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The arrival of a new master at Los Alamos National Laboratory will likely result in a rapid fire layoff, officials revealed last week.

The consortium operating the lab expects to cleave off hundreds of jobs in an effort to lower costs. The lab faces serious financial challenges under its new management, which has to account for close to $200m more in various costs than previous manager University of California (UC). The prospect of lost jobs in New Mexico has prompted local politicians to mount their soap boxes.

"This budget shortfall is about more than bad math - this is about the livelihoods of my constituents,'' U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement. "(The U.S. Department of Energy) should have better budgeted and planned for these costs."

Los Alamos will likely do away with between 350 and 600 contract workers. The lab has more than 8,000 full-time staff and more than a thousand other contract workers.

In June, a consortium dubbed Los Alamos National Security (LANS) took over sole management of the lab from UC, which had operated the site since the days of the Manhattan Project. The limited liability corporation (LLC) is composed of contractors such as Bechtel, Washington Group International and BWX, along with UC.

The new management has been expected to run the lab with a similar budget as in years past. That's problematic because, as an LLC, LANS must pay more in taxes and pension costs than the non-profit UC. In addition, LANS expects to hand out raises and hopes to earn tens of millions in performance incentives from the government that were not available to UC. All told, that means the additional costs could chew through close to 10 per cent of the lab's $2.2bn budget.

Up until now, lab representatives have played down the prospect of job cuts. Director Michael Anastasio in July called on workers to use "creativity" to solve the $200m budget shortfall.

Any job cuts will be characterized as crushing to the cities around the lab, which depend on Los Alamos as a key part of their economies.

"This is going to be devastating to the economy,'' Espanola mayor Joseph Maestas told a local paper. "That's why the state Legislature and the governor need to come up with ways to invest the state's share of this windfall to create a sustainable economy that gradually reduces its reliance on the laboratory money or federal money associated with the lab.''

The Department of Energy controls the lab's budget and is not expected to free up more cash anytime soon. ®

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