Abolitionists welcome new millenium with demonstration to end the nuclear age

Whistleblower reinstated to supervisory position by Rocky Flats security company

Federal law may curtail states' oversight authority over nuclear laboratories

*Over 500 peace activists gathered at the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas on New Year's Eve to welcome the new millennium and to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Carrying permits from the Western Shoshone Nation on whose lands the Test Site sits, over 300 of the protesters proceeded to walk onto the base in a peaceful, candlelit procession. They were arrested by private Wackenhut security guards and Nye County Sheriff Department officers, held for several hours, and released.

They were protesting the subcritical nuclear tests by the Department of Energy (or DOE) at the Test Site. The testing undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which President Clinton signed in 1996. The Treaty has been signed by 154 nations and ratified by 52. The U. S. Republican-led Senate failed to ratify the Treaty this fall. Moreover, the Nevada Test Site is targeted as the location for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, which has triggered widespread citizen concern about a number of design flaws and its location over a seismic fault.

"I have come back to this sacred ground, near where I spent my summers as a boy, to remind myself and all who will listen that the Nuclear Age must end," says one of the demonstrators, disarmament advocate and member of the Dallas Peace Center, Andrew McKenna. "By putting my body on the line I again say to my leaders and anyone who will listen that nuclear testing and nuclear weapons are unnecessary, an abomination to the earth, water and land, [and] an obscene waste of taxes."

The New Year's Eve demonstration was part of the four-day conference entitled "Millenium 2000: Walking the Ways of Peace" organized by the Nevada Desert Experience, a faith-based organization, that works to end nuclear testing. Among the speakers were Canadian scientist Rosalie Bertell (pronounced "bur - tell"), noted author Jonathan Schell (pronounced "shell"), as well as a Hiroshima survivor and religious leaders from a variety of traditions.

*A federal judge ordered the security contractor at the Rocky Flats Plant, near Denver, to reinstate one of its security specialist, Lieutenant Mark Graf. Lieutenant Graf was fired by Wackenhut Security, after 15 years of service, for raising security concerns about the massive quantities of plutonium and uranium stored at the site.

Whistleblower Graf helped identify several instances of noncompliance with DOE orders, federal regulations, and local procedures for the protection of special nuclear materials. Graf's concerns included the severe understaffing of the security department at Rocky Flats, the presence of anti-government militia personnel among the ranks of the security force, and the failure of the management to inventory the huge supply of plutonium for months at a time. Over 2,000 pounds of plutonium are "unaccounted for" at the facility. Moreover, mock terrorists were generally able to overcome security in simulated attacks and access the plutonium. With nearly 14 tons of plutonium stored at the Plant, a terrorist bombing of the facility could claim tens of millions of lives throughout the Midwest and beyond.

*According to citizens groups and more than 40 state attorneys general, the new National Nuclear Security Agency may prove a threat to the authority of states to regulate environmental and worker protection within the nation's nuclear weapons complex.

While the new semiautonomous security Agency is designed to prevent espionage within the complex, the critics say that the Agency is likely to withdraw hard-won reforms that improved independent oversight of the nuclear weapons complex. Critics fear the return of the shroud of secrecy that covered the operations of the weapons plants for over 40 years. The agency may also impede the ability of citizens' groups to access information, and take away their right to bring private environmental enforcement actions in court.

* After the resignation of John Kelly from the Albuquerque Office of U.S. Attorney this week, Kelly's chief deputy Robert Gorence will serve as Acting U.S. Attorney until the Justice Department makes an interim appointment. Robert Gorence, who has been the lead prosecutor during former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee's detention hearings, is the son-in-law of New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.

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