At their Jan. 4 meeting, Taos County commissioners voted unanimously to table a citizens' proposed resolution.
The resolution favored a new environmental impact statement to assess the latest construction project of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
LANL plans to build a $6 billion (and rising) plutonium processing building (CMRR, or Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building) for its beefed-up bomb factory complex. From defunct, polluted Rocky Flats plant in Colorado traveled this function.
LANL aspires to the capacity to make more than 80 plutonium nuclear bomb cores per year. Plutonium is the world's most dangerous element — spontaneously combustible, poisonous, carcinogenic, radioactive, and highly prone to nuclear chain-reaction.
Two of the numerous plutonium fires at Rocky Flats raged horribly close to rendering Denver uninhabitable. Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement's initial price tag was about $400 million, but LANL designers later decided to take seriously the building's location upon suspect terrain.
LANL sits on a dormant volcano, the Jemez Mountains, on an unsteady base of tephra, or compressed volcanic ash. Only weeks ago, earthquakes up to 4 on the Richter scale rattled the Jemez' northwest foothills. LANL's new solution for earthquake danger is a 125 foot deep foundation for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement, filled with 225,000 cubic yards of concrete, adding greatly to the building's spiraling cost.
How this foundation's weight might affect the stability of the terrain has not been shown.
Citizens bringing the resolution before the Taos County Commission said this new design requires a complete new environmental impact statement, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, rather than the supplemental environmental impact statement that LANL hopes to get by with.
Shouldn't LANL welcome a complete environmental impact statement to reassure its employees and neighbors that it values their safety?
The commissioners balked at advising LANL. Commissioner Chávez argued that voting on the resolution should await consultation with LANL representatives, and he disparaged the citizens who proposed the pro-environmental impact statement resolution as "just some anti-nuclear activists." His son, David Chávez, works for LANL and currently seeks a local school board position. Commissioner Barrone offered tepid sympathy, saying his lab-employee grandfather died of plutonium poisoning, but he voted to table the resolution.
Acknowledging he belonged to a group called the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, Commissioner Chávez clearly had his reasons for placating LANL, but why did the other mum commissioners fall into line? On Dec. 8, 2010, a Santa Fe Reporter article, "Dukes on the Hill: Local Governments Shell Out for LANL Coalition," detailed the purpose of this Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.
To gain membership, local governments downwind of LANL were asked to contribute (proportionate to their number of LANL employees) to hire a lobbyist to agitate for more dollars to LANL. Amazingly, most such governments obediently complied: Rio Arriba County: $18,000; Española: $14,000; Santa Fe City and County: $10,000 each. Taos County was levied $3,750. Our commissioners quietly paid this extortion out of property taxes we residents assumed would go to infrastructure and human needs.
The giant Bechtel Corporation now runs LANL for profit.
Though NM ranks high in federal dollars coming its way, most of this bonanza goes to the already affluent folks associated with our state's nuclear weapons labs.
So why does wealthy LANL, already anticipating a windfall in trade-off for the START treaty, hit up the money-strapped regional governments for "lobbying money" it can surely afford itself? And why did servile local governments pony up for this scam? Do they believe in the jobs, even green jobs, dangled by LANL as a possible reward?
Well, LANL shows its true valuation of green jobs by earmarking 0.6 percent of its budget to renewables. Dreams of green mostly crop up when LANL wants more money. Remember, LANL bestows its high security "Q" clearances on those it trusts not to tell the truth about its doings.
But buying into LANL's shaky promises, Commissioner Barrone told the Reporter he wants to bring a Lab branch to Taos County: "a LANL campus."
Heaven help us With a median household income of $102,000 per year, Los Alamos County is a polluted island of prosperity surrounded by a sea of poverty in the poorest of states.
Federal largesse flowing to LANL trickles out to the rest of New Mexicans mainly in the form of toxic streams and water tables and radioactive releases seeping into our attics, windows, and lungs.
Do Taos County constituents want to bring that cancer factory even closer to our neighborhood? Do we want our local tax dollars spent on LANL lobbyists?
Marilyn Gayle Hoff is a writer and activist living in Arroyo Hondo.