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.

Plutonium Sampling at Los Alamos National Laboratory

PBS Special: The Vow From Hiroshima

Where the film “Oppenheimer” failed to explore the devastating impact of nuclear destruction on victims and the environment, "The Vow From Hiroshima" offers a poignant and timely counter-narrative. It shares an intimate, uplifting glimpse into the life of Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old survivor of the atomic bombing who dedicated her life to peace and the elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Special on PBS |

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”

In 1985, US President Ronald Reagan 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

Nuclear repository site near Carlsbad readies for waste from Washington after pause

As of May 6, 2024, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico is preparing to receive nuclear waste from Washington after a two-month pause for maintenance.

currentargus.com

Nuclear waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository near Carlsbad were suspended for about two months as workers completed numerous maintenance projects at the underground facility.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico calls for comprehensive plutonium cleanup at LANL

A group of anti-nuclear activists used data from Los Alamos National Laboratory to map places where plutonium contamination has been found in areas near the lab. Nuclear Watch New Mexico says that the data indicates plutonium contamination has migrated through the subsurface and into important water sources. The group called for comprehensive cleanup at LANL. […]

“Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes comprehensive cleanup is imperative, especially in light of expanding nuclear weapons programs.”

nmpoliticalreport.com

A group of anti-nuclear activists used data from Los Alamos National Laboratory to map places where plutonium contamination has been found in areas near the lab.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico says that the data indicates plutonium contamination has migrated through the subsurface and into important water sources. The group called for comprehensive cleanup at LANL.

The data is publicly available and there are more than 100,000 samples for plutonium dating from 1970 to 2023. However, Sophia Stroud, a digital content manager for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, explained that they did not want to include samples on their map that could be linked to fallout from nuclear weapons testing rather than activities at the lab.

They narrowed down the samples to remove plutonium samples that could have come from nuclear weapon testing. That left about 58,100 samples that were taken from below ground between 1992 and 2023.

Of those samples, about 70 percent of them were below detectable levels of plutonium.

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Recent Project: Plutonium Sampling at the Los Alamos National Lab

NukeWatch has recently published a project on plutonium sampling at Los Alamos National Laboratory showing plutonium migration and contamination into the groundwater at and around the lab. See more: 

In order to accomplish this, we gathered data from LANL's own Intellus database, and mapped and charted it using excel and eventually JavaScript here

Interactive Map: Plutonium Contamination and Migration Around LANL

The long path of plutonium: A new map charts contamination at thousands of sites, miles from Los Alamos National Laboratory

Plutonium hotspots appear along tribal lands, hiking trails, city streets and the Rio Grande River, a watchdog group finds

“Nuclear Watch’s driving question, according to Scott Kovac, its operations and research director, concerned a specific pattern of contamination: Had plutonium migrated from LANL dump sites into regional groundwater? The answer, Kovac believes, is yes.”

searchlightnm.org

For years, the public had no clear picture of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plutonium footprint. Had the ubiquitous plutonium at LANL infiltrated the soil? The water? Had it migrated outside the boundary of the laboratory itself?

A series of maps published by Nuclear Watch New Mexico are beginning to answer these questions and chart the troubling extent of plutonium on the hill. One map is included below, while an interactive version appears on Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s website. The raw data for both comes from Intellus New Mexico, a publicly accessible clearinghouse of some 16 million environmental monitoring records offered in recent decades by LANL, the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy.

Approximately 58,100 red dots populate each map at 12,730 locations, marking a constellation of points where plutonium — a radioactive element used in nuclear weapons — was found in the groundwater, surface water or soil. What’s alarming is just how far that contamination extends, from Bandelier National Monument to the east and the Santa Fe National Forest to the north, to San Ildefonso tribal lands in the west and the Rio Grande River and Santa Fe County, to the south.

The points, altogether, tell a story about the porous boundary between LANL and its surrounds. So pervasive is the lab’s footprint that plutonium can be found in both trace and notable amounts along hiking trails, near a nursing home, in parks, along major thoroughfares and in the Rio Grande.

Gauging whether or not the levels of plutonium are a health risk is challenging: Many physicians and advocates say no dose of radiation is safe. But when questions about risk arise, one of the few points of reference is the standard used at Rocky Flats in Colorado, where the maximum allowable amount of plutonium in remediated soil was 50 picocuries per gram. Many sites on the Nuclear Watch map have readings below this amount. Colorado’s construction standard, by contrast, is 0.9 picocuries per gram.

Watchdog group says LANL data shows widespread plutonium migration

“[NukeWatch] argued [their] plutonium migration map provides “compelling evidence of the need for a comprehensive cleanup” at the lab. The Department of Energy instead has proposed a plan to “cap and cover” 190,000 cubic yards of waste in unlined pits and trenches, at an estimated cost of $12 million.

Many local organizations and community leaders, including the Santa Fe County Commission, have opposed the plan, and the New Mexico Environment Department issued a draft order in September calling for a full cleanup — at a cost of about $800 million.”

santafenewmexican.com

LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY
Plutonium migration
Nuclear Watch New Mexico says it has created an interactive map showing plutonium migration from Los Alamos National Laboratory based on the lab’s database of environmental sampling. The map of 58,100 sampling sites, including 17,483 where the element was detected, shows trace amounts of the radioactive element as far away as Cochiti Lake, the group says.

