The Los Alamos Study Group filed a lawsuit on August 16 in Federal
District Court in Albuquerque citing innumerable reasons the proposed Chemistry
and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility project at Los Alamos
Nuclear Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico should be reconsidered. Most striking of these is not the
alleged violation of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) procedures
but the immanent plan by LANL to launch construction without even a rough estimate
of the project's final cost. With the unmet needs of New Mexicans rising and
the economy continuing to fall, how can this expenditure be justified? New
Mexico needs jobs. And it needs far more jobs than the 800 over 10 years the
labs claim the new facility would create. We can do better than one new job for
every million (or more) dollars spent!
The Los Alamos Study Group has been tracking LANL for over two decades. LASG's website lasg.org describes the origins of the CMRR Nuclear Facility in great detail. It began in the late 1990's as a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plan to replace the aged 1950's era Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility (CMR). NNSA initially told Congress the CMRR Nuclear Facility would cost $300-$350 million. Since then the cost has increased by more than a factor of 10, to $4-5 billion in early 2010 - and still rising.
Congress rejected similarly grandiose plans more than once. In 2007 Congress voted down spending on what was then called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) proposed under GW Bush. The RRW included plans to build a "Modern Pit Facility," (MPF) a multi-billion dollar factory to make new plutonium "pits." Now President Obama, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman appear to support the Nuclear Facility project which has grown in cost and purpose resembling the MPF. The Nuclear Facility will provide a capacity for making new "replacement" warheads, an option left open with the recent Nuclear Posture Review.
Obama justifies his position by way of the latest industry catch phrase "stockpile stewardship is a necessary component of disarmament." You might well be asking yourself, "But why is it necessary to build a new nuclear pit production facility in order to disarm?" If you find this paradoxical, even hypocritical you are not alone. Taoseña Jeanne Green recently asked Democratic 3rd Congressional District Representative, Ben Ray Lujan that same question (Cultural Energy May 22, 2009). Lujan's answer? "We need to retain the [nuclear] expertise to manage the stockpile" in order "to move forward aggressively" with the President's non-proliferation agenda." Huh?
The contradictions of Obama and Lujan's Democratic posturing --"we must make new nukes in order to stop using them"-- makes more sense when one considers that ratification in the Senate of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is dependent upon a substantial amount of Republican "buy in." The cost of the buy in? Increased spending in the nuclear weapons industry. New, expanded pit production. CMRR-NF, and maybe even an RRW. Whatever you choose to call it, NNSA has been after it a long time.
Despite the fact that NNSA chief Tom D'Agostino and lab managers admit a final cost remains TBD "to be determined" and is likely to remain elusive until 2014 they still feel justified in asking Congress to approve a two-fold increase in project funding for fiscal year 2011 (Albuquerque Journal 6/29/10 John Fleck-Congress Chafes Over Nuke Costs).
I am not an expert on anything nuclear, but I have familiarized myself with this topic over the past 3 years for one simple reason; New Mexico communities have remained poor for far too long. Having worked in New Mexico Public Schools I am all too familiar with the devastating effects of chronic poverty. New Mexico is a land of abundant natural resources. It is home to some of the most resilient communities on the planet, the first continuously inhabited US State Capitol, and some of the oldest civilizations on the North American Continent. In short New Mexico is a historic treasure and a land of unparalleled opportunity.
New Mexico receives a surprisingly large share of incoming federal dollars. In fact, for every tax dollar paid, New Mexico receives two dollars in Federal monies. One would think this would create prosperity for New Mexicans. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As a mother of four and a NM mental health clinician for over a decade, I have observed with deep concern the high rate of hopelessness, despair, and chronic suicide among our young. NM's Indicator-based Information System (IBIS) says NM youth suicide rate is twice the National average. It is the second cause of death in ages 15-24. Rates among Native youth are even higher (2007 US Census). New Mexico ranks fourth highest in the Nation in suicide and is the 7th poorest state. If nuclear weapons labs created the abundance and prosperity they purport to, would 40% of NM children be living in poverty? (NM State Health Department).
In my county, Taos, one third of the population lives in government subsidized housing or trailers (Taos County Assessor 2010). In Los Alamos County child poverty is a comparatively low 3-4% (NM IBIS 2009) but one startling statistic stands out. McKinley, one of New Mexico's poorest counties and Los Alamos, arguably the wealthiest, share a surprising commonality. Adolescent drug and alcohol abuse in those regions is high, but adolescent suicide rates are even higher. State Senator G. Munoz D-Gallup called his district's 7 suicides in five recent months "shockingly high" (Alb Journal June 6, 2010). Not long ago at a Los Alamos meeting parents decried the high rates of youth suicide and suicidal ideation in their community. What could be the root of this potential correlate between such otherwise seemingly disparate communities?
I propose it is the State's history of uranium mining, nuclear bomb making and atomic testing. The dead end nature of these "investments" is to blame. Our claim to fame is being the birthplace of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. We are the only nation ever to have used an atomic weapon to destroy a city - two in fact. WMDs are what New Mexico is famous for and WMDs thereby constitute New Mexico's "shadow" a psychological aspect famously described by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. The USA and New Mexicans called WMDs "evil' when we went after them in Iraq. So how does a psyche reconcile the profound dissonance of simultaneously embracing and vilifying WMDs? Can it? Statistics suggest in fact, it cannot. Suicidal ideation is above average in areas where a significant number of residents qualify for Radiation Exposure Compensation, and in Los Alamos County. The "shadow" is as deadly within the psyches of those whose livelihoods center around bomb-making as it is in the psyches of those experiencing its deleterious effects. The common denominator between children raised near Los Alamos Labs and those raised in uranium rich McKinley County would appear to be a resistant, deadly strain of fatalistic thinking. The state's past 65 years or so, up to the present, have been defined by environmentally destructive and economically dead end pursuits.
New Mexico's championing of, or worse turning a blind eye to, nuclear weapons production is not providing opportunities for our youth. It is not building community centers and vocational training centers to enhance their lives and their futures. It is killing them. Money that could be enriching our youth in so many ways, pre- and post-natal care programs, state of the art learning environments, and so on is being wasted. Our youth statistics constitute a heart wrenching bellwether; a cry for help. There is too much violence, drug-abuse, hopelessness and despair. The warning signs are clear. We continue to ignore this deadly threat at our peril. The time for lighting candles and lamentation over dead children is past. We need to bring the shadow into the light and end this travesty. We need to begin investing heavily in pursuits that sustain life and stop investing in those that by definition destroy life.
NM could be a leader in sustainable, renewable wind and solar energy technology. It could be, if vested special interests currently allowed to pour huge sums of Federal dollars down the drain of unthinkably irresponsible projects like the plutonium tomb known as the CMRR Nuclear Facility were stopped. It would be, if even a fraction of those funds were diverted to where they are really needed.
I encourage everyone to visit lasg.org and show support for their efforts to halt this wasteful spending. And please, let NM Representatives know that New Mexico's children deserve better; they deserve a future.