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 V.17 No.10 | March 6 - 12, 2008 

Ortiz y Pino

Nuclear Hair of the Dog

New Mexico’s elected leaders have begun to sound ominously like the drunk asking for just a little “hair of the dog” to get him through the roughest hours of the day: those when the sun is shining.

The theory (as most memorably elocuted by W.C. Fields and since tweaked by millions of dedicated imbibers) is apparently that the consequences of our long nuclear/uranium binge can be buffered by just a little more of the same.

I don’t think medical science agrees, either with desperate sots or with politicians infected by visions of boom times dancing before their eyes. The scary thing, though, is that our state’s major media outlets seem to have bought into the myth of this “cure,” and the federal government is only too happy to take advantage of our boomer leaders and their delusions.

No other state has ridden the uranium roller coaster the way we have. From the start of the nuclear era (the first A-bomb was both built and detonated here) to the current crossroads at which we have arrived, New Mexico has repeatedly (against all advice) tied its fortunes to the seductive wiles of Big Mama Uranium.

Again this year, we are once more getting “come hither” leers from uranium-mining interests eager to re-open old diggings in the Grants area--from the Department of Defense salivating over the prospect of using Los Alamos to build more plutonium pits (only possible use: bombs) in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty; and from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which covets the barren steppes of southeastern New Mexico as a suitable location for yet another hole to store nuclear waste (read: another WIPP, but this time for the really hot stuff) well into the next millennium.

If we fall for any (or all) of those woeful invitations, we must have rocks in our heads, you say. And I agree.

But I wouldn’t bet against it. Not after watching Pete Domenici turn his farewell speech to the New Mexico Legislature into a veritable tribute to the magic of the Mighty Atom; Fuel of the Future!

And not after watching Diane Denish help maneuver a bill (that was little more than a gilded invitation to the uranium industry to re-open abandoned mines) past the procedural roadblock that had been thrown in its path during the hectic final minutes of the Senate’s last morning.

No, there’s something really icky about New Mexico’s love affair with uranium. It’s as if we go brain-dead when anything “nuclear” is around; get all goo-goo eyed at the prospect of exposing ourselves to radiation; turn hopelessly infatuated when faced with the dilemma of safely getting rid of atomic detritus.

We never learned to say no. We should have abstained. Now our reputation may be ruined. We are the national “easy” state. “Hey, New Mexico, how about foolin’ around with a little plutonium? Whaddaya say? It’ll be a blast.”

Which brings us back to those crazed Pentagon Strangeloves and their scheme to convert Los Alamos into the substitute for Rocky Flats, the most audacious nuclear bomb factory in the world.

What’s wrong with massive injections of federal cash being pumped into LANL? What’s wrong with hiring hundreds of New Mexicans to build the enormous new structures that will be needed to house the “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project” (the official title; one much more appetizing than “Bombplex 2030,” the D.C. name for the plutonium bomb assembly line)?

What’s wrong, in other words, with jumping for the golden ring, the fat payoff, the offer from Washington that’s just too good to be turned down?

Apparently, not much, judging from the near-unanimous cordial reception the “new” mission for LANL is getting from our Congressional delegation, the Governor’s Office and virtually every local official within 200 miles of the new bomb factory.

Apparently, a great deal, if you stop to think that building 135 or so additional nuclear warheads every year may verge on the suicidal, since we already have at least 24,000 and since, oh, I don’t know, maybe five or six detonated at one time would probably end human life as we know it …

Apparently, a great deal, if you pause to consider that as of this moment we still have not come up with anything close to safe disposal of the immensely toxic and long-lifed byproducts of plutonium pit production, meaning that New Mexico will likely become the national nuclear cloaca …

And, apparently, a great deal if you worry about America’s leadership role in the world community, since thumbing our collective nose at the painstakingly put-together International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would probably send us spinning backward into another Cold War.

On Tuesday, March 11, at the Convention Center, officials of the Nuclear Security Administration will be in town to hear comments from the public about this “new vision” for LANL. Two separate sessions will be held, one starting at 11 a.m. lasting until 3 p.m. and a second that evening from 6 to 10 p.m.

If you want to comment on the plan but can’t attend in person on that date, written comments can be sent to Theodore Wyka, Complex Transformation SPEIS Document Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence SW, Washington, D.C. 20585. The deadline for written comments is April 10.

Will your comments make any difference? Who can tell? But, certainly, if you don’t comment, you will have no influence on the issue.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.

 

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