At recent public forums, the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Laboratory claimed that cleanup is more than half complete.
What these staged events fail to disclose, contradicting repeated claims of transparency, is that decisions already have been made behind closed doors to remove only approximately 6,500 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic waste, while leaving 30 times as much buried permanently above our groundwater aquifer.
LANL used to claim that groundwater contamination from lab operations was impossible. Today, we sadly know otherwise. Deep groundwater under LANL is contaminated with chromium, perchlorate and high explosives. Intermediate aquifers linked to deep groundwater are contaminated with tritium, industrial solvents, heavy metals and plutonium.
The Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, the former production site for plutonium pits (the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons), was cleaned up on the cheap, with treatment only to recreational standards on the surface and little or no treatment below three feet of soil, while a sacrifice area of two square miles remains forever closed to the public. Cleanup on the cheap is now coming to Los Alamos, greased by the Department of Energy’s and LANL’s slick public forums that allow only written questions from the public. None other than the former head of the Rocky Flats cleanup spins the official response, without the public opportunity for follow-up or critical cross-examination.
Cleanup on the cheap helps pay for expanded plutonium pit production at LANL. That is a key part of the United States’ $1.7 trillion “modernization” plan to completely rebuild the nuclear weapons stockpile, build new nuclear weapons production facilities, and build new bombers, missiles and submarines to deliver nuclear weapons.
This plan already is fueling a new global nuclear arms race. President Donald Trump just axed one arms control treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles that give little or no warning. Trump’s warmongering national security adviser John Bolton now has his sights on killing the only remaining nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
In short, we are back to the future with a new nuclear arms race, but now even more unpredictable given multiple possible actors such as China, North Korea and Iran (after Trump busted the Iran nuclear arms control agreement).
This is classic guns versus butter — only these are really big guns (nuclear weapons) versus cleanup that would permanently protect the environment and our water while creating hundreds of high-paying jobs. Contrary to LANL publicity, the lab is further entrenching itself in the nuclear weapons business, with 70 percent (and rising) of its annual approximately $2.6 billion budget for core nuclear weapons research and production programs.
In contrast, cleanup stays stuck at around $200 million a year. More overkill nuclear weapons for an escalating global nuclear arms race and less cleanup of past nuclear weapons production — is this what taxpayers want?
We New Mexicans have a special opportunity and responsibility to help shape sane international policies given that 36 percent of DOE’s annual nuclear weapons money is spent in our state alone. Despite that, the Land of Enchantment limps along near the bottom of virtually every socioeconomic indicator since the nuclear weapons industry overwhelmingly favors the privileged few.
It is past time for New Mexicans to fight back against expanded plutonium pit production, the escalating global nuclear arms race and plans to leave most radioactive and toxic wastes permanently buried above our precious groundwater aquifer.
The Department of Energy will have another “cleanup” forum from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at Santa Fe Community College. For what you can do, go to www.nukewatch.org
Jay Coghlan has worked on nuclear weapons issues in New Mexico and across the nation for 30 years. He doesn’t want young people to have to grow up with the threat of civilization-ending nuclear weapons like he did.