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.


It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

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

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

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:

New Nuclear Media: Art, Films, Books & More

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

New & Updated

Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

Great news about reported further cuts to deployed strategic nuclear weapons. NukeWatch NM is all in favor of that! But we also want a qualitative change rather that just a quantitative change. By that we mean no new nuclear weapons production facilities meant to last for the next half-century and no new military capabilities for our existing weapons. Make no mistake, those new military capabilities are happening now through Life Extension Programs, despite denials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. More in our press release……


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 8, 2013   

Contact: Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.692.5854


Proposed Nuke Cuts a Step in the Right Direction – –

New Nuclear Weapons Production Facilities And Military Capabilities Should Be Cut As Well

Santa Fe, NM – According to a major article published today by the Center for Public Integrity, the Obama Administration is preparing to release a long-awaited “Implementation Study” as a follow on to its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. This study will reportedly lower the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,000 – 1,100 from the 1,550 each pledged to by Russia and the U.S. in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty arms control agreement. In December 2010 the U.S. Senate ratified New START, which Republican senators used to extract funding commitments for “modernization” of both the nuclear weapons stockpile and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s research and production complex.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds further cuts to strategic nuclear weapons as an excellent step in the right direction. But as the Center for Public Integrity points out the Obama Administration considered but rejected a “deterrence only” nuclear posture that would require only some 500 warheads to back up the officially declared policy of deterring others. This is in contrast to the 1,000+ weapons needed for nuclear warfighting and first strike capability (which the U.S. has never renounced).

So-called modernization of the U.S. stockpile involves increasingly aggressive Life Extension Programs (LEPs) that prolong the service lives of existing nuclear weapons 30 years or more. LEPs and/or other modifications also provide existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities, which generally involve substituting lower yield nuclear weapons for higher yield weapons. Two past examples are: 1) a 1997 modification of the B61 bomb into a 350 kiloton earth-penetrator, taking over the mission of the 9 megaton B53 surface-burst bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets; and 2) the current LEP for the sub-launched W76 Trident warhead, retrofitting it with a new-design fuze that is believed capable of selecting more precise heights-of-burst. In combination with increased warhead accuracy, this gives the 100-kiloton W76 the hard target kill capability of the more powerful 450-kiloton W88 Trident warhead. [For perspective’s sake, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were ~16 and ~21 kilotons respectively, together instantly killing at least 130,000 people.]

The U.S. has officially and repeatedly declared to the entire world (notably at the United Nations’ 2010 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference) that it will not produce new-design nuclear weapons. Simultaneously high-level government officials also pledged that the U.S. would never give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities.

However Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM Director, points out, “Substituting more usable lower-yield nuclear weapons for higher-yield weapons is undeniably a new military capability in and of itself. At the same time, we are undermining our own national security, first through the bad proliferation example we set for others, and second by possibly lowering confidence in stockpile reliability through the introduction of major changes to our extensively tested nuclear weapons. Further cuts to deployed strategic nuclear weapons are clearly a very good thing. But the next needed step is for all nuclear weapons powers, including the U.S., to adopt a deterrence-only posture that conservatively maintains nuclear arsenals while awaiting negotiated, verified disarmament.”

As a case in point for the need to preserve the tested pedigree of the stockpile, the new-design fuze for the W76 (in part responsible for its new military capability) had initial design problems that delayed start up of its Life Extension Program. Future LEPs could be even more aggressive, with for example a proposed joint warhead replacing both the W78 ICBM warhead and the sub-launched W88 while using the plutonium pit core of yet a third type of warhead. This inevitably raises the question of at what point does a reputedly refurbished nuclear weapon become a “new” weapon, directly contradicting officially declared policy and creating a terrible proliferation example.

Lower stockpile numbers coupled with prudent, conservative maintenance of nuclear weapons creates less need for strategic bombers, subs, missiles and nuclear weapons production facilities, in turn leading to huge, urgently needed taxpayers savings and enhanced national security. Coghlan concluded, “This should be the final straw for the proposed ~$6 billion CMRR facility for expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab, which has been postponed for at least 5 years because of budget pressures. Today’s revelation of lower nuclear stockpile numbers should put a permanent end to this plutonium boondoggle for a shrinking nuclear weapons stockpile, giving some relief to the American taxpayer while promoting a safer world.”

