New Mexico fires threaten Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab – again

From the Christian Science Monitor:

New Mexico fires, having blazed through 61,000 acres in three days, now approach Los Alamos. Residents have evacuated and the fireproofed buildings of the National Laboratories are about to be put to their second test in 11 years.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer
posted June 28, 2011

For the second time in 11 years, a New Mexico fire is threatening one of the nation’s three nuclear-weapons laboratories, as well as the town that hosts it.

The approaching Las Conchas fire is raising concerns that if the blaze reaches the lab, it could free radioactive material from the grounds and storage sites surrounding the laboratory.

The bulk of the lab’s stockpile of highly-radioactive material is stored in structures specifically designed to withstand fire, lab officials say.

IN PICTURES: Wildfires around the world

But the facility also hosts some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-bearing waste – ultimately destined for long-term storage in southern New Mexico – at a facility atop a small mesa just outside White Rock, N.M., known as “Area G.” As of midday on Tuesday, the fire was two miles away from Area G.

The laboratory grounds also include at least one canyon that was used as a dump in the early years of the US nuclear weapons program.

Teams from the National Nuclear Safety Administration are expected to arrive on-site Tuesday, to help deal with any releases that might occur if the fire reaches the lab.

The Las Conchas fire started Saturday afternoon in the Santa Fe National Forest. The cause remains under investigation, but by Tuesday morning, the explosive blaze had scorched nearly 61,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as the town of Los Alamos, both about 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe.

Lessons from the past: The Cerro Grande Fire
The last fire that threatened the lab, the Cerro Grande, took two weeks to burn 48,000 acres when it moved across New Mexico in 2000. That blaze caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, destroying lab buildings and some 400 family homes, but no fatalities from the fire were reported.

During the Cerro Grande fire, some forms of radioactivity increased to between two and five times their normal levels, according to a study led by lab researcher David King.

But they weren’t from the radioactive materials at the nuclear weapons lab.

Instead, radioactive byproducts from naturally-occurring radon gas, which had settled on plants and the soil around the plant, got caught up by the fire and redistributed. The team calculated that, even at the height of the blaze, the firefighters and volunteers were exposed to a level of radiation far below that of someone on an airline flight.

Still, the work highlighted a lack of information on the kind of radiation released by any wildfire – a gap filled by measuring the release of radioactive particles from four experimental fires, including two controlled burns in the Carson National Forest outside of Taos, N.M., in 2001 and 2002.

Lab scientists did find elevated levels of radioactive elements in ash following the Cerra Grande fire – including isotopes of plutonium, cesium, and strontium that appeared to be residual fallout from the years prior to a ban on above-ground nuclear tests.

The concern: storm water run-off following a fire could carry the ash into reservoirs or the Rio Grande River, which flows south through the valley below Los Alamos and on through Albuquerque.

To deal with the run-off – an issue not just after wildfires, but an ongoing concern because of lab-produced chemical contaminants – the lab has built a low-slung rock dam across one canyon, to slow the flow of storm run-off and allow sediment to fall out behind the dam. It has also planted willows and restored wetlands in strategic locations along the courses taken by run-off.

The current concern: Power failure
In looking at the potential radiological risk from the Las Conchas fire, the biggest uncertainty rests with a broad power failure involving the lab, says Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, a watchdog organization based in Santa Fe.

Most of the sensitive facilities are hardened and “pretty much fireproof,” he says. As for the 20,000-barrel Area G storage facility, if a fire engulfs them, “the consequences are severe, but the probability is probably relatively low.” The facility is not within the Ponderosa forests that are currently burning, and the lab has taken pains to clear the facility’s immediate surroundings of vegetation.

But loss of power to the lab injects an extra element of uncertainty into the safety equation, Mr. Coghlan continues.

“I don’t draw any parallel to Fukushima except to note that stuff happens when power goes out,” he says.

Firefighters are prepared to build a line around the lab if the need arises, even as they set up containment lines to protect area homes.

In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, deputy Los Alamos County fire chief Mike Thomas said, “We’ll pre-treat with foam if necessary, but we really want the buildings to stand on their own for the most part. That is exactly how they’ve been designed. Especially the ones holding anything that is of high value or high risk, for the community, and really, for the rest New Mexico for that matter.”

Advertisements

Nuclear abolitionists to face trial at the birthplace of the bomb

For Immediate Release: January 19, 2011

On February 8, a jury in Los Alamos, New Mexico, will hear the case against six people charged with trespass during a demonstration against expansion of the nuclear weapons production complex at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The August 6, 2010 demonstration involved over 120 people, led by Think Outside the Bomb youth at the conclusion of their ten-day Disarmament Summer encampment in nearby Chimayo. They observed the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, with a spirited march through the town and up to the gate of the plutonium processing facility.

