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Sandia National Laboratories Director Stephen Younger discusses the future of the federal government's largest weapons and research facility now that it's under new management during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., Monday, May 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

 Scientists and researchers at the federal government's largest national laboratory are pushing ahead with work related to national security and the proliferation of nuclear weapons as new managers take over New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories for the first time in decades, officials said Monday.

Director Stephen Younger discussed the lab's future during a news conference that marked the start of a new contract with National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, a subsidiary of Honeywell International.

The U.S. Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration announced the $2.6 billion management contract in December. Officials have spent the last few months working on a smooth transition for the lab's thousands of employees and operations.

The bulk of work at Sandia centers on the research, development and maintenance of nuclear weapons, but scientists there also have worked on energy and climate projects.

Younger, who has a background in nuclear weapons, called Sandia's employees the "superheroes of technology."

"Sandia defends the world and provides the opportunity for millions, if not billions, of people to lead peaceful and productive lives," he said.

Younger said his team has centuries of combined experience when it comes to national security issues and while the core mission of Sandia will not change, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman and other partners will be looking for ways to do more work and do it faster. The new lab leadership acknowledged current global conflicts, including nuclear threats by North Korea.

"The government understands the importance of these institutions, and the institutions understand they have to be accountable for the money and the information they're providing. It's a different world today," Younger said.

Lockheed Martin had operated Sandia, located in Albuquerque, for the past two decades and was among bidders that lost out to the Honeywell team.

With an annual budget of close to $3 billion, Sandia is one of the Albuquerque area's largest employers with more than 10,500 workers. Most are based in Albuquerque, but Sandia also operates sites at Lawrence Livermore lab in California and testing facilities in Nevada and Hawaii.

Its Albuquerque campus spans more than 21 square miles. A recent report by a coalition of local governments found that Sandia's partnership with private organizations through a science and technology park has generated more than $315 million in economic impact across the state over two years.

Sandia will continue to work with local and small businesses, Deputy Director Dave Douglass said Monday.

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