# # #

The Center for Public Integrity’s news article “Obama administration embraces major new nuclear weapons cut” is available at

903 W. Alameda, #325 • Santa Fe, NM 87501 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342 • •




This is from our friends at Hanford Challenge ( Bechtel is the major operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Press Release
Immediate Release
For more information contact: Tom Carpenter, 206-419-5829
August 28, 2012


Memo Urges DOE to Remove Bechtel as the Design Authority, Warning Bechtel “is not competent to complete their role”

Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today released a high-ranking Director’s memorandum that urges termination of the key duties of government contractor, Bechtel National, Inc. (“Bechtel”; “BNI”). A litany of charges question whether Bechtel should continue its role at the Hanford nuclear site, including a long history of incompetence, misleading the government, overcharging, and unsafe designs.

The memo states, “[t]he number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP [Waste Treatment Plant], and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent.”

The memo continues, noting that “[t]he behavior and performance of Bechtel Engineering places unnecessarily high risk that the WTP design will not be effectively completed. . .”

The August 23, 2012 memo was prepared by the Department of Energy’s WTP Engineering Division Director who oversees the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. It is titled “Summary of Actions and Design Outcomes that Erode Confidence in the ability of Bechtel National Inc. to complete their assigned role as Design Authority for the WTP,” it includes a 19- page attachment, and it is addressed to the Hanford Site Manager. The memo begins:
“This memorandum documents 34 instances and technical issues in which Bechtel National Inc., acting as Design Authority for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) has provided design solutions and technical advice to the Department of Energy which either:
• was determined to be factually incorrect,
• provided a design solution that was not technically defensible, technically viable, or was technically flawed considering identified requirements,
• provided a design solution that was not safe for the WTP operators, or designs that did not comply with the safety basis,
• provided a design solution that represented higher River Protection Project life cycle operating costs compared to other alternatives,
• provided a design solution that was difficult and costly to verify considering other alternatives. thereby increasing WTP completion costs and extending the WTP completion schedule,
• provided a design that was new and unique and does not clearly provide benefits compared to existing technologies and which required special qualification testing,
• provided an installed equipment system that did not meet safety requirements or was not adequately inspected following installation even when defects became known, or
• did not represent best value to the Government in terms of design costs, operating costs or completion schedule.”
The Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is one of the world’s largest and most expensive environmental remediation projects. The current plant is the fourth attempt to build a treatment facility to convert radioactive waste into glass at Hanford, it is a decade behind schedule and with a price tag of approximately at $13 billion, it is at least 250% over budget. The Department of Energy (“DOE”) recently suspended much of the project’s design and construction activities, pending resolution of outstanding safety and technical concerns.
The memo further states, “DOE Engineering Staff have uncovered findings at a nearly constant rate since 2008. The rate of identification is constant, indicating systemic problems in the WTP design process and in BNI’s role as Design Authority. The number and rate of problems identified is indicative that issues are not being resolved.”
Hanford Challenge Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, posits: “the leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief. This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation. We already knew of Bechtel’s record of suppressing its own engineers’ concerns and retaliating against whistleblowers, and now we see evidence that exhibits a shocking and inexcusable lack of attention to safety for both workers and the public.”
The Engineering Director’s memo recommends, “the role of the WTP Design Authority should be immediately removed from BNI. The DOE should evaluate and select a preferred option to establish an Independent Design Authority for the WTP that will represent the interests of the DOE and the DOE operator.”
DOE Memo can be found at

Trinity Day — a good day to get money from the Fed?

Please check out Stephanie’s blog

Particle Beams
“Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…” dispelling the nuclear delusion

Trinity Day — a good day to get money from the Fed?

Batter my heart, three-person’d God.   — John Donne, “Trinity”

Yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the very first atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert, and alas for us, it was a success.

