A second giant defense contractor is getting into the race to run the world's leading nuclear lab.lanl_nm.jpgIn a press release that just landed in my in-box, Northrop Grumman has announced that it will "leverage its expertise in advanced technology and large-scale program management to bid on the contract to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory."Two weeks ago, Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor, made a similar announcement. But there are key differences between the two firms. Lockheed already has a bunch of experience running this kind of research center. The company has been operating Sandia National Laboratories for years -- and plucked Sandia chief Paul Robinson to head up its Los Alamos bid. Northrop says it is "assembling a world-class team of partners from the academic and business communities who offer particular expertise in areas such as scientific research." But it doesn't have the same track record as Lockheed.Still, a bid from another defense industry heavyweight can't be good news for the University of California (UC), which has run Los Alamos for the Energy Department since the Oppenheimer era. Not long ago, it looked like UC would be the only bidder on the $2.2 billion per year contract -- despite a decade-long series of scandals at the lab. But the Energy Department upped the Los Alamos management fee by 500 percent. Companies can now turn a nice $73 million profit from running the lab. And after 60 years of having the waters to themselves, UC suddenly finds itself surrounded by sharks.

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