Your NukeWatch NM Team in DC!

Your Nuclear Watch New Mexico team has just returned from a weeklong trip to Washington D.C. (we went so you don’t have to!). We proudly joined the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) in their annual “DC Days” conference and following Spring Meeting, where over 60 individuals from 30+ groups journeyed to DC to lobby congress on nuclear weapons, energy, and waste policy on behalf of the frontline nuclear communities we represent. From across the U.S. near nuclear complex sites in Georgia, New Mexico, Tennessee, California, Missouri, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan and beyond, members were present from the following groups: Beyond Nuclear, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Parents Against Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Peaceworks Kansas City, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles & Wisconsin, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, Snake River Alliance, Southwest Research and Information Center, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. There were also a number of individual attendants participating from groups not currently affiliated with ANA as official members, notably more than previous years, which lends optimism for the potential growth of DC Days and ANA as a whole.

One of the unaffiliated groups worth mentioning is the organization “Demand Nuclear Abolition” (DNA), from New Mexico, headed by Eileen O’Shaughnessy, who works on bringing an intersectional perspective to the histories and futures of the nuclear complex in New Mexico, and creates vibrant, captivating media of these stories and issues from within the group. Another individual shout out goes to Petuuche Gilbert, an elder from the Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico who helped found the Laguna and Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment (LACSE). Petuuche worked alongside DNA and NukeWatch throughout DC Days on NM issues related to the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), Uranium Mining, Nuclear Waste Production and Storage, and more, as well as advocating for the Non-Proliferation treaty and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and educating our lawmakers on the importance of these documents.

Needless to say, it was wonderful and exciting to have such a large delegation of New Mexicans together on the Hill. In even more exciting New Mexico news, NukeWatch’s very own Jay Coghlan presented an ANA award to Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester, for “[Y]our courage and vision in the birthplace of atomic bombs, throughout the American Catholic Church, and internationally with the dioceses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, working toward a future world free of nuclear weapons.” Please see the photo to the right for the moment of presentation, and congratulations and thank you again, Archbishop, for all your work!

NukeWatch NM brought all three staff members—Jay Coghlan, Scott Kovac, and Sophia Stroud (whose participation was made possible by a youth scholarship from ANA)—to participate in DC Days and the subsequent two-day spring meeting. The ANA DC Days schedule included over 70 meetings with senators, representatives, and other relevant agencies, such as the Department of Energy, the Government Accountability Office, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Our NukeWatch team attended nearly 30 of these meetings. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability put together a new report to present our “asks” to congress as a coalition, including analysis and recommendations for nuclear weapons, nuclear waste, and nuclear energy policy and funding. Please click HERE for the full report, and HERE for a short summary.

I participated personally in 9 meetings total, spanning a range of states, districts, senators and representatives. We happened to be there at an incredibly important time for lobbying and advocating for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which passed the Senate twice (with overwhelming bipartisan support) by May, but attempts to get it included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) failed. We were working on getting it passed in the House, and I along with many other members of ANA spent a good portion of our time and effort on this. Frustratingly, from my perspective, it seemed many house members came to the issue with their hands tied due to Mike Johnson being the speaker of the House, or simply advised we keep trying but they themselves could do little to nothing at that present moment. Good ol’ discorded government.

RECA, which originally passed by Congress in 1990, offers compensation to uranium miners and civilians who were downwind of nuclear bomb testing in Arizona, Utah and Nevada expires June 10. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced legislation to reauthorize and expand RECA to compensate radiation victims in Missouri and across the country, which has already passed the Senate twice with overwhelming bipartisan support. As of today, May 30th, it appears RECA will be extended but not expanded, and it’s unclear at this point whether a vote on an expanded program will be held before the law expires. As we let congress know in our meetings, no matter what happens with the current RECA legislation, we are committed to doing all we can to continue to advocate for RECA expansion in the future. The United States MUST acknowledge and take responsibility for the harm and consequences caused by uranium mining and nuclear weapons testing and production, providing compensation to all those who have suffered health consequences as a result.

I also spent time presenting the need for comprehensive cleanup of nuclear wastes sites across the U.S., and specifically at LANL using this MAP to demonstrate the risks of plutonium migration across lab boundaries and even down into our groundwater aquifer. DOE’s preferred alternative for an estimated $12 million cleanup of Materials Disposal Area C, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is cap-and-cover of the 11.8 acre site. This would leave the wastes above the regional aquifer forever. However, the New Mexico Environment Department is requiring complete excavation of Area C at an estimated cost of $805 million. Later this year, members of the public will join the Environment Department in a Hearing to decide this matter. DOE will likely end up suing the Environment Department to try and get cap-and-cover instead of doing the right thing. This is just one example of how the Environmental Management (EM) budget needs dramatic increases in annual cleanup funding.

After spending more than $200 billion on cleanup over the past 35 years, the federal government says that 16 sites in 12 states will require decades more cleanup that will cost over $882 billion more (estimates for FY 2025). DOE requested only $8.5 billion for cleanup in FY 2025, which is effectively no increase in current funding due to inflation. DOE chronically under-requests funding for cleanup, in contrast to weapons production spending.

Most of DOE’s environmental liabilities are managed by the EM program which addresses the legacy of contamination from the nuclear weapons complex and includes managing thousands of contaminated facilities formerly used in the nuclear weapons program, overseeing the management of large quantities of radioactive waste and nuclear materials, and cleanup of large volumes of contaminated soil and water. Other legacy liabilities include post-closure responsibilities for the Office of Legacy Management (LM) and cleanup after the EM program activities have been completed. The other legacy liabilities also include DOE’s costs of dispositioning its inventory of high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel (SNF). These are yet more unfunded liabilities. The estimated environmental liabilities include the versions of cleanup that DOE can justify while leaving much of the wastes behind.

These are just two items—RECA and nuclear waste cleanup—among countless others on the ANA agenda. During the meetings themselves, typically lasting about 30 minutes each, I gained insight both as a participant and as a sanctioned team leader into the critical role of effective leadership in maintaining the flow of conversation and ensuring that every participant and topic receives adequate attention. Fighting alongside the entire ANA coalition and hearing all the diverse voices speaking on behalf of our communities and home states is inspiring and motivating, to say the least. In preparation for DC Days, I always feel confident in my arsenal of information (thanks to our former webmaster, Steve Miller, for that phrase). Yet, each year I return home feeling like I know next to nothing again. These are some of the most complex issues of our time, and understanding the inner workings of the U.S. government takes some getting used to. However, I take comfort in knowing that, although no one knows everything, I have contacts from DC Days who are experts on nuclear weapons and waste issues in the U.S. This, along with my desire to build working relationships and learn in more detail how the government actually operates, will keep me motivated to participate in DC Days again for many years to come. Speaking truth to power is one of the most important, impactful, and grounded ways to achieve our admittedly tall order for global peace and nuclear disarmament.

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