Community activists speak out against DOE plan to import “surplus plutonium” from nuclear warheads to NM, gain national media coverage!

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Video by Occupy New Mexico (Los Alamos hearing) and Available Media (Santa Fe & Espanola hearings)

In Los Alamos on Tuesday, Aug. 21 and in Santa Fe on Thursday, Aug. 23, dozens of anti-nuclear activists and concerned community members spoke out in strong opposition to the potential importation of 13.1 tons of plutonium pits for disassembly at LANL, conversion into MOX fuel, and partial storage at WIPP. Over 90% of the public comments at the first two public hearings opposed this Department of Energy (DOE) proposal. Predictably, the only comments in favor of it were spoken by LANL employees. National media coverage occurred through an AP story on the Los Alamos hearing (see below).

Beata Tsosie-Pena, environmental justice coordinator with Tewa Women United, summed up the  opinions of many when she said: “Surplus Plutonium is not wanted here. MOX fuel is not wanted here. Use WIPP for its original purpose. We do not need any extra shipments of waste endangering our communities as they drive by. Get the 40,000+ barrels that already exist away from our ancestral homelands and stop looking into anything other than clean up. Honor the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Rights of Mother Earth. We are not an expendable population, this is no longer and never has been, a “national sacrifice zone”. Environmental Health and Reproductive Justice for all!”

In Los Alamos, anti-nuclear activist Greg Mello with Los Alamos Study Group provided the first comment in this hearing process:

Susan Gordon, director of the national Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, also spoke at the Los Alamos hearing:

At the Santa Fe hearing, two LANL scientists kicked off the public comments with misleading diatribes in favor of the DOE plan to import 13.1 tons of nuclear waste into New Mexico, followed by dozens of community members speaking out eloquently and persuasively against it:

Video streaming by Ustream

Fortunately, public opposition to the Department of Energy’s plan for surplus plutonium disposition has already succeeded in generating a major burst of national media attention. This AP story circulated widely across the U.S. including via the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. At one point on Wednesday afternoon, Google News listed 6,860 links to this story!

Anti-nuclear activists question plan for shipping plutonium from warheads to NM

By Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Published: August 22

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Nuclear watchdogs are fighting a proposal to ship tons of plutonium to New Mexico, including the cores of nuclear warheads that would be dismantled at an aging and structurally questionable lab atop an earthquake fault zone.

Opponents voiced their opposition at a series of public hearings that opened this week on the best way to dispose of the radioactive material as the federal government works to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The Department of Energy is studying alternatives for disposing of plutonium in light of federal budget cuts that have derailed plans for new multi-billion-dollar facilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The preferred plan under consideration calls for the shipment of 7.1 metric tons of so-called pits — or cores — of an undisclosed number of nuclear warheads now stored at the Pantex plant in West Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site for disarmament and processing into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

The plan also calls for another 6 tons of surplus plutonium to be buried at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. That proposal has raised concerns about whether that waste would take up space needed for disposing of thousands of barrels of low-level radioactive waste that have been sitting for years above ground at a Los Alamos dump.

Potential threats from that waste drew attention when a massive wildfire lapped at lab property in 2011.

During the initial hearing Tuesday night in Los Alamos, activists questioned the safety of bringing more plutonium to the 1970s-era Los Alamos lab known as PF-4. A federal oversight board has said the facility remains structurally unable to safely withstand a major earthquake. The lab was built over fault lines that were later found to have the potential for more severe earthquakes than previously thought.

Additionally, the Defense Nuclear Safety Facilities Board recently said officials had significantly underestimated how much radiation would be released if there were a major earthquake and fire at Los Alamos.

Activist Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, said he couldn’t understand why using the lab was a preferred option “when these very basic problems have not been resolved.”

“We are talking about a very large new mission, a type of mission for which this building was not designed,” he said during the hearing.

Mello said the government should simply look at ways to safely bury the plutonium.

David Clark, a chemist and plutonium expert at the lab, countered that the facility is ideally suited for the project.


“They are disassembling pits today,” he said. “They are doing it right now. It is already part of the mission. … They have the knowledge.”

Clark said he worked at the lab for 10 years and has no concerns about safety. And like other top lab officials have said, the PF-4 building is where he would want to be in an earthquake, Clark said.

He said he was not allowed to say how many pits would be involved in the plan, or how much plutonium is currently handled at the lab. He believes that taking the surplus plutonium to PF-4 would have little impact on lab operations. […]


Finally, we’ll give the last word to Lisa Putkey from Think Outside The Bomb (2nd speaker in this clip) who offered some of the most emotional, rousing and oppositional comments of all at the Santa Fe hearing:

UPDATE: In response to requests by community members and elected officials for additional hearings in Espanola and Taos, the DOE held a final New Mexico hearing in Espanola on Tuesday, September 18. About a dozen people made public comments, the majority in strong opposition to the plan to dismantle 13 tons of plutonium pits at LANL into MOX fuel. Perhaps most interestingly, two private scientists presented an alternative technology for plutonium disposition, which they argued would be more cost-efficient and environmentally safe than the DOE plan. This information prompted community activists to denounce the lack of alternative technologies for plutonium disposition considered in the DOE’s supplemental environmental impact statement.

Here is the video from the Espanola hearing:

Video streaming by Ustream

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