DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Site Office Head Briefs County Council On Pit Production, COVID, Omega Bridge And More

Department of Energy NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Ted Wyka, left, and DOE/EM Los Alamos Field Office Manager Michael Mikolanis chat with the Los Alamos Reporter following their September 21 presentations to Los Alamos County Council. The two men have known each other for more than 30 years. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Ted Wyka, Department of Energy National Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office Manager, gave Los Alamos County Council a quarterly update Tuesday (September 21) addressing the LANL Pit Production Project, COVID-19, Rendija Canyon, the Omega Bridge and other topics.

Wyka, whose work at Los Alamos from 2016 – 2018 included a stint as Deputy Los Alamos Field Office Manager for Technical Operations, said he is really delighted to be back in Los Alamos and that he, his wife and their dog enjoy being a part of the community.  

Wyka said COVID is a topic he works very closely on with the Laboratory and his colleagues at DOE Headquarters in Washington, DC. He said how the federal government approaches COVID has a direct impact on the County and that COVID has become a standard agenda item in my meetings with County Manager Steven Lynne.

The hiring of about 2,000 new employees is expected if LANL is to begin producing 30 plutonium pits per year by 2026, Wyka said, which will also requires all the necessary infrastructure work to be completed to support that activity. He noted that the scope of the LAP4 Plutonium Pit Production Project includes removal of legacy gloveboxes in Plutonium Facility 4 (PF4) to create space for new production capacity, installation of pit production equipment, and establishing new supporting infrastructure including a Training & Development Center and a new Entry Control Facility.

Following his presentation, Councilor Scott asked Wyka based on based on past experiences looking at other (DO) offices in other cities, if there were are there things he thought Council could be doing “to either increase or improve coordination between his office and the County to the betterment of the community”.

“I just didn’t know if you had any ideas I think meetings like this are great and I think it’s great for the public to hear what’s going on as well as ourselves,” she said.

Wyka said he thought forums like the quarterly update for Council “where we have the continuous communications on a regular basis, where we sort of minimize the surprises”.

“If we ramp up in our mission effort which is 30 pits by 2026, that’s a big increase for us and it has an effect the community , both in terms of the numbers of employees that we have to hire, change in infrastructure – we’re building garages, light office spaces at the Lab to support that,” he said. “All these things – the skill mix we’ll have to bring in, the number of new employees, that all has an impact on our local community, on the roads, on the intersections. So, I think having these regular discussions and meeting on a regular basis with Steve Lynn are really helpful.”

He added that as DOE goes through land transfers, what to do with the Los Alamos Sportmen’s Club, Rendija Canyon and other issues that are of interest to Council, those are areas where more focused discussion should be held.

Referring back to Wyka’s statement that about 2,000 new employees, Councilor David Izraelevitz asked him if he has a breakdown the types of skills “craft versus other things – that would give us an idea of how the community could support that type of growth”.

“I think the breakdown would be roughly a lot of craft, a lot of folks dealing with glovebox work, rad techs and different subject matter experts in a lot of technical areas. There’ll be a lot of craft support. I think it will be a lot of blue collar type workers and first degree college educations and certain subject matter experts with a handful of senior leadership,” Wyka responded

Izraelevitz said that breakdown is  good to know.

“I know that for that type of work, we rely on the region.  I know that a lot of the craftspeople live in the surrounding areas and get educated in the surrounding areas so it’s good to know,” he said.

Wyka noted that the Lab has a pretty good outreach program establishing agreements with a lot of local universities and colleges to create a pipeline of individuals especially in the craft area where the Lab is probably going to need rather large numbers.  

Asked whether DOE or LANL is overseeing the current Omega Bridge construction upgrade, Wyka said it’s a DOE project that LANL is overseeing. He noted that a review of the bridge by New Mexico State University a couple of years ago identified some areas where the bridge is in fair condition and some areas that need  be refurbished. He said a lot of the current work is to try to preserve the bridge until it’s end of life.

“Do we have an idea when this work is completed how much the lifetime would be extended? I think it has a total lifetime of about 70 years so it will get us through what we need to do but at some point we’ll have to replace it,” Wyka said.

Councilor David Reagor asked what the DOE’s plans are for the transfer of land in Rendija Canyon to the County and if Wyka had some sort of an outline of how that’s going to go. Wyka said right now he doesn’t as DOE is still looking into it.

“Obviously there’s a road through Rendija Canyon which is very important especially as an egress. Right now it has a historical usage with the Army as an artillery range and other things that we would have to clean up. The Sportsmen’s Club is there. I think it’s something we will have to work with and work together with you on what type of transfer that would be if it happened. We don’t have a timetable for doing that and what it would be used for – recreational or residential,” Wyka said.

