Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

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LANL’s Central Mission: Los Alamos Lab officials have recently claimed that LANL has moved away from primarily nuclear weapons to “national security”, but what truly remains as the Labs central mission? Here’s the answer from one of its own documents:

LANL’s “Central Mission”- Presented at: RPI Nuclear Data 2011 Symposium for Criticality Safety and Reactor Applications (PDF) 4/27/11

Banner displaying “Nuclear Weapons Are Now Illegal” at the entrance in front of the Los Alamos National Lab to celebrate the Entry Into Force of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty on January 22, 2021

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Follow the Money!

Map of “Nuclear New Mexico”

Nuclear Watch Interactive Map – U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

In 1985, US President Ronald Reagan and and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands after signing the arms control agreement banning the use of intermediate-range nuclear missles, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Reduction Treaty.

Waste Lands: America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy

The Wall St. Journal has compiled a searchable database of contaminated sites across the US. (view)
Related WSJ report: https://www.wsj.com

New & Updated

A Note on the Value of Site-Wide EISs in Midst of Texas Wildfires Updates

By Jay Coghlan

Texas wildfires live updates: Blaze grows to 500k acres, leading to power outages, evacuations across the map nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/texas-wildfires-live-updates-huge-blaze-covers-300000-acres-forcing-ev

The 2000 Cerro Grande Fire burned 3,500 acres of Los Alamos National Lab property and more than 250 homes in the Los Alamos townsite (I could see the bursts of propane tanks from my house 25 miles away).

It would have been worse except for a 1999 LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) which postulated a hypothetical wildfire that eerily matched the real fire. That hypothetical fire was in the final SWEIS only because citizens (i.e. me) pointed out that DOE did not consider wildfire risk in the draft SWEIS.

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More indictments for Ohio nuclear crimes

Former executives face a judge — in their ankle monitors

By Linda Pentz Gunter,

It was called “likely the largest bribery money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.” And the shoes are still dropping. Or should that be ankle monitors? Because these latter belong to the three latest criminals indicted for their roles in a scheme that saw FirstEnergy hand over $61 million in bribes to Ohio politicians and their co-conspirators to secure favorable legislation.

That bill, known as HB6, guaranteed a $1.3 billion bailout to FirstEnergy in order to keep open its two failing Ohio nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and Perry, as well as struggling coal plants. The nuclear portion of the bill has since been rescinded, but Ohio consumers are still paying to prop up two aging coal plants, to the tune of half a million dollars a day, amounting to an extra $1.50 a month on every ratepayer’s electric bill.

The $61 million bribery plot was the mastermind of then speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, who is now a household name in Ohio for all the wrong reasons. He was sentenced last June to 20 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy. GOP Chairman Matt Borges, was also found guilty of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to five years in federal prison. Both men say they will appeal.

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Hawley vows to attach radiation exposure extension to all bills

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) will attach an amendment reauthorizing and expanding a law compensating Americans exposed to radiation by the federal government to all items moving on the Senate floor, his office confirmed Monday.

BY ZACK BUDRYKRACHEL FRAZIN,

© Allison Robbert

In a letter to Republican Senate colleagues, Hawley urged the caucus to back an amendment reauthorizing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) and expanding its coverage to New Mexico, Missouri, Idaho, Montana, Guam, Colorado, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alaska.

“Our reauthorization bill passed the Senate last summer with a strong bipartisan vote, and I am grateful for much support from our Conference,” Hawley wrote. “Now we must finish the job. There are RECA claimants in every state, including each of yours. They will benefit if this bill is passed. Simply put, this is the right thing to do.”

Hawley’s announcement comes as the government is set to shut down at the end of this week without a funding agreement —

and his insistence on including radiation compensation, which a number of Republicans have opposed, could further complicate efforts to avoid a shutdown.