Across the globe, we still have 20,000 bombs ready to go, many of them on high alert.

Commemorating this event and its consequences were three different developments in New Mexico.

The first and most incongruous was news of a delegation embarking on that very day and heading to Washington, DC, to sell someone (not specified in the Los Alamos Post story) how much it means to the state of New Mexico to have the Labs here.

Nice way to celebrate the anniversary, que no? Drinks afterwards at the Capitol?

The delegation was composed of nearly 20 members of the business community accompanied by a representative from Governor Martinez’ office. We might have expected the head of the Chamber of Commerce, Simon Brackley, to be there, but it was a bit of a surprise to see Lilian Montoya Rael, a Board member from Christus St. Vincent’s Hospital.

But I suppose that the Labs, being so detrimental to health, are an indispensable asset to the Hospital.

Speaking of health, the second event, in marked contrast to the humble fundraising efforts of a few of our respected citizens, addressed the reality — the real impact of the bomb test on the lives of citizens, in this case the citizens of Tularosa, a small village that exists outside the presumed boundary of fallout that was expected from that event. These men, women and children have experienced a disproportionately higher-than-ever rate of cancers and other disabling conditions. July 16 was named Nuclear Disasters Day in Tularosa. They celebrated with luminarias at the town baseball field!

Last but not least, July 16 marks the first day of the Los Alamos Hunger Strike initiated by Alaric Balibreras. Thirty strikers have joined him in his plea to have a conversation with Those in Charge of the Lab’s affairs about coming up with a Plan to actually change the Lab’s Mission, currently the production of a-bombs (as posted on the Lab’s website), to production of Things that are Good for Us. (Remember “Better Living through Chemistry?” Such were the slogans that set off the hippie resistance of the 60s, and I’m told that the planets are aligned in a similar pattern today!!)

And which way will it go? Will the delegation of business people receive more money from Washington to produce more bombs, an activity so lucrative to the state that they can’t bear to let it go… or will this year be the year of The Rise of the Little People demanding an end to this profligacy and waste? Stay tuned. Alaric plans to fast until Nagasaki Day, August 9, anniversary of the day in 1945 when the US used the first plutonium bomb against the residents of that city, killing 130,000 on site and more later.

Enough, he says, and we say with him: Let’s have a Change of Heart, For a World of Beauty! Raise an empty glass with 30 hunger strikers and join them if you wish: you’ll find them on Facebook, at Los Alamos Hunger Strike.

We will be following the strike throughout the 21 days with updates and interviews. Here’s one newsflash from yesterday:

Los Alamos, July 16, 2012

STANDING AT THE GATES OF THE LAB some 20 protestors, most of them from Trinity Abolition, an Albuquerque group which protests at the Lab on a regular basis, as well as members of the hunger strike, joined hands outside the gates of the lab. “Lab people came down and took our pictures and got our names,” reports Ellie Voutselas of Pax Christi, one of the fasters.

Alaric then moved over to Ashley Pond, the original site of the Lab and now a public park, where he was joined by a young striker whose dog set up a howl for the duration. Guess that puppy has a few things to say about nuclear weapons, but the canine may provide an unneeded distraction if this keeps up.

Lab lacks ability to estimate emergency response as it also underestimates risk

Lab lacks ability to estimate emergency response as it also underestimates risk

There has been much in the recent news about Los Alamos National Laboratory underestimating how much radiation could leak from the nuclear weapons production plutonium lab after a major earthquake and fire. Read the POGO article here.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Report is here.

Among other problems, LANL computer models credited sheetrock walls with surviving an earthquake.

In a recently released May report, the Department of Energy’s very own oversight Department finished a separate review titled, “Independent Oversight Review of Site Preparedness for Severe Natural Phenomena Events at the Los Alamos National Laboratory”, that also questions the Lab’s safety procedures.

The Health Safety and Security Office (HSS) of Safety and Emergency Management Evaluations performed this independent review to evaluate emergency response capabilities at the Lab and how the Lab maintained them in a state of readiness in case of a severe natural phenomena event. The review showed that LANL would have trouble responding quickly with the appropriate emergency response in the case of a serious natural event.

