LANL Coming to Midtown: The City Different? A Nuclear Weapons Research Center?

We also provide info on how to start fixing the Senate right now: contact the Governor and ask her to appoint Kristina Ortez to replace the late Senator Carlos Cisneros, a critical choice that will be made soon.

Urge the Governor to appoint Kristina Ortez to fill Senate District 6 seat

Please call and email the Governor to ask her to appoint Kristina Ortez to fill the seat of the late Senator Carlos Cisneros. Senate District 6 covers four counties, and Ortez has been nominated by Los Alamos County and Santa Fe County Commissioners. Rio Arriba County and Taos County Commissioners nominated Bobby Gonzales, a Democrat who currently represents House District 42. Ortez, a Harvard grad and Director of the Taos Land Trust for the last five years, is considered more progressive and has been endorsed by several environmental groups. In her application cover letter she listed her priorities as education, jobs, women’s health and self-determination, the environment, and tribal sovereignty.

There are just nine women in the 42-member New Mexico Senate. Two of those, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Shannon Pinto, were appointed by Lujan Grisham to fill vacant seats earlier this year. We hope the Governor will continue her efforts to bring more women to the New Mexico Senate by appointing Ortez. This is a very important decision.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
Phone: (505) 476-2200
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If We Do Not Want Santa Fe’s “Heart of the City” to Become a Nuclear Weapons Research Center, We Need to Act….and soon.

If you want to find out more about LANL and its potential involvement in the Midtown Project, Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group will be on Retake Our Democracy radio this Saturday at 8:30am on KSFR, 101.1 FM. Tune in.

The Midtown Project has a closed process with no access to proposal details and one of the bidders serving as the master developer being a national lab with a limitless cache of federal cash that is desperate for research space to address a huge increase in nuclear weapons research. What could possibly go wrong?

Well actually, after a review of the limited amount of information available, there are a number of very serious alarms sounding. This piece first describes what we know, derived from the little public information available, then what we fear, and lastly what you can do. At the bottom of the post, we offer a five-minute YouTube video that captures the history of US nuclear arms testing. It is a terrifying reminder as to why it is important to resist all efforts to make Santa Fe complicit in future work in nuclear arms development.

This piece focuses on the potential role of Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) in the project, but there are other concerns that we will address in the future, most of which focus on the lack of specificity in what we know is being proposed by those who have submitted ideas. From day one of the Midtown Project process we have raised concerns about gentrification of the surround neighborhood and have sought assurances that the development will emphasize not market rate or moderate home ownership opportunities, but rental properties affordable to our lowest income workers. To be sure, there are proposals in the mix that appear to possibly address these concerns, but when all we know is that a proposal will include “a mix of affordable housing and retail,” it is impossible to determine what could result. Today, we focus on LANL.

What We Know

Twenty-one proposals were submitted for the Midtown Project (the former University of Art & Design): seven as “master developers,” five from groups proposing to serve as project developer, five proposals in the category of building owner/master lessee – including a UNM project – and four submissions from those who want to be part of the development but are not proposing to assemble the groups involved.

We would like to offer details on each project proposal, but the City has decided that to share information offered as part of these proposals would be broaching proprietary rights and make public unique aspects of proposals that could be stolen by others. This protection of proprietary information is said to be consistent with state regulations on bidding processes.

What has been released is about 2-3 sentences for each project, describing in very broad strokes what is being proposed and listing a partner or two. The Santa Fe New Mexican has provided what little has been released in a November 25 article. It provides a good, albeit very spare description of the players and their proposals. Click here. But what was included in the New Mexican and in another more detailed article from the ABQ Journal the following day, should raise concerns.