Eight people joined a sit-in at the gatehouse for half an hour until they were taken into custody by Los Alamos police. They were cited and released the same day. Two later pled no contest, and were sentenced to fines and probation.

Defendants Jason Ahmadi, 25, and Jeff Freitas, 26, from California; Bryan Martin, 24, from Boise, Idaho; Lisa Fithian, 49, from Austin, Texas; and Sr. Megan Rice, 80, from Las Vegas, Nevada, will be represented by attorney Mary Lou Boelcke, while defendant Jack Cohen-Joppa, 54, from Tucson, Arizona, and will represent himself. Their trial is set to begin at 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 8, in the Los Alamos County courtroom of Magistrate Pat Casados, 2500 Trinity Drive, Los Alamos. Jury selection will begin at 8:00 a.m.

Expert testimony about the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the proposed expansion of the plutonium pit facility is expected to be heard from Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, and Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. The recent passage of the START Treaty has created an illusion about disarmament. The Obama Administrations is seeking $180 billion + to rebuild the nation’s nuclear weapons production capacity and delivery systems.

Opposition to the Obama administration’s plan is growing and resulted in arrests last year at the three major factory sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; and Los Alamos.

The February 8 trial in Los Alamos will be the first of these cases heard by a jury. Fines, probation and short jail sentences resulted from state trials in Missouri and Tennessee, while thirteen people still await trial May 9 in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee, after crossing the line at Oak Ridge last July 5.

For more information contact:

Lisa Putkey, 505-351-0970 or 650-303-1353 (messages)

Updates posted at http://tna.lovarchy.org/trial.html
###

Dear friends and supporters:

On August 6, 2010, the 65th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, eight people were arrested blocking the gate to the plutonium pit production facility at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, following a demonstration against the expansion of the nuclear weapons complex. Six of us will face a jury trial on February 8 in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We could use your support.

We are asking for donations from both individuals and groups – even $6 – one dollar for each of us will be a big help! Your contribution will support educational work around the trial, expenses for the volunteer expert witnesses and our pro bono attorney.

Take a stand with us against new nuclear weapons production and help protect our right to do it.

Contributions can be made payable to TOTB and mailed to Think Outside the Bomb, c/o Lisa Putkey, POB 508, Chimayo, NM 87522.

You are also invited to be present at our trial! Details about other events at the time of the trial are forthcoming. (We invite you to circulate the preceding media/movement advisory on activist lists along with this appeal for donations! Thanks!)

With great appreciation,

The LANL Six:

Jason Ahmadi
Jack Cohen-Joppa
Lisa Fithian
Jeff Freitas
Bryan Martin
Sr. Megan Rice

Study Group attorneys file response to DOE effort to quash lawsuit

Source: Los Alamos Study Group Bulletin:
Bulletin #100
October 22, 2010

Study Group attorneys file response to DOE effort to quash lawsuit

DOE Secretary to initiate another new study of LANL nuke facility

Yesterday attorneys for the Los Alamos Study Group filed a Response (pdf) to the Obama Administration’s motion to dismiss the Study Group’s lawsuit, which requests a halt to further investment pending preparation of an applicable Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed $5+ billion plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).

That response lays out further bases, beyond those mentioned in the Complaint (pdf), for halting the project.

The case is being heard by the Honorable Judith Herrera of Federal District Court in Albuquerque.

The Study Group is being represented by Thomas Hnasko and his colleagues at Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, LLP; Lindsay A. Lovejoy, and Diane Albert.  This litigation would be impossible without their generous assistance, as well as that of Study Group donors and supporters.

In an important development, industry publication Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor has revealed today in an article written by veteran reporter Todd Jacobsen, that Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu “is in the process of initiating his own independent study on the NNSA’s two biggest construction projects.”  See the article here (pdf), reprinted by permission.

Vice President Biden, in a letter made public by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, has nevertheless promised the Administration’s whole-hearted support for the CMRR-NF and a companion facility in Tennessee for manufacture of uranium warhead components.  Biden told senators (see pp. 124-125) the Administration would be announcing further increases in the Administration’s financial commitment to these projects and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons program “in the fall.”  (Nuclear Weapons and Material Monitor broke that story, but to my knowledge it has not been in the mainstream media.)