Reagor asked if while that is being worked out if DOE could go to multi-year leases or longer term leases.

“We’re definitely looking at the Sportsmen’s Club; we understand that’s a well-used and sensitive area and we’ll probably be in discussions on the type of lease and the terms of the lease. I think we’ll probably start off with five years and maybe if that doesn’t work, negotiate it for five or 10,” Wyka replied.

Reagor said he noticed when Wyka talked about COVID that there is a mask mandate and a vaccine mandate at the same time. He asked if the vaccine works, why a mask would be needed.

“In this scenario we are using all the tools available to us. This is where Triad is leading the pack and I think most of the other DOE M&Os are right behind it on using the tools that are out there like vaccination. I think around 86 percent of our Laboratory employees are vaccinated. As data shows, there’s still transmission of COVID as well as receiving it even if you’re fully vaccinated. There are break-through cases,” Wyka responded. “I think for protection of ourselves and protection of our families we’re using every tool available to us. The federal government is right behind us with a vaccination mandate for feds and we have strict timelines for when our folks are going to be vaccinated. But at the same time, we’re going to wear masks and those that are not vaccinated will be tested on a regular basis.”

Reagor asked it the Lab tests everybody because everybody could have COVID and Wyka responded that the testing is only for those who do not have a proof of vaccination.

“Should we test everybody? By the science and data, of course, but do we have the time and the money to test everybody – that’s a different question,” Wyka said.

Reagor went on to question the use of the work “vaccine”, saying if it leaks that much then it isn’t a vaccine. Wyka responded that the vaccine has helped at least in terms of the hospitalizations and deaths.

“Even with our statistics and you can look at the national statistics – those who are vaccinated fare out pretty well. I’m a candidate of that. I had it a month ago and in my own case, I’m fully vaccinated,” Wyka said.

Reagor said he doesn’t think the word vaccine applies to something that still lets people get sick so easily.

“There’s too many people with the disease so is it correct technically to use the word ‘vaccine’?” he said.

Wyka responded that science has shown that at least the vaccination makes the cases mild and it reduces the hospitalization rates as well as the deaths. Reagor continued to argue saying, “The vaccine means you do not get sick which is not what this shot does”.  Wyka said he thinks the data shows there are milder symptoms, that his own symptoms were very mild. Reagor ended the discussion by sayng that “people with mild symptoms are still spreaders so it’s not really technically a vaccine”.

Councilor Denise Derkacs asked about the Technical Area 55 Entry Control Facility and the Training and Development Center Wyka had referred to during his discussion of PF4, saying she was curious as to where these facilities will be located and when construction is planned. Wyka responded that part of the LAP4 project involves making sure entry controls are in place for those facilities to support the shifts and people going into the facility on a daily basis.

Council Vice Chair James Robinson asked about a request for a rather large land transfer in White Rock that Council had asked for two years ago that was subsequently denied by DOE.

“Is that on your list to reevaluate because we’re seeing that the hiring at LANL to meet these obligations is pushing people further out from the Laboratory,” he asked.

Wyka responded that DOE is very sensitive, especially being up here in the  community, and that he has had to go through the house-hunting process so he know exactly how difficult it is to find residential locations in Los Alamos County.

“We’re balancing that between what the historical use of that land was, what it would take to make sure to make sure it’s in condition to build residential units on those lands. I think we’re still looking at that and it may a portion that might be right to transfer. We’ll have to figure out with lessons learned from DP Road and from others about what type of sampling we need to do based on the historical usage of those properties. For now I don’t think we have really anything on the table that we’re ready to transfer yet,” Wyka said.

Council Chair Randall Ryti said that when DOE looks at the Omega Bridge replacement project his understanding is it would involve a new bridge not tearing the existing bridge down.

“So maybe there’s a siting question and has there been any estimate of the cost? I’m Interested in hearing about that and the land transfers for the properties that are on the schedule and others in the future at our future meetings,” Ryti said.

Before returning to the Los Alamos Field Office, Wyka served as NNSA’s Principal Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure, and Operations across the NNSA’s Nuclear Security Enterprise. He also served as the NNSA Cognizant Secretarial Officer and was responsible for safety basis and startup approval authority, as well as the operational safety of the NNSA Enterprise. Back in 2014, he was the DOE Accident Investigation Board Chair for the salt-truck fire and radiological release event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad.

Wyka began his career as a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer on the USS Ohio and went on to become the team leader for the advance planning of the Los Angeles Class submarine refueling overhauls. He later served as environmental advisor to the Director of Submarines at Naval Sea Systems Command. At DOE, he worked for the Office of the Departmental Representative to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and as Director of DOE’s Integrated Safety Management Team.

Wyka holds a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering – Environmental from Virgina Polytechnic Institute and State University.