One of the master developers submitting a proposal is Los Alamos National Labs and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). From the New Mexican:

“LANL is undergoing unprecedented growth and expects to hire more than 1,000 new personnel annually for the next several years. Having a new campus — midway between New Mexico’s two national laboratories — to house professional staff, scientists, and engineers in partnership with the city of Santa Fe — would be very beneficial.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, Developer Proposals Hint at What May Be In Store for City-Owned Midtown Project

LANL has gone on to reassure the City that no radioactive or highly toxic materials would be present on the site, but nonetheless, LANL is proposing to house hundreds, perhaps thousands of nuclear researchers in the “heart of the city,” researchers whose daily task would be to help LANL develop new and more powerful nuclear weapons. And in conversations with Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group, he described Department of Defense plans for LANL to become a national hub of a vast new expansion of the nuclear arms race, something of which Santa Fe should want no part. He also indicated that LANL and NNSA are very good at obscuring their purpose, describing their work as being about science, astrophysics, and other things unrelated to nuclear weapons. He went on to warn that after two decades of advocacy related to LANL operations, he feels that virtually every activity conducted by LANL relates in some way to nuclear arms research and development. We can’t be fooled by disingenuous language about LANL’s technology and innovation research; it is all about nuclear weapons.

I attended most of the community input meetings and presentations over the past two years. I never heard anything about how great it would be to include nuclear weapons research as a hub of our heart of the city. We need to let the city know that having LANL as the hub of this development is a deal breaker and that the City would erupt in protest should this even be considered.

The question is how do you raise your voice and with whom? The City will not be releasing any more information about the development until after it has narrowed the field considerably. But according to Daniel Hernandez, the contracted project manager for the selection and implementation process, the Mayor and City Council members have been left largely out of the process with a selection team reviewing the bids, meeting to compare their elements with the various vision and priority statements developed on the project, and ultimately, on or about January 15, announcing its decisions about who will be among the “finalists.”

That is but six weeks away. Hernandez has indicated that after January 15 a series of City Council study sessions on the remaining proposals will be held and that there will be other public meetings where the community can weigh in. But we fear that by that time, the LANL train will be out of the station.

What We Fear

Retake Our Democracy’s concern is that what is being done behind closed doors may well result in LANL having a major presence in whatever is finalized. LANL is one of five master developer proposals and is also referenced as a partner in another master developer proposal (that makes 2 of the 5). What’s more, vague descriptions referencing an “Innovation Triangle” are found in another proposal. That phrase resonates with language used by LANL and the National Nuclear Security Administration about linking Sandia, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos in a research partnership.

Only one developer, Allan Affeldt, has gone public with the details of their project, offering an expansive view of what he proposes in a Nov 24 Albuquerque Journal article. Affeldt is the developer who led the restoration of Las Vegas’ historic Plaza and Castañeda hotels, and Lamy’s landmark Legal Tender bar and restaurant. In the Journal article, he describes an impressive array of partners that make sense for a mixed-used housing-retail development including arts, theater, and technology. But one quote from Affeldt raised concerns:

“We have important lab presences and we have a tech presence, but we have no spin-offs from that,” he said. “We can change the reputation of this state to show its high-tech potential, because we’re not capturing that right now.”

Albuquerque Journal, November 24

The state of New Mexico already has a “reputation” as a primary driver in nuclear arms research and development, along with a “reputation” for being a dumping ground for the toxic byproducts of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons development. We do not need to build on that.

And given that the other descriptions of proposals are but 2-3 sentences in length, it is entirely possible that LANL is part of more than just 2-3 of the master developer projects.

What We Should Do

A Santa Fe New Mexican reader, Jay Coghlin placed the possible inclusion of LANL in the Midtown Project in moral terms:

The City of Santa Fe is officially “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís” (“The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi”), named for the famous saint who preached peace and environmental protection and from whom the present Pope draws his name. It would be supremely ironic if the City of Santa Fe hosted a satellite campus for an institution that spends $2 billion (and rising) every year on nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Mayor Webber and the Santa Fe City Council surely know that would generate a tremendous amount of controversy in our blessed City, a controversy they could well do without. The City of Santa Fe should stop LANL’s proposal for a satellite campus in our town as a nonstarter and an affront to St. Francis de Assisi, the saint of peace. “

Jay Coghlin comment offered digitally at the end of the Nov. 25 New Mexican article cited above.

Since there will be no time for public comment on these proposals before an important decision is made to significantly narrow the field, we ask that you write and call the Mayor and your City Council Member today. Tell them that you strongly object to the inclusion of LANL in the MidTown Project in any way shape or form. Rest assured that Retake will partner with and support other organizations like Nuke Watch, TEWA Women United, Los Alamos Study Group and others who have been dogging LANL for decades. But don’t delay in making the call. Yesterday in a meeting with Greg Mello and other nuclear activists, he said: “NNSA will tell you it is always premature to provide comment…until it is too late.” Let’s not be too late.

