A Look at Risks from LANL Radiation Leaks, HOLTEC & Fed/State Failure to Protect Us

A recent national study shows a high risk of a LANL radioactive explosion. The fast-track HOLTEC effort advances without state or federal review. We have not learned from Church Rock or Trinity disasters, historic examples of NM sacrifice zones, a legacy that continues, unchecked by state or federal agencies. Are you tired of being unprotected by our systems?

We will be commenting on the obelisk on Th or F. We have wanted to discuss the action in context with other actions nationwide.

Today, we include a Call to Action at the bottom of this post, a simple note to be sent to the Governor encouraging her to do more to resist the US government from forcing NM to once again serve as a Sacrifice Zone for the nation, this time with the fast moving HOLTEC project. Read on.

There is a pattern of what should be considered criminal neglect on the part of all branches of US government and this pattern will be the focal point of our post on Friday. Today, however, we are going to examine NM as a national sacrifice zone, another manifestation of our government’s failure to protect us. This tale is pretty scary and frankly, without a big win in November and some heavy lobbying of our Governor, we are likely to be the sacrifice zone of choice for some time. Before we get to this sorry tale, a few election News In Briefs most of which should put a smile on your face.

News in Brief:

  • From NBC News: “Presidential Polls 2020” This piece is an extremely easy to follow sequencing of a sampling of poll results for all of the key swing states and the good news is, Biden is 5+% ahead in most all of them. 30 seconds of your time to achieve some significant level of assurance.
  • From CNN: “The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip, 3 weeks from Election Day.” We posted the first in this series a week or two ago. The news is even better now, as while the Dems will almost certainly lose their AL seat and we are unlikely to knock off McConnell in KY (despite the 10 emails a day from McGrath’s campaign), we will hold the other Dem Incumbent seat in Michigan most certainly will wn four or five of the seven remaining races, a big flip as a net +3 leaves the Senate deadlocked 50-50 with Harris as Senate Pro-Tem. + 4 or better, which is increasingly likely, puts the Dems in charge of the Senate no matter what. Then add DC and Puerto Rico to the US as states and the GOP will never control the Senate again. Smile.
  • From Politico: “The outlook for House Republicans keeps getting worse.” With the Dems already in control of the House and with the addition of several solid progressives this cycle, all the Dems need to do is play defense in a half dozen swing districts like NM CD-2. The good news is that they should hold most all of these seats with CD-2 being perhaps the most vulnerable.
  • From The NY Times: “How Quickly Will Your Absentee Vote Be Counted? A State-by-State Timeline” This will really make you feel better as the chart below is part of this NY Times article which points to how most states and all but two swing states start to count mail in ballots well before election day and so the feared unclear result may not be as scary as once believed, especially given the polling data above. If early returns show a Biden win in Georgia and Florida, you can begin to relax. If Arizona and Michigan follow suit, game over. Pop the champagne. Trump will not have much argument if the media is calling a Biden win on Nov 3. He will rant and rave for sure and we will write more about the nefarious possibilities that could prevent the scenario just laid out, but for now…..we want a ray of hope on the horizon.

From the NY Times piece noted above…

And as of now, Biden leads by 10% in WI & 8% in PA

NM Continues to Serve As the US Sacrifice Zone. Why Us?

Reaction to LANL Nuclear Expansion Plans

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board issued a report in September outlining the significant risk of a radioactive explosion at Los Alamos National Lab. The report outlined how there had been “insufficient testing” to determine the extent of the risk, but also indicated that most certainly workers and the community could be exposed to lethal levels of radioactivity from an explosion. It went on to describe how much of LANL’s radioactive waste is stored above ground and without any additional protections than the containers within which the radioactive waste is stored. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one, in 2014, a waste container that was packaged in a blend of organic cat litter (really? cat litter) and nitrate salts exploded, emitting radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. As a result, the WIPP site was closed for three years and required a $2 billion cleanup….. Do note that the WIPP rupture, occurred underground while much of the LANL waste is above ground. From the New Mexican:

The report estimates that an exploding waste canister could expose workers to 760 rem, far beyond the threshold of a lethal dose. A rem is a unit used to measure radiation exposure.

Federal guidelines define a lethal dose as high enough to cause 50 percent of the population to die within 30 days. Those levels range from 400 to 450 rem.

From The Santa Fe New Mexican: “LANL’s waste storage poses dangers, report says”

Seven hundred sixty rem is equal to 380,000 chest X-rays, said Dan Hirsch, retired director of programs on environment and nuclear policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “This is vastly above what’s permissible for workers’ exposure,” Hirsch said, adding that far lower doses can cause cancer.

One might ask why the 1000 above ground radioactive containers aren’t just shipped off to WIPP where they might be contained more safely. Well, WIPP has standards for what it will accept and those standards prohibit accepting LANL barrels because these containers have chemical residue that make them prone to explosion. Lovely. Hirsch went on to say that storing them above ground makes them even more prone to explosion and that even drops of water could trigger an explosion. What’s more, because the drums are stored above ground, an explosion would pose a far greater risk than if the explosion had occurred under ground.

