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NUCLEAR BOWL: CAL VS. TEXAS

Two of the country's biggest universities are headed for a multibillion dollar showdown over who runs the nation's most important nuclear lab.The University of Texas' board of regents voted unanimously Wednesday to begin preparing a potential bid to operate the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. The University of California has been running the lab since its inception more than 60 years ago. But after waves of scandals forced the ouster of most of Los Alamos' senior staff, the Energy Department announced that it would put the lab's $3 billion-per-year management contract up for bid for the first time, when it expires next year.Several corporate and academic institutions are expected to go after the Los Alamos contract in the upcoming year. By committing $500,000 to start work on a bid, the University of Texas is the first major player to formally announce its intentions.UT officials say they won't decide on whether to place a full-blown bid until after they see the Energy Department's request for proposal on Los Alamos. But already, controversy is swirling around UT's decision. Some Los Alamos employees are questioning whether UT has the science expertise needed to run one of the world's premiere research centers.Lab watchdogs, on the other hand, are worried that the school might be a little too cozy with the Republican establishment in Washington, D.C., and could be particularly pliant regarding President Bush's push for new nuclear weapons. After all, critics note, Texas is the home state of the president, and of Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.There's more in my Wired News article.

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