The law, enacted in 1990, compensates Americans who were downwind of nuclear testing or exposed to radiation through uranium ore mining. The states covered under the current law include residents of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and their survivors. However, it does not cover those in New Mexico near the site of the 1945 Trinity atomic bomb test, nor does it cover residents of Missouri exposed to radiation through uranium processing at Mallinckrodt Chemical Works.

President Biden has already reauthorized the law, which was set to sunset in 2022, a further two years, but it is set to expire this year without further action.

Nuclear Waste Storage in the UK: Council pulls the plug on the nuclear waste facility in Yorkshire

“…As the events in South Holderness have proved, the explicit government policy requiring community consent for a [Geological Disposal Facility] seems self-defeating. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, is there ever likely to be a majority anywhere in favour of one?”

By Angus Young, Yorkshire Bylines,

Local opinion is divided – not necessarily evenly – following a decision by councillors on East Riding Council to dramatically pull the plug on proposals for a possible underground nuclear waste facility in South Holderness, just weeks after a process that could have taken years had formally started.

The vote to withdraw the council from a working group it had previously agreed to join to oversee the initial phase of consultation was taken at a full meeting of the authority in Beverley. After a 14-minute debate, all but one councillor voted in support of a motion to immediately walk away from the working group. Under the terms of consultation set by the government, it effectively ended the process before it had really begun.

Campaigners celebrate decision to drop nuclear waste disposal plans

For campaigners who had mobilised quickly to protest against it, the vote was a victory. Lynn Massey-Davis, chairperson for the South Holderness Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) Action Group, said the fact that just over 1,300 people had joined the group in just over four weeks reflected wider opposition in communities across the area. She said:

“The first time I went into the village centre after it was announced, someone came up to me with tears in their eyes. I hugged her and I knew we had to work hard to end this uncertainty for everyone.

“I am really proud that we started this group and website and that other people joined in and worked so very hard over such a short period of time to turn the tide of opinion towards considering removing this threat to us all.

“This is an unprecedented level of community action in such a small place and shows why we are unique and special.”

Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) – part of the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – said it “fully respected” the council’s decision and would now start winding down the working group having staged a series of informal village hall drop-in events over the last month.

Aging infrastructure could pose risks at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear waste site

Don Hancock at the Southwest Research and Information Center argued the infrastructure issues at WIPP were due to the facility aging beyond its originally intended lifetime, since the facility was built in the 1980s and began accepting waste in 1999…“The facilities are at the end of that lifetime,” Hancock said. “The idea that it could operate for decades longer, just is not true.”

By Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus 

An elevator used to move mined salt out of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant drew concerns from federal oversight officials as gradually collapsing salt put excess stress on the hoist.

The salt “creep” is what gradually buries the waste disposed of at WIPP, placed in the facility after being trucked from nuclear facilities around the U.S. and emplaced in the 2,000-foot-deep salt deposit about 30 miles east of Carlsbad.

DNFSB sealBut the salt’s natural collapse also stressed the salt handling shaft to a point that left it in danger of collapse, according to the latest report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board published Feb. 2.

That report also contended WIPP’s operations contractor Salado Isolation Mining Contractors (SIMCO) had not conducted a “formal” analysis of the safety and operational impacts of taking the shaft out of service.

On Jan. 4, a preventative maintenance inspection rated the shaft as “unsatisfactory,” the report read, due to its “overstressed” condition.

“The Board’s staff remains concerned regarding the lack of formal analysis covering the nuclear safety and operational impacts if Salado Isolation Mining Contractors, LLC (SIMCO) must take the Salt Handling Shaft out of service,” read the report.

 

It’s been a decade since the radiological release at WIPP. Here’s what has happened since then.

Watchdog groups point to lower shipments after incident. Officials tout tighter safety protocols

By Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus 

A drum of nuclear waste ruptured 10 years ago in the underground of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository near Carlsbad, triggering a series of events that saw the facility close for three years while officials worked to assess the incident and prevent future incidents.