Greg Mello, Director of the Los Alamos Study Group has been pressing LANL and the National Nuclear Safety Administration to conduct studies of LANL’s unsafe conditions for years. “LANL keeps kicking the waste problem down the road,” Mello said. “LANL has always prioritized its weapons work, and this waste problem has built up for decades.”

According to the New Mexican the US Energy Dept. has gone so far as to try to restrict the safety board from access to LANL. Now we know why. And isn’t it reassuring to know that our US Energy Dept. is so concerned about our safety that they have tried to prevent our safety being studied?

The New Mexican closed with a comment from Hirsch indicating that inhaling just one-millionth of an ounce of this radioactivity would create a 100% chance of getting cancer. “They seem to cut corners,” Hirsch said. “And they’re cutting corners with the most dangerous materials on Earth.” Seem?

In a related story, as most of you know, Carlsbad has been identified by HOLTEC as a site for storing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which would be packed into 500 canisters, with possible expansion that could store up to 10,000 canisters of spent nuclear fuel. HOLTEC is seeking a 40-year license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the facility, needed because the US has failed to locate any other community willing to accept spent fuel rods that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. Fortunately for the US, there is always NM.

Two thoughts emerge. NM is supposed to be the Land of Enchantment. To me, being the nation’s leading emitter of methane, a major storage dump for the nation’s radioactive waste and now not just a leading researcher for developing nuclear weapons, but a producer of them, as well…..that does not add up to enchantment.

We are playing with fire. An explosion at LANL or a breach at WIPP or HOLTEC could compromise not just the enchanting nature of this wondrous land, but kill hundreds or thousands of people, lead to thousands of cases of cancer, and pollute our water and air for decades. Don’t believe me? We have two videos that describe two prior sacrifice zones in NM: Trinity and Church Rock. And as Heather Cox Richardson noted in last night’s blog albeit in relation to a different topic: “History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” And since NM has heard this song before, perhaps now it is time to start looking for some more enchanting ways to diversify our economy.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of having a national government that will frack Chaco Cyn, ramrod yet another nuclear storage facility through for NM and plan on expanding LANL’s work to include production of plutonium pits, all without any sort of environmental impact study or meaningful consultation with local residents. While on the state level, we allow wanton discharge of methane and unpunished produced water leaks.

When do we get to have some adults in the room, adults who actually care about our health, safety and future? Is NM nothing more than a sacrifice zone? A reasonable question.

While the Governor has written a letter to President Trump objecting to the plan, forgive my skepticism that this will get the job done. Fortunately, there is a model for how a state can resist being the “solution” to our military industrial complex continuing failure to develop anything like a plan for the safe, permanent storage of thousands of tons of radioactive waste. In the 1980s Nevada created a commission, the Agency for Nuclear Projects, that has been the face of the state in negotiations with the US government, effectively protecting that state from becoming the “solution” to the nuclear industry’s problems.

A coalition of environmental groups, led by Citizen Action New Mexico, has created a letter to the Governor asking the Governor to take more aggressive action to repulse the HOLTEC project. This will require some political will as political leadership in southeast NM is calling the $3 billion project, a job creator and a revenue source. I tried to obtain a copy of the Citizen Action, NM letter or a petition linked to it, but was unable to do so. So, please use this link to write to the Governor with a simple message:

“We already have the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and LANL. We’ve experienced Church Rock and Trinity. We support Citizen Action, New Mexico’s call to resist HOLTEC and we ask that you do everything in your power to prevent the HOLTEC project. NM does not need to be the nation’s sacrifice zone.”

For another snapshot of what a sacrifice zone looks like, check out first the excellent video below on the Church Rock spill. Much thanks to New Mexico Environmental Law Center for producing it. Below that, we present a video on the Trinity explosion. If we don’t want to suffer the consequences of the rhyme of history, we need to learn from past mistakes and take action to prevent their repeat. So please click the link above and press our Governor to do the right thing to protect The Land of Enchantment from becoming a permanent US Sacrifice Zone.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Church Rock, NM Another Sacrifice Zone

As World War Two was ending, the growing nuclear arms race put the US in need of uranium. It turned to Navajo Nation, where the uranium mining industry thrived for four decades — but left disease, pollution and the biggest radioactive spill in US history. That spill in Church Rock, New Mexico upended the lives of nearby residents, who had to grapple with toxic water, livestock and a lifetime of illnesses. Now, they are still waiting for it to be cleaned up. This video was produced by our allies, New Mexico Environmental Law Center. Twelve minutes and worth every minute.

The Trinity Test Blast: 75 Years Later, Still No Redress

In need of a safe way to test a nuclear bomb, the US government selected the  the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Socorro, deemed to be “uninhabited” by our government. Of course they overlooked thousands of downwinders who continue to suffer a legacy of cancer without compensation.

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5 replies

  1. Would like to hear some words about the Santa Fe plaza obelisk…….

  2. I am so glad you highlight the nuclear arms and nuclear waste issues. I’m pretty sure there has *never* been a safe, accident-free nuclear-weapons plant. I don’t think you can make that stuff safely.
    Besides that, holding nuclear weapons is immoral.

  3. Agreed. But the mini energy plants seem safe. Tiny…not enough to cause damage if they do fail.

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