As one of the conclusions states – “LANL does not have an adequate means for determining quickly whether an event occurring at the CMR facility, a criticality event at TA-55 PF-4 facility, or a severe natural phenomena event at either facility involves a significant quantity of HAZMAT and requires implementation of corresponding onsite protective actions or issuance of appropriate offsite protective action recommendations.” (Pg. 38)

For example, the Emergency Action Levels currently in the Lab’s Emergency Plan Procedure:

•            Do not reflect the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment isolation and downwind protective action distances for the majority of the events

•            Do not provide Emergency Action Levels for two severe natural phenomena events (earthquake and wildland fire) in the CMR Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment

•            Use a criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for a criticality event at CMR, even though CMR is not equipped with a criticality alarm system

•            Do not use the PF-4 criticality alarm system as an Emergency Action Level entry indicator for the criticality event analyzed in the TA-55 Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment.


In addition, the Lab’s generic natural disaster Emergency Action Levels do not provide sufficient information to accurately categorize and/or classify a severe natural phenomena event.

And LANL’s planning for onsite protective actions and offsite protective action recommendations provided in the Emergency Action Levels did not fully consider facility or site conditions for the analyzed events.

The report continues. The Independent Oversight observed outdated and incorrect information in the current set of CMR and TA-55 PF-4 Emergency Action Levels. Further, the generic Emergency Action Levels for severe natural phenomena events were not based on the potential for or an actual uncontrolled release of HAZMAT and are not linked to protective actions or protective action recommendations.

Additionally, the pre-planned protective actions for a TA-55 PF-4 seismic event are limited to shelter-in-place when there could be high radiation levels, and no effective shelters are available.

So, we have two different government agencies questioning safety after the Lab received a record $83 million in award bonuses.

These reports are another example of why the Lab must shut down plutonium operations now.

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

LANL loses track of nuclear materials

Plutonium operations placed in standby mode


In an April 20, 2012 report, the Safety Board charged with oversight of defense nuclear facilities reported that the system used to track nuclear materials in the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory was operating erroneously. The system apparently only kept track of 1,700 out of 13,000 containers of nuclear “materials at risk” (MAR). This omission caused the facility to exceed its limits for MAR located in individual containers and outside of gloveboxes at least 15 times.

If one is operating a facility with large quantities of fissionable nuclear materials it is very important to know where the materials are at all times because stacking too much plutonium in one place can cause a criticality event or worse. After the error was noticed, the Lab manually started to verify container MAR amounts manually.  “To date, fifteen containers, all housed in the facility’s vault, have been identified with contents that exceed the MAR limit of 7500 g WG-Pu [Weapons Grade Plutonium] equivalent.” That’s a lot to lose track of because these limits help the facility to comply with the seismic requirements of operations in the Lab’s earthquake fault zone.

Normal operations have been terminated in the 150,000 square foot Plutonium Facility and the facility has been placed in “Standby Mode.” How much does a shutdown cost taxpayers?

How long has the Lab violated these limits? The report states that the tracking error was introduced during software development, apparently due to a “miscommunication” between the software developers and the security personnel. The MAR tracker program performs other required MAR limit surveillances in the facility. Are these other surveillances reliable? This incident also calls into question other Lab software, such as programs that model contaminant transport.

It is unclear if the plutonium facility has restarted operations. The Safety Board reports usually are released about a month after they are green atom






The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board Report is here.

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers

I’d like to respond to the news stories out lately concerning the Director’s salary at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Following our press release Wednesday, the Lab released their reply. It was reported by both the Albuquerque Journal North and the LAMonitor.

LANL Says Pension Boosted Director’s Compensation By Mark Oswald / Albuquerque Journal on Fri, Apr 20, 2012

Nuke Watch assails lab salary increase By John Severance, LA Monitor, Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm (Updated: April 20, 9:08 am)

From the monitor article –

“According to its computations, Charlie McMillan, the LANL director, had a salary of $1,081,059 in 2011. In 2009, the salary was $800,348 and in 2005, the year before the management of the lab was awarded to Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a corporation including the University of California, Bechtel Corporation, URS and B&W, the salary was $348,000.”