The incident resulted in a release of radioactive materials in the underground on Feb. 14, 2014, and WIPP ceased receiving and disposing of shipments of nuclear waste until 2017.

The drum came from Los Alamos National Laboratory and was packaged with the wrong material which caused materials to heat up and rupture the drum.

This led to widespread air contamination in the underground, where drums to nuclear waste from facilities across the country are buried in a salt deposit about 2,000 feet beneath the surface.

The US Military Almost Deployed Nuclear Missile Trains on American Railroads During the Cold War

In particular, 1983 served as a dangerous flashpoint, with the distrust and paranoia between the East and West amped up after the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and nearly misinterpreted a NATO exercise simulating a nuclear attack for the real thing…“In 1983, the two nuclear superpowers were like blindfolded boxers careening toward a death match.”

| February 20, 2024 military.com

A Peacekeeper Rail Garrison car is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
A Peacekeeper Rail Garrison car is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Cuban Missile Crisis was two decades in the rearview, but in the early 1980s, Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union remained feverishly high.

In particular, 1983 served as a dangerous flashpoint, with the distrust and paranoia between the East and West amped up after the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and nearly misinterpreted a NATO exercise simulating a nuclear attack for the real thing. That year also saw the Air Force successfully flight-test the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time as the Defense Department sought to develop a mobile ICBM system. U.S. military leaders were playing a game of catch-up, though, because the Soviets already had deployed one. As a 2022 Air & Space Forces Magazine article put it: “In 1983, the two nuclear superpowers were like blindfolded boxers careening toward a death match.”

The Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, which largely oversaw the bombing capability of America’s nuclear weapons from 1946 until 1992, had been trying to implement a mobile ICBM system since 1971, but struggled to reach a consensus on what that would look like. Finally, President Ronald Reagan, who had labeled the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire” during a March 1983 speech, issued a national security directive on Dec. 19, 1986, to develop the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison program.

 

DNFSB Recommendation February 8, 2024 – Excerpts Pertaining to LANL

Published 2/8/24 in the Federal Register at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2024-02-08/pdf/2024-02513.pdf

Pre-published at: https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2024-02513.pdf

Page numbers below are from that. All excerpts are verbatim.

DNFSB Recommendation 2003-01
Onsite Transportation Safety

[TSD = “Transportation Safety Document”

MAR = “Materials at Risk”, typically plutonium]

Page 2: however, more work is necessary to ensure the LANL TSD appropriately identifies all hazards, analyzes all pertinent accident scenarios, and evaluates the effectiveness of all credited safety controls.

3: the risk remains that LANL or other defense nuclear sites may regress to inadequate TSDs that fail to provide an effective set of safety controls

4: These safety issues are particularly concerning given the high material-at-risk (MAR) allowed by the TSD, the proximity of LANL’s onsite transportation routes to the public, and the nature of several credible accident scenarios. These factors result in high calculated unmitigated dose consequences to the public without an adequate safety control strategy.

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State Sues Holtec for Mishandling Asbestos at Pilgrim Reactor Site

Attorney general says demolition put workers and residents at risk

| February 15, 2024 provincetownindependent.org

BOSTON — Mass. Attorney General Andrea Campbell has filed a civil complaint against Holtec Decommissioning International, owner of the shuttered Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, for a long list of violations related to improperly handling, storing, shipping, and disposal of asbestos-laced debris during the plant’s demolition.

The complaint cites work done between January 2021 and September 2023. The improper handling put the health of workers and residents near the plant in jeopardy, according to the complaint, which seeks penalties of $25,000 per day for each violation.

The attorney general’s office filed the 28-page suit on Feb. 14 in Suffolk Superior Court. Assistant Attorney General John Craig, from the office’s environmental division, states that Holtec didn’t hire the required asbestos inspector before demolishing a 32-foot-high water tower in 2021. Asbestos-laced paint on the exterior of the tower was not removed and properly disposed of, the complaint charges, and it wound up in flakes on the work site and mixed in with metal scraps from the tower.