Trace amounts of plutonium from decades of weapons work at Los Alamos National Laboratory have contaminated the Rio Grande at least as far as Cochiti Lake and could be in the regional aquifer that serves a large population of New Mexicans, a nuclear watchdog says.

“That’s been long known,” Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director Jay Coghlan said in a virtual briefing Thursday morning, when the organization unveiled a map of plutonium migration it said was created with LANL’s own data.

“Nevertheless, it’s not generally known by the New Mexican public,” Coghlan said. “What is ‘new news’ is publicly calling that out.”

Nuclear Watch used what it called the lab’s publicly accessible but cumbersome environmental database, Intellus New Mexico, to map 58,100 spots where the lab collected samples between 1992 and 2023, including 17,483 labeled as plutonium “detects.” The interactive map shows the date each sample was collected and the level of plutonium detected, with two “detects” cited in Cochiti Lake, dozens in the Rio Grande east of Los Alamos and thousands around the lab.

Groups Fire Back at Feds’ Move to Dismiss Plutonium Pit Lawsuit

NNSA Delays Urgent Research on Plutonium “Pit” Aging While Spending Tens of Billions on Nuclear Weapons Bomb Core Production

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, April 17, 2024
Tom Clements, SRS Watch – 803.240.7268 | Email
Scott Yundt, TVC – 415.990.2070 | Email
Jay Coghlan – 505.989.7342 | Email

Nearly three years after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch has finally received the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) congressionally-required “Research Program Plan for Plutonium and Pit Aging.” However, the document is 40% blacked out, including references and acronyms. Plutonium “pits” are the radioactive cores of all U.S. nuclear weapons. The NNSA claims that potential aging effects are justification for a ~$60 billion program to expand production. However, the Plan fails to show that aging is a current problem. To the contrary, it demonstrates that NNSA is delaying urgently needed updated plutonium pit aging research.

In 2006 independent scientific experts known as the JASONs concluded that plutonium pits last at least 85 years without specifying an end date [i] (the average pit age is now around 40 years). A 2012 follow-on study by the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab concluded:

“This continuing work shows that no unexpected aging issues are appearing in plutonium that has been accelerated to an equivalent of ~ 150 years of age. The results of this work are consistent with, and further reinforce, the Department of Energy Record of Decision to pursue a limited pit manufacturing capability in existing and planned facilities at Los Alamos instead of constructing a new, very large pit manufacturing facility…” [ii]

Since then NNSA has reversed itself. In 2018 the agency decided to pursue the simultaneous production of at least 30 pits per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico and at least 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. Upgrades to plutonium facilities at LANL are slated to cost $8 billion over the next 5 years. The redundant Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility in South Carolina will cost up to $25 billion, making it the second most expensive building in human history.

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Government watchdog says LANL could be doing more to prevent glove box contaminant releases

“In an email, an anti-nuclear watchdog argued the 10 incidents the board lists in the report were “potentially dangerous.”

“The discouraging overall trend is the accelerating frequency of these events as LANL ramps up expanded plutonium pit production,” wrote Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “The Lab feeds the public with empty assurances of safety. However, this trend deserves meaningful course correction before, and not after, LANL begins production.””

santafenewmexican.com

Los Alamos National Laboratory is not doing all it can to detect radioactive leaks in glove boxes and prevent the release of airborne contaminants, a federal watchdog said in a review it conducted of the equipment and safety programs after a series of mishaps.

The equipment, made up of sealed compartments and attached protective gloves, aids workers in handling radioactive materials and is deemed essential in the lab ramping up production of plutonium cores, or pits, that trigger nuclear warheads.

Although the lab is addressing problems previously identified with glove box operations — worn gloves not changed soon enough, inadequate staffing and training, leaky ports not sealed — a team found several other deficiencies that should be fixed to reduce hazards, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board wrote in a 13-page report.

CRITICAL EVENTS

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New Nuclear Media: Art, Films, Books & More

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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Fallout from a nuclear past: A new book explores the human toll of “nuclear colonization” in New Mexico

Of the three waves of colonization New Mexico has undergone — Spanish, American and nuclear — the latter is the least explored. And for author Myrriah Gómez, there were personal reasons to reveal the truth about how “nuclear colonization” has altered the state’s past and continues to shape its future.

By Alicia Inez Guzmán Searchlight New Mexico | December 2022 searchlightnm.org

Gómez, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, is the author of  “Nuclear Nuevo México,” a book that explores the history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the fundamental tension of living in its shadow. Its publication this month by the University of Arizona Press couldn’t be timelier: Los Alamos is currently preparing to build plutonium “pits” that act as triggers in nuclear weapons, putting the lab front and center in an ongoing national debate about nuclear impacts.

“If Spanish colonialism brought Spanish colonizers and U.S. colonialism brought American colonizers,” as Gómez writes in her book, “then nuclear colonialism brought nuclear colonizers, scientists, military personnel, atomic bomb testing, and nuclear waste among them.”

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