Investments in CMRR-NF are intensifying.  The Administration sought and received emergency increase in nuclear weapons spending on October 1, which includes an increase in annual spending from $58 million to $169 million on CMRR-NF.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: “We are pleased that Secretary Chu has recognized the need to re-study this facility, but greatly question whether a thoughtful review can be done in the advertised six weeks.  We have already developed a set of reasonable alternatives to this facility and anticipate working productively with the review team and with Congress.  What is needed for an objective review is a halt to further investments in the project.  Likewise we need a de novo environmental review that analyzes ‘all’ reasonable alternatives to the project, as the law requires.  The two go together — again, as NEPA recognizes and requires.

“Nuclear laboratory unit costs in this proposed facility have risen by a factor of about 23 in this project since it was first funded by Congress, and its mission is more dodgy than ever.  We believe no part of this facility — not the vault, not the additional labs, not the additional facility to prepare on-site subcritical nuclear testing to get around the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) — is remotely necessary or desirable to maintain the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile for the indefinite future, assuming that’s the Administration’s goal.

“CMRR-NF should not be desirable to weapons administrators because there are much better, less managerially risky, cheaper, and safer facility options for preserving U.S. nuclear weapons.  To we who find nothing beneficial about nuclear weapons, it is a vast misdirection of resources, and a symbol of how dangerously perverted our priorities have become.  It’s too bad that the Obama Administration offered it up so readily to the most hawkish members of Congress in return for their possible vote on New START ratification.

“We now need a new ‘bipartisan’ consensus that wasting boatloads of money to create a facility to make plutonium pits we don’t need — and which, if made, would degrade confidence in the stockpile — is a bad idea.  The key is for the Administration to ‘stop, look, and listen’ before taking the plunge on this thing.”

Los Alamos pretrial hearing of the LANL-8

NEWS RELEASE
Contact Trinity Nuclear Abolition (TNA): 505 242-0497
22 October 2010

7 NUCLEAR PROTESTERS PLEAD “NOT GUILTY”
1 PLEADS “NO CONTEST”

  LOS ALAMOS, NM  Seven nuclear abolitionists, arrested for trespass
last August as they sat in front of the locked gate of a plutonium
processing facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), will
plead their case to a jury picked from residents of Los Alamos, New
Mexico, where The Bomb was born.

At a pretrial hearing October 21 in Los Alamos Magistrates Court,
Magistrate Pat Casados set a trial date of Tuesday, February 8, 2011
for seven of the eight people arrested last August 6, the 65th
anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Defendant Elias Kohn, a
student at the University of Southern California, pleaded “no contest”
and was sentenced to 60 days probation and fined $500.

  The seven proceeding to trail are Jeff Freitas and Jason Ahmadi
(from California); David Coney and Bryan Martin (from Boise, Idaho);
Sister Megan Rice (from Las Vegas, Nevada); Lisa Fithian (from Austin,
Texas) & Jack Cohen-Joppa (from Tucson, Arizona).

  The LANL-8 were part of a group of over 100 activists who held a
colorful demonstration in the streets of Los Alamos on the 65th
anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Their march
lead onto LANL property for a ceremony in front of the Chemistry
Metallurgy Research (CMR) building on Diamond Drive, where critical
plutonium engineering for nuclear weapons goes on. Eight people
entered the security gate and sat down peacefully. LANL then asked
local police to arrest the eight activists for alleged “trespassing”.

Police were told by demonstrators that the true crime at hand was
continued nuclear weapons production, and the people had assembled to
stop it. Police chose to arrest the eight, who were booked at the jail
and released later that evening. 24-year old Think Outside The Bomb
participant Bryan Martin said, “What I learned this Summer in Chimayo,
New Mexico has led me into dedication as I have begun to realize just
how much there is to overcome to create a positive change in the
world.”

   Because the Department of Energy (DoE) is spending billions of
dollars on a CMR Replacement (a plutonium pit facility to continue the
work of the Manhattan Project) many peace activists came from around
the U.S. to Los Alamos to pray and act for peace on August 6th.  The
resisters know that plans to continue developing new nuclear weapons
are a crime against existing international and humanitarian law. They
contend that the Nuremberg Principles oblige all civilians to act to
prevent known criminal activity. In so doing, they went to the older
CMR building to prevent pro-nuclear work there.

“Our action is necessitated by a delay of 65 years in ending the continual
manufacture of nuclear weapons,” said 80-year old defendant Sr. Megan
Rice. “The original Manhattan Project scientists recognized (but
failed to convince the world) that continuing the nuclear weapons
project was intrinsically evil.”