The U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Navy have selected a San Francisco defense contractor to consolidate the management of their naval propulsion laboratories in the Capital Region and Pennsylvania, ending Lockheed Martin’s 13-year tenure at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.
Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. will begin serving Feb. 1 as the new manager and operator of Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin, Pa., and KAPL in Niskayuna, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Defense separately announced Bechtel Marine won a $9.7 billion contract for naval propulsion work that will be performed around Schenectady, Pittsburgh and Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“I’ve been assured nothing is going to change from a town perspective,” said Niskayuna town Supervisor Joseph Landry, who spoke with a KAPL representative Friday.
The DOE in February started its search for a single contractor to run its KAPL and Bettis labs, where engineers mostly design nuclear naval reactors for the Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier fleets. The DOE expects the consolidation to save the federal government $4.5 million annually, mostly from reduced fee payments to one contractor instead of two. Bechtel Bettis, a subsidiary of the Frederick, Md.-based Bechtel National, manages the West Mifflin lab.
“The plants will maintain their technical independence,” said Cliff Nunn, a spokesman for the DOE’s Naval Reactors Laboratory Field Office.
Bechtel Marine, another subsidiary of Bechtel National, on Thursday started transitioning into its new management role at Bettis and KAPL. The consolidation means the 10-year contract the Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed won in 2000 will be cut short. The new management contract will run through September 2013, and it includes a five-year renewal option.
“This will be a smooth transition. The only thing people might notice is a new sign at the lab,” Bechtel National spokesman Michael Kidder said.
Bechtel Marine is expected to maintain the 5,600 workers at the two labs, along with their pay and benefit levels. Bettis employs 3,000 while KAPL employs 2,100 in Niskayuna plus 500 at its Kesselring nuclear training facility in West Milton.
Engineers at KAPL, which the General Electric Co. established in 1946, specialize in nuclear propulsion systems for submarines. Engineers at Bettis, which was founded by the Westinghouse Atomic Power Laboratory in 1949, work on similar systems for surface naval vessels.
The KAPL contract strengthens Bechtel National’s presence in the Capital Region, which it almost abandoned two years ago. The defense contractor also holds a contract to manage nuclear submarine designer Bechtel Plant Machinery, which has an operation on Franklin Street in Schenectady.
Bechtel Plant Machinery in 2006 attempted to relocate its Schenectady operations to suburban Pittsburgh, but it reneged on that plan after political pressure and the promise of $3 million in state funds.
In staying, Bechtel Plant Machinery said it would wind down its 290-person Schenectady work force to 130 by shifting 70 to Pittsburgh and 30 to Niskayuna, and then not replacing 60 retirees. Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said he met earlier this week with Bechtel officials.
“We have a good relationship with Bechtel. The community worked well with them,” Gillen said.
A Lockheed spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The appointment of Bechtel Marine marks the third management change KAPL has seen in 15 years. The Bethesda-based Martin Marietta Corp. became KAPL’s manager in 1993 but it was acquired by Lockheed Corp. two years later, creating Lockheed Martin as the lab’s new management entity.