BTW, it’s not our “computations.” The compensation levels we quote come from federal reporting on economic stimulus funding.

In response, the Lab states, “The majority of the figure reported under DOE stimulus funding guidelines is an increase in pension value.” Can anyone explain what this means? Our economic experts are at a loss. Until I am straightened out, which I eagerly await, the statement will mean to me that the increases of the Director/President’s annual compensation are mostly due to increased pension contributions.

Whatever it is, it is still annual compensation.

The Lab response continues – “Also included are salary, life insurance, health benefits, and other total compensation.” I repeat, whatever the “increase in pension value” is, it is still annual compensation.

The Lab response continues – “The portion of the director’s annual salary reimbursable by the government is about 35 percent of the reported figure and is comparable to previous director salaries, adjusted for inflation.” That may be true, but the remaining 65% of the $1M annually going to the LANL Director/LANS President is coming from the contractor Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), of which he is president of the executive committee of the board of directors. The statement continues –  “Any amount above the federal maximum comes from LANS performance fees and is not reimbursable by the government.” But the LANS performance fees are paid by the federal government, so ultimately it is still the taxpayer that is paying the LANL’s Director’s total salary.

It is still annual compensation paid for by the taxpayers.

Before the LANL management contract was privatized and became for-profit in June 2006 the LANL Directors were getting just that salary directly reimbursable by the government.  Now they get that plus the larger LANS amount on top of it.


Two Upcoming Events

Two upcoming events

Sunday Mornings @ The Travel Bug
April 22, Sunday, 11 am
839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director Of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
in Conversation with Michelle Victoria – NukeFreeNow on the work Jay has
done over the last 22 years on nuclear safety and what Michelle is planning
for the NukeFreeNow.
Travel Bug is an independent travel specialty store in Santa Fe, NM,
839 Paseo de Peralta 505-474-1457


CMRR Public Meeting
Wednesday, April 25 from 6:30 – 8:30
Fuller Lodge, Los Alamos

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMMR) Project is the
Lab’s $6 billion dream facility that would enable expanded production
capabilities for plutonium nuclear weapons components. The Obama
Administration has recently proposed deferring the project for 5 years,
which will likely lead to its termination.

This will be the 13th semi-annual public meeting required as part of a 2005
settlement between DOE/LANL and an network of community groups:
• Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
• Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group
• Loretto Community
• New Mexico Environmental Law Center
• Nuclear Watch New Mexico
• Peace Action New Mexico
• Tewa Women United

You are invited to come and be inspired as LANL CMRR project personnel give
updates on the project while our network of community groups give updates of
our concerns.

Defense Dept. Memo Criticizes Cost of Nuclear Weapons Labs While Los Alamos Director’s Salary Nearly Triples

Our colleagues and friends at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have released an explosive report based on a leaked Department of Defense memo concluding that “The Department of Energy’s network of privately-operated nuclear weapons laboratories are riddled with waste, redundancies and lackluster scientific standards.” POGO also found that “that seven of the top 15 officials at the three DOE nuclear labs make more than $700,000 per year, with one earning $1.7 million—more than the president of the United States and many government executives.”

Coincidentally, Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been independently compiling data on the salaries of the three laboratory directors, as presented in the table below. It shows that the salary of the Los Alamos Director has nearly tripled since for-profit management began in June 2006, even as the Lab is cutting some 600 jobs. As seen below, privatization of the nuclear weapons labs’ management contracts has resulted in directors’ salaries far above average in both the federal government and the private sector.



The DoD memo leaked by POGO contains the following admirable passage on good governance:
Diminishing Public Accountability. Without a strong yardstick, our government cannot govern well — not even if it retains the best and brightest on contract. The government’s own assets must capably bear the responsibility for decisions that affect national interests, and they must maintain public confidence by the manner in which those decisions are made.