We have a tremendous opportunity to do something special with the Midtown Project. There will be immense pressure brought from the Department of Defense, the Trump administration, and others to make LANL a key part of this project. That can’t happen.

Message & Contact Info

Acknowledge that you understand that the decisions are now in the selection committee’s hands, but indicate that there is really no other way to provide input other than reaching out to City Council members and the Mayor.

Indicate that the City should not even consider LANL as a Master Developer and that Santa Fe wants no part of a partnership with the nuclear weapons industry.

Indicate that should the selection committee identify a good proposal that also includes LANL, that while the City could still consider the larger proposal, it would not welcome inclusion of LANL.

In short, you message is: the Midtown Project must not include any LANL presence whatsoever.

Mayor Alan Webber:  (505) 955-6590.

District 1

District 2

  • Carol Romero-Wirth, (505) 955-6815.
  • Peter Ives, District 2 Councilor, (505) 955-6816,

District 3

District 4

What Santa Fe Would Be Complicit With, If We Let This Happen

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

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4 replies

  1. What about a message that the process be opened up?

    IMO, the explanation for the closed process seems bogus. If the process were opened up, then wouldn’t it be obvious if someone stole an idea from another?

  2. How many of us actually believe that this potential private sector goldmine would not be manipulated from the get-go? Depending on how much longer the liars and manipulators in DC can keep this phony economy afloat before it sinks like a rock into the rising seas, the mid-town campus has been offered up as – wait for it – yet another opportunity for big dollar, big business as usual. There is not even a hint of innovation in the way this society perceives its own current plight, let alone a future with still more overt consumption, massively wasteful energy practices and sequestration of still more cash and property into the hands of still fewer grubby capitalists. LANL might have the lipstick of a public government project smeared all over it, but take 15 seconds to examine how many tax dollars actually are administered by government agencies that oversee LANL that do not have private sector roots and companies that carry out the ‘wishes of the people.’

    We once more bought into the lies that we got a ranked choice mayor and a progressive governor, merely because the propaganda said so. Seriously, you could tell the NM electorate that if we just bought the moon with our surplus we could all live forever on a diet of green cheese. It would get the votes.

    Please, let us face the facts. The public, the voting population, the sovereign citizen, is nothing more than a mythology and a 24/7 reality TV series. We live in The Matrix, and we watch the movie of ourselves as the royalties keep coming in via the consumption-laden advertising that drenches us in fear, guilt, hope and wishful thinking.

    We all cynically know that the political system is mired in cancerous corruption. The civil service, the public bureaucracy, has been trying to keep the ship afloat via its professional and technical staff for decades, even as its public representation has been ploughed under repeatedly by the same puppet masters who purchase the political lackeys and force them to sing and dance in front of us while they steal the show and its receipts.

    Of course, Mr. Bent is correct, and Paul has essentially laid out the only options we have, short of surrounding City Hall with 500 bodies in another round of Occupy Santa Fe. But even with the warmer winters, most of us would either freeze to death or get sick from sitting on the ground for months. Not likely to happen.

    But as we complain via our only avenue of concern, we can be adamant, strenuous in our objections, vehement in our refusal to take yet another boondoggle without consequences to the overlords and their lackeys. And yes, we absolutely must demand that the process be opened up for the public to see, with enough time to absorb it, BEFORE the ‘field’ has been narrowed to weed out the future needs of the city’s populace. Do I think it will work? No, but anything can happen, so, who knows? We only know it will not happen if we stay silent.

    What does oligarchy and despotism look like? When you and I are given one choice – take it or leave it, and look out for only yourself, all of you, because there is only one entity whose needs matter, and it is not you or me.

    Mick Nickel

  3. The only predictor of future behavior is past performance. It is relatively easy to look at what they view as development or economic development. They have been ramming in fast food joints to compete with local businesses, drive down wages and contribute to traffic congestion. They can claim they brought “jobs” even thought these jobs don’t even pay a living wage. The hills and plains are encrusted with ticky tacky faux adobe Mc Mansions and monstrosities. The big box stores, with their subsidized labor force, drove small grocers out of business. Blink and you are in Orange Country CA, or any other suburb in the US.