 

Public given more time to comment on LANL’s steps against toxic plume

Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s operations director, said the proposed actions seem broad, lacking important details on what actually would be done. Also, it would make more sense to have the Environment Department sign off on a plan of action — because the agency has final say — before going through the NEPA process.”They’re doing it backward,” Kovac said.”

| February 12, 2024 santafenewmexican.com

The public will have an additional month to weigh in on a federal report assessing the possible impacts of the latest proposed measures for cleaning up a toxic chromium plume beneath Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The U.S. Energy Department issued the 115-page environmental assessment in November, then offered a 60-day period for public comment that was set to end Monday but now will go to March 13.

 

Nuclear Weapons Issues & The Accelerating Arms Race: February 2024

FEDERAL BUDGET NEWS

Release of federal FY 2025 budget expected March 11 (it will initially be just topline numbers).

Meanwhile on the FY 2024 budget: House and Senate Armed Services Committee authorized funding exceeding Biden’s request, including money for the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile and nuclear warhead (reminder: that the President doesn’t want), plus adding $$ for plutonium pit production at the Savannah River Site. But appropriations bills are still not happening because of ever increasing congressional dysfunction. This is now best exemplified by Republicans rejecting an immigration bill they initially drafted but that Trump denounced because he wanted immigration to remain a hot issue during the presidential election campaign.

The current second “laddered” Continuing Resolution that is keeping the government running expires March 1 and 8.

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Building a World Without Nuclear Weapons

Building a World Without Nuclear Weapons: Online Forum January 27, 2024

Building a world without nuclear weapons: An urgent imperative

Online forum held January 27, 2024 with musicians What the World Needs Now Interfaith Coalition Singers, host Peter Metz, Bishop John Stowe (Lexington KY), moderator Claire Schaeffer Duffy, and panelists Archbishop John Wester (Santa Fe NM), Dr. Ira Helfand, and Marie Dennis. With a special message from Rep. Jim McGovern (MA).


The fallout never ended

Decades of nuclear weapons tests and other radioactive experiments injured or killed scientists, soldiers, and innocent bystanders. Many of them, and their relatives, have never been compensated, but new efforts may change that. A former Senate staffer and expert on the US nuclear program looks back at its harmful effects, and how the government addressed them—or didn’t.

| February 1, 2024 thebulletin.org

‘Castle Bravo’ on March 1, 1954 on Bikini Atoll produced the largest yield and fallout of all US nuclear weapons tests (US Department of Energy).

Attorney general seeks to deny Holtec $260M state tax break

In appeal to state Supreme Court, AG lists major concerns about Camden nuclear tech firm

| February 2, 2024 njspotlightnews.org

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin is appealing to the state Supreme Court to ban Holtec International, a Camden nuclear technology firm dogged by a history of ethical issues, from collecting a $260 million tax break awarded in 2014.

Platkin, in a petition to the court filed Thursday, wrote that Holtec must not be allowed to get away with lying on its application for the largest tax break in state history. Rewarding Holtec’s “material” misrepresentations, Platkin argued, would undermine state contract law and encourage other applicants to deceive the state.

“The question is whether a business that concealed prior misconduct when seeking millions in incentives can nevertheless walk away scot-free,’’ wrote Platkin, who is contending that the appellate court which decided in favor of Holtec made critical legal errors.

ACTION ALERTS

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Let’s Keep New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, Not the Land of Nuclear Weapons & Radioactive Wastes! 

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Interfaith Panel Discussion on Nuclear Disarmament - August 9

Interfaith Panel Discussion on the 77th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki, Japan

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New Nuclear Media

Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America

A new book is out about Hanford, by Joshua Frank, co-editor of Counterpunch, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.

Once home to the United States’s largest plutonium production site, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is laced with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The threat of an explosive accident at Hanford is all too real—an event that could be more catastrophic than Chernobyl. 
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