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"Forget the Rest" blog


S.F. businesses oppose proposed plutonium lab

Roger Snodgrass, for The New Mexican
Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some small-business owners in Santa Fe are opposing the proposed plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The group is concerned about negative impacts from the lab's long-range role in expanding nuclear weapons production.

Although the group has been gathering support for several weeks, the announcement of its formation in a newspaper ad coincided with the release of a formal record of decision, a day earlier, that approved the plan to build a nuclear facility at LANL with a price tag of at least $6 billion.

After updating seismic and safety-related features, the National Nuclear Security Administration used a streamlined environmental process, known as a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, to reach essentially the same conclusion as an earlier analysis.

With the design phase only partially completed, the approval postponed, for now, the decision on how deep to build the foundation to withstand various degrees and combinations of fire, earthquakes and volcanic eruption.

"We hope New Mexicans will take more interest now, and if they want to keep some value in the real estate and attract visitors from all over the world, they better think twice about their relation with Los Alamos," said Willem Malten, the organizer of the businesses.

The coordinated effort by the merchants suggests a possible renewal of small-business involvement in what has been largely an argument between the lab and the activist community.

Many Santa Fe residents may be reminded of the long battle during the 1980s and '90s over the opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, much of which was focused in Santa Fe.

That conflict, which grew to involve thousands of New Mexico citizens and hundreds of businesses, was eventually decided in favor of the Department of Energy, but not before local concerns caused congressional hearings to be invoked, and moved state and federal environmental agencies to action.

"This reminds me of WIPP, in the late '80s," said Chico Goler, manager of La Boca restaurant, one of the businesses involved. "When I was a kid, my mother did benefits. They were really engaged and got the word out. Santa Fe is very liberal, very PC, very anti anything like this."

There have been other signs of resistance to a new facility in recent years.

In 2008, 326 New Mexico businesses, including 141 in Santa Fe, signed a "Call to Disarmament" developed by the Los Alamos Study Group. The petition called for a stop to the "design and manufacture of all nuclear weapons, including plutonium bomb cores ['pits'] at Los Alamos and elsewhere."

The issue was at the heart of the controversy surrounding LANL's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. At the end of last year, the Santa Fe City Council and Santa Fe County Commission passed resolutions calling for a pause in the CMRR-NF project, while a new and complete Environmental Impact Statement was prepared.

If completed, the CMRR-NF will help increase the current capacity for making plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons from about 20 to 80 pits a year. While reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the stockpile, it will implement an accelerated program of upgrading and modernizing the remaining inventory.

Gail Haggard, owner of Plants of the Southwest, another sponsor of the ad, said the current plans to proceed were "a continuation of the insanity."

"I thought the [recent] earthquake [near Nambé] and the new information about the volcanic activity would make some difference," she said. "We're already armed to the teeth."

The security administration had an overall reply to those in the region who made a variety of comments about the programs performed at LANL and the nature of the work to be performed at the CMRR-NF. In introducing the 1,500 pages of comments and responses, the authors of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement wrote, "Examining congressional budget decisions, U.S. national security policies or the mission of NNSA at LANL is not within the scope of these documents."

Along with the newspaper advertisement, the group of businesses launched a website,, linked to the three main LANL watchdog groups in Northern New Mexico — the Los Alamos Study Group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Citizens Concerned for Nuclear Safety.

Contact Roger Snodgrass at

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