    LANL wants to use this for rehabilitating their image, after all the administration gave them a massive cash infusion, and unlimited funds for newer smaller, “low yield” Nukes. The can market it as a more friendly LANL, with the Santa Fe address . They can cobble on some tiny homes, and a soup kitchen, which can be razed when a better offer comes along. Those portable building the military uses can be set up for the traumatized, walking wounded displaced low income people.

    They have to keep the process secret, so many deals to work out, and keep out of the public domain. Thirty years ago there would have been massive public outrage, now they are passive and silent, a few calculating the potential benefits for their investment portfolio. We are in the end days of the Neo Liberal, corporate conspiracy, a last rush of a parasitic capitalist gold rush.

  4. Paul and All,

    With respect to LANL’s proposal for Midtown: There are contaminated sites in Santa Fe already from LANL related activities. We don’t need any more. LANL has demonstrated over many decades their patterns and practices of disregard for the health and safety of Santa Fe residents. Below are three examples. There are others, but not as well documented. The three sites are the Eberline site on Airport Road, the Nuclear Laundry on Siler Road, and the Caja del Rio landfill. Please share this information with your friends and family.

    1. The abandoned Eberline site on Airport Road. John Dendahl, former Republican NM Chair, was a vocal opponent of Bill Richardson when he was the D3 Congressman, as well as when he was Governor. Dendahl had an important role in Eberline. Here’s a link to Aaron Cantu’s 2017 excellent Santa Fe Reporter article about community concerns about the Eberline site – Excerpts below:

    “Until a decade ago, the Eberline plant made radiation detection equipment that it shipped to nuclear facilities all over the world. The plant’s founder, Howard Clayton Eberline, had imagined in the 1950s that Santa Fe would supply the instruments to facilitate the nuclear energy revolution.

    “Howard Clayton Eberline, who started off at LANL and was later part of the team that designed and built devices to measure the world’s first hydrogen bomb test, hoped that his new private company would become ‘part of the great adventure that is atomic energy,” from prospecting to mining, from power reactors “to miracles yet unseen.’ When he left the company in 1963, Eberline workers had measured radiation from nuclear explosions at the Nevada nuclear testing site and at the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

    “By 1982, The Santa Fe New Mexican described Eberline as the city’s largest private employer. That gave more clout to its already-powerful corporate leadership. John Dendahl, the late descendant of a prominent local family who would later become chairman of New Mexico’s Republican Party, was named president of Eberline Instruments in the 1970s and held prestigious board memberships at the First National Bank of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Opera Foundation, among others.

    “After finding in 2007 that Thermo Fisher failed to maintain adequate records of radioactive material going in and out of the Eberline building, New Mexico’s Environment Department allowed the company to supply radiation monitors to city government and emergency workers around the state in lieu of a $51,000 fine.

    “After reviewing the plans to transport the americium [stored at Eberline] out of the area, nuclear energy expert and whistleblower Paul Blanch tells SFR the state’s Radiation Control Bureau appears to have defied strict safety standards established by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A plan of action from the Environment Department shows it was planning to transport the americium in a pickup truck with a boxy steel storage frame.

    “‘If they just bypassed all the regulations and took it to Los Alamos, it’s not the proper thing to do, but was probably the safest thing to do to get that shit out of Santa Fe,” Blanch says.

    “The reported amount of stored americium was enough to deliver millions of fatal radiation doses via a ‘dirty bomb.'”

    2. The Nuclear Laundry – Uni Tech Services Group, Inc. – at 1310 Siler Road.

    Nuclear Laundry Dumping Radioactive Material into Santa Fe Sewage System, by Susan Hirshberg, of CCNS (Winter 1996)

    “Community Celebrates Major Environmental Victory as City of Santa Fe Temporarily Shuts Down ‘Nuclear Laundry’ (May 14, 1996) Excerpt below.

    “Because of testimony and documentary evidence that INS had cheated on previous water analyses and had lied to safety inspectors, CCNS also requested that the HRMB require independent water analysis for radioactivity contamination for at least a probationary period and to not allow the facility to operate until the new equipment was in place. The bureau refused this request and instead entered into an agreement with INS before the hearings based on the new license conditions.

