Alibi V.14 No.51 • Dec 22-28, 2005 

Council Watch

A Culture of Fear

The All Hazards Emergency Operations Plan was passed last Monday, with most of the public comment devoted to radioactive threats.
The All Hazards Emergency Operations Plan was passed last Monday, with most of the public comment devoted to radioactive threats.
Courtesy Sandia Labs

A special Council meeting on Dec. 12 provided a public forum on the city's All Hazards Emergency Operations Plan. The plan addresses wars, floods, earthquakes, fires, hazardous materials, infrastructure damage, civil disturbances, epidemics, energy shortages, major plane crashes, terrorism, severe snowstorms, water shortages, bus and train accidents, tornadoes and landslides. But all the public wanted to talk about was radioactive threats. Councilors Debbie O'Malley and Brad Winter were excused.

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IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
Power Nexus
Advent Solar, Inc. will build a 94,000-square-foot plant for manufacturing photovoltaic panels in Mesa del Sol just south of Kirtland AFB. A bill stated the city's intent to grant $25 million in industrial revenue bonds for expanding the Albuquerque company's operations.
Several economic development leaders praised the Advent expansion. Councilor Michael Cadigan urged the speakers to encourage builders to delete an obsolete ban against rooftop panels still in many residential covenants. The bill passed unanimously.Advent Solar seems poised for explosive growth in clean, renewable energy. Ironically, it sits in the same small area as facilities for nuclear energy research, tank farms for gasoline and military facilities that may be used in future wars for oil.
Framing the Insanity
Council President Martin Heinrich opened discussion of the city's emergency plan with a presentation by Emergency Operations Manager Jim Hunter. Hunter said the plan had been revised from its 1992 version in light of the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, with individual city departments in charge of their areas. Hunter said the city couldn't expect federal help for 72 hours after a disaster, but the city has "hundreds of mutual aid agreements" with other entities, including corporations. He said the plan is organized with incident commanders in charge, who ask for help if the problem gets too big and who coordinate with other bodies. Heinrich said the plan was hard for citizens to understand because it didn't include standard operating procedures for police, firefighters and other agencies. Hunter said S.O.P.s change daily, and we "don't want to give adversaries our complete game plan." City Epidemiologist Kasey Smith-Alexander described exercises the city has conducted, one for responding to a dirty bomb incident. Bob Anderson and Jeanne Pahls of Stop the War Machine cited several nuclear accidents that had not become common knowledge. Anderson and Pahls wanted revisions in the current plan, access to "a secret emergency plan that must exist," dismantling of the weapons, a detailed evacuation plan and sirens to alert civilians whose TVs or radios are off in the middle of the night.
Pahls said the weapons were shipped to Albuquerque, then sent by plane or truck to the Pantex plant in Amarillo for dismantling. Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group said that, with funding cuts, dismantling of the weapons is not really happening. Hunter said the 350 to 500 sirens necessary to alert the city cost $25,000 each and couldn't be heard inside buildings. He said he'd rather have a "reverse 9-1-1 system" to automatically telephone people in emergencies. Councilor Don Harris said what Anderson and Pahls were talking about was alarming, if true. Hunter said the military would never confirm specific details, but it was common knowledge that Kirtland held weapons in transit. Thirty-one people spoke against the emergency plan. Points were made repeatedly about finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq compared to Albuquerque's 2,500 WMDs, the impossibility of a quick city evacuation and using the Duke City for the world's largest nuclear weapons dump. Harris said the Council was not the place to push the federal government to change its methods. Councilor Sally Mayer assured one speaker that emergency plans were in the works for the city's animals. Councilor Heinrich said the city should take citizens' concerns seriously, and the plan would be revised. Expressing disagreement with the plan, Councilor Isaac Benton said accepting it was necessary to assure federal funds for emergencies. The bill passed unanimously.Discussion at the meeting often seemed to jumble together at least five different types of potential radioactive threats with very different probabilities and effects. First, the feds' weaker safety standards for shipments of radioactive waste going through the city to WIPP. Second, the higher than normal level of radioactive contamination in Rio Grande water that we'll soon be drinking. Third, the accidental release of small amounts of radiological material, such as medical wastes--a type of incident ranked No. 19 in the plan's ranking of 20 emergencies. Fourth would be an accident or terrorist attack at Sandia or Kirtland that results in a conventional explosion dispersing radioactive debris--a "dirty bomb" incident. The relatively slow spread of such contamination implies that an effective evacuation plan could make a big difference. Five would be a thermonuclear explosion of one or more weapons, leaving little more to do than die. Assuming around 2,500 bombs and warheads, can Albuquerque's nukes alone destroy the world's major population centers two times over? Ten times over? From one angle, the objectors seem rather silly, expecting the city to stop the flow of the billions that the nukes bring to the military-industrial complex, and the millions they bring to the city. From another angle, they're the only ones who're even remotely sane. See the plan part 1 and part 2 on the city's site.