In contrast, the directors of the three nuclear weapons labs (the Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories) wear two hats, first as lab directors, but secondly as the presidents of the board of directors of the for-profit limited liability corporations (LLCs) that run the labs. That may be a questionable conflict of interests, in which the LLCs are enjoying record profits from issues that deeply “affect national interests” (i.e., nuclear weapons) while the salaries of their “CEOs” (the lab directors) are exploding.

Arguably the lab directors have not maintained public confidence in the decisions they make because of the general trend of increasingly withholding crucial public information. One example is the Performance Evaluation Reports that rate contractors’ performance and determines the amount of taxpayers’ money awarded to them. Those reports were publicly available until 2009 when the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began to withhold them, and became recently available again only after NukeWatch NM sued for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

NNSA awarded the limited liability corporation that runs Los Alamos Lab $74.2 million for FY 2010, followed by $83.7 million in profit for FY 2011, a 13% increase in one year, and 10 times more than what the University of California (UC) use to be awarded when it was LANL’s sole nonprofit manager. Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Director, commented, “In today’s political and economic climate citizens need to remain vigilant that for-profit corporate interests don’t corrupt serious national issues. This very much applies to how our nuclear weapons labs are run as well. We specifically call upon Los Alamos Lab to fully explain to northern New Mexicans why it needs to cut some 600 jobs while at the same time the for-profit management corporation is enjoying record profits and the Director’s salary has nearly tripled in six years.”

# # #

All data on nuclear weapons labs directors’ salaries are from:

POGO’s press release “Leaked Defense Memo Criticizes the Department of Energy’s Push to Expand Nuclear Weapons Laboratories” is at

POGO’s detailed letter to congressional committees on these issues is at

To read the leaked DoD memo, click here

551 W. Cordova Rd., #808, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4100 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342 • •

Love and Loss in the Jemez

We’re lucky in that it appears Los Alamos Lab has dodged the bullet with respect to the Las Conchas Fire, but I do want to say something about 100,000 acres of some of the most beautiful land in New Mexico burning up in the Jemez Mountains. I know it fairly well.

Back in the early 1980’s I would take my kids out on a full moon night in the winter after it snowed on Highway 4 near the Valle Grande and pull them on an upside down car hood chained to my pickup (not recommended, but they loved it). I use to rock climb a lot at the Las Conchas Canyon on the east fork of the Jemez River (near where the fire broke out), and down at the southern end of the fire at Cochiti Mesa and Eagle Canyon (the erosion in Eagle Canyon after the 1996 Dome Fire was shocking, a harbinger of what is to come with this fire). I remember taking my kids to the beautiful Santa Clara Canyon to the north, which the fire is now devastating (my heartfelt condolences to the Pueblo). My parents took photos of me and my two brothers when we were small in the late 1950’s sitting in a Bandelier National Monument “cavate” (a hole in the canyon volcanic tuff further carved out by the Anasazi to live in), posing as the three little monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

As an adult I’ve been back country many times in Bandelier (now half burned), where on a map it looks like you walk say 5 miles but it will actually be eight by the time you climb up and down canyons. I know of a ponderosa pine in the Jemez where a buddy bigger than me (and I’m six feet) and I could not touch our fingers together while hugging its girth. I’m a tree hugger, but I also had chain saw thinning contracts all over the Jemez, including one on the south rim of the Frijoles Canyon above Bandelier (where thinning is sorely needed). I would occasionally run across unexcavated Anasazi pueblos and walls.

I’ve seen acres of trees in the Jemez covered with monarch butterflies during their migration to Mexico.

All this burned area is beautiful, beautiful country – beautiful forests, hoodoo rocks, clear streams, elk, bear, deer, eagles, hawks, peregrine falcons, ponderosa, pinon, alligator juniper in the south, blue spruce up high, New Mexico turquoise skies, deep snows in winter (in a good year) and hot springs.  These beautiful Jemez Mountains (not really peaks, but the more you know this land the more it grows on you). Are typically wetter than most of New Mexico, but this year so dry, and burning.