    “As a result of the pre-hearing deal with INS, the HRMB did not present to the hearing officer the testimony of three former plant employees concerning repeated safety violations at INS. This omission was particularly disturbing because CCNS had brought this evidence to HRMB’s attention and it had been verified by the State investigation. The bureau also did not introduce into evidence testimony of corporate level involvement in intentional safety violations nor some of the test results showing off-site contamination by INS. Throughout the hearings the NMED Bureau worked closely with INS attorneys to try and prevent hearing officer Tito Madrid from learning all the facts of repeated and intentional safety violations at INS.

    “As a result, CCNS attempted to play an active role in the license renewal hearings, presenting evidence of violations at INS which the HRMB had withheld from the hearing officer. In the future CCNS will continue its efforts to have HRMB officials or the Attorney General’s office investigate why the HRMB withheld evidence from the hearing officer and tried to prevent citizens and former employees from testifying at these public hearings.

    “A recommendation on INS’s license application will be made by Hearing Officer Tito Madrid by mid October. A final decision on the license renewal application will be made by the Secretary of the Environmental Department later this fall.:

    The laundry is still there. Their work is limited to preparing LANL workers’ protective clothing for shipment to another site for cleaning. Unfortunately, I don’t have the latest information about this site.

    3. The recent disposal of contaminated roofing materials that LANL contractors brought to the Caja del Rio landfill. The full article is copied below.

    LANL faces state penalties over waste violations

    By Andy Stiny |
    Nov 29, 2018

    The New Mexico Environment Department is accusing Los Alamos National Laboratory of violating state regulations and its hazardous waste permit by sending tons of construction waste to the Caja del Rio Landfill in Santa Fe and other sites without proper notification and labeling.

    “Due to the nature and severity of the violations … and LANL’s past history of noncompliance,” the state agency says in a letter to lab officials dated Nov. 5 — just days after a new contractor took over operations — it is seeking penalties that could include fines of up to $10,000 per day for each violation, as well as a state District Court injunction and revocation or suspension of permits.

    Officials from the lab and the Environment Department declined to comment on any settlement amount being discussed.
    Along with Caja del Rio, the state agency’s letter says, some of the material from renovation and demolition projects at the lab was sent to the Los Alamos Landfill and to facilities in Albuquerque and Colorado between 2015 and 2017.

    A lab spokesman said in an email that out of thousands of hazardous waste containers shipped during that time, four were found to have “previously unreported administrative discrepancies” in documentation and labeling.

    “At no time was the public or the environment at risk from hazardous material,” the email said.

    “While that record represents well over a 99% success rate,” the email said, “we believe we can and must do better. We are analyzing our waste characterization process to identify process improvements to assist us develop more accurate and complete shipping manifests.”

    Still, at least one local public official was irate that the lab’s waste violations were not made public.

    Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents the district that includes the Caja del Rio Landfill, said she obtained a copy of the Environment Department’s letter from a constituent earlier this week. “I think it’s frightening that nobody knows about this,” Hansen said. “I’m not happy.”

    She was concerned about the possibility of contamination from the dumping, she said, adding, “This is a tendency for LANL to think they can do things without being responsible to the citizens of our county.”

    In response to Hansen’s criticisms, an Environment Department spokeswoman said in an email that “NMED generally doesn’t issue press releases when it is addressing enforcement matters.”

    The New Mexican reported a year ago that Los Alamos saw a significant drop in violations of its state hazardous waste permit in fiscal year 2017, with 25 infractions compared to 100 the previous year.

    In 2014, the state levied $36.6 million in penalties against the U.S. Department of Energy and private contractors for a string of violations that led to a radiation leak that shuttered the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Southern New Mexico. An improperly packed waste container from Los Alamos had burst in the underground storage site.

    On Nov. 1, a new consortium, the nonprofit Triad National Security LLC, took over operations of the lab from Los Alamos National Security LLC following a yearslong series of management and safety concerns. Triad members include Battelle Memorial Institute, the Texas A&M University System and the University of California. The UC system also was a partner in LANS.

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