former Energy Department intelligence director Notra Trulock tells Defense Tech, "I suspect that the UC (University of California), for all its faults, is simply the scapegoat. The real culprits are the headquarters' bureaucrats who are the 'enablers' of all the lab's bad behaviors and key congressional types, like (New Mexico's U.S. Senator Pete) Domenici who always cover up for the labs. That's the real story, I think."

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