I pray that the trees, animals and the rains come back. But we humans must do our part, in the near term taking preventative measures against what could be devastating erosion now that the trees and grasses are gone. We need better forest management practices that allow fire to periodically sweep the forests (ponderosa pine evolved to adapt to and benefit from these low intensity fires), instead of suppressing them to the point where catastrophic crown fires break out. Longer term we need to begin to grapple effectively with global climate change, otherwise we may never get our Jemez forests back.

And we should comprehensively clean up Los Alamos Lab, because while it dodged the bullet this time, it may not the next time.

Beautiful, beautiful Jemez land, much of it gone – I love it and now I’m deeply missing it.

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico


Still Time to Comment on LANL’s Burning Desire for Expanded Weapons Production

Ironically today (June 28) is the deadline for public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for concerned citizens to comment on a proposed ~$5 billion facility at the Los Alamos Lab ponderously called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project- Nuclear Facility. In short, it is a huge new plutonium facility that will provide materials characterization and analytical chemistry in direct support of production of the atomic cores or “triggers” of nuclear weapons, commonly called the plutonium pits. The Nuclear Facility will be the keystone to an expanded complex at LANL’s Technical Area-55 that will quadruple production capacity from 20 to 80 pits per year.

I say ironically because of the fire that is now threatening the Lab. We need to begin questioning whether expanded nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos is feasible in a possibly long-term drought and climate warming punctuated with catastrophic forest fires. More broadly, as we face increasing budget and resource constraints, we need to decide whether our money and water go into expanded nuclear weapons production, or do they go into repairing schools and infrastructure for the common good of society?


The Risk to Waste Stored at Area G

We pride ourselves here at Nuclear Watch New Mexico on trying to stick to the facts as we best we know them and not being alarmist. That said, the Las Conchas Fire that has now crossed the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) southwestern boundary is a real threat. For starters is the mind-blowing fact that in just 30 hours this fire has grown bigger than the notorious 2000 Cerro Grande Fire which burned ~48,000 acres (~5,000 acres within Lab boundaries), and traveled in a beeline 12 miles to get to the Lab. With forecasted days of strong winds and gusts and high temperatures it’s hard to say where this fire might go and what it might do. Pray for rain.

We are not so concerned about the hardened facilities at the Lab constructed of concrete and cleared of combustible materials (i.e., trees and brush) around their perimeters. We doubt that there would be any breech to their containment that would let contaminants escape (with one caveat below). But we do have concerns. One is the fact that over 6 decades the Lab has blown up a lot of uranium and depleted uranium in dynamic high explosives experiments in the general area in front of the fire. We don’t know to what extent the shrapnel or debris has been cleaned up and could possibly be aerosolized.

Another concern, given both the velocity and ferocity of the Las Conchas Fire, is whether any Lab facilities loose their power and back up generators failed to work for whatever reason. In that case containment systems could fail with unknown safety implications.

LANL TA-54 Material Disposal Area G
Domes at LANL's TA-54 Material Disposal Area G

But our biggest concern is whether the fire could reach the fabric buildings (essentially very large tents) at Technical Area-54’s Area G that store some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-contaminated wastes from nuclear weapons research and production. We recommend that the public use satellite-based fire detection data and fire intelligence information published by the US Forest Service to monitor the situation (see related post for instructions on how use it). From that we can “see” that the leading edge of the fire is a little more than three miles from Area G.

The good news is that the fire should slow down if and when it heads toward Area G because it will have to leave the mostly ponderosa forest into pinon and juniper country (which doesn’t crown fire like ponderosa). Also, the Lab has cleared trees and vegetation around Area G, and the fire would have to jump some major canyons just to get there.

So here’s hoping the fire doesn’t get anywhere close to Area G. But watch out if it does. The public should be concerned and really pay close attention. It might be a good time to take a road trip somewhere away from being downwind. This is one fire that cannot be underestimated.



It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

Interfaith Panel Discussion on Nuclear Disarmament - August 9

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

Posts Related to: NUCLEAR SAFETY

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.