Concerned Firefighters Leave Cerro Grande Tent Camp on LANL Property
Senate Confirms Air Force General John A. Gordon as National Nuclear
Security Agency Head as LANL's Security Problems Continue to Unfold
Senate Republicans Confirm Push for New Nuclear
*Almost 100 firefighters involved
in the Cerro Grande Fire cleanup efforts have left or are
planning to leave their tent camp located at Technical Area
49 (or TA-49) on Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL)
property. The camp has been set up since the end of the fire
for firefighters working on rehabilitation efforts to stop
the flow of contaminants from LANL property to the Rio Grande
River. Most of the firefighters are from out of state and
they became concerned about their health when jokes started
to spread through the camp about the firefighters "glowing."
Lee McAtee, deputy director for environmental, health and
safety at LANL, stated that "[a] lot of these people, they
come in from Timbuktu or somewhere, and they've never had
any kind of experience with nuclear materials or radiation
and so they don't have the experience or knowledge or familiarity
with the issues to make a decision."
TA-49 was used for high-explosives
and radioactive materials experiments and a portion is currently
a storage area for wildfire response supplies and a helicopter
pad. TA-49 is located downwind from the smoldering fire at
the Material Disposal Area (or MDA) R at TA-16. Department
of Energy (or DOE) officials reported recently that the eastern
and western portions of the MDA R fire is out, after it burned
for over a month.
Bill Sweet, spokesperson for the cleanup
team, said the firefighters don't trust DOE. Sweet stated
that, "We get folks who just don't have confidence in what
the lab and the Energy Department are telling them."
to the concerns of the firefighters, DOE workers are setting
up an air monitoring station at TA-49. LANL has also offered
radiation detectors to the firefighters to wear while they
are doing rehabilitation work. Activists question if these
measures are a little too late. Firefighters who were on LANL
property during the fire were not given radiation detectors
despite the fact that DOE's own wildfire protocols required
radiation detectors for firefighters while they are fighting
* On June 14th, the U.S. Senate confirmed
the nomination of Air Force General John A. Gordon as head of
the new, semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Agency which
is charged with overseeing nuclear security matters. General
Gordon is deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
On the same day at a joint Senate hearing about another possible
security lapse at LANL, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee
and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee questioned DOE
and LANL officials. The security lapse involves two missing
hard drives from a vault in a secured area of the X Division,
a complex where nuclear bomb designers work. The missing hard
drives contain nuclear weapons data from the United States,
Russia, China and France, along with U.S. "improvised" designs
made in anticipation of designs that might be created by terrorists
with access to weapons materials and facilities. The hard drives
contained information used by the Nuclear Emergency Search Team
(or NEST) which responds to nuclear accidents or terrorist acts.
The NEST has the ability to disarm and dismantle nuclear devices.
Senators questioned the reporting delays of the breach of security
to LANL Director John Browne. After discovering the missing
hard drives while evacuating the facility on May 7, three days
after the start of the catastrophic Cerro Grande fire, NEST
members failed to report the missing materials until June 1,
more than three weeks after the discovery. DOE security procedures
require reporting such missing items within eight hours. The
Senators described DOE as "disfunctional" and asked why a check
out sheet for taking materials out of the vault was not required.
One Senator indicated that there was more security at the local
library where a person is required to check out materials before
leaving than at the national laboratory where nuclear weapons
designs are kept.
According to a former X Division worker, security
plans were required and drawn up, but never implemented. The
Clinton administration has suspended six of LANL's managers
with paid leave.
to the June 12th Washington Post, Senate Republicans have added
a provision in the Fiscal Year 2001 defense authorization bill
that specifically requires the secretaries of Defense and Energy
to undertake a study to develop a new "low-yield" nuclear weapon
that can destroy deeply buried targets and permits the nuclear
labs to conduct limited research and development that may be necessary
to complete the study. This legislation encroaches on, but doesn't
completely overturn, a 1994 law advanced by Congresswoman Elisabeth
Furse that prohibits research and development of "mini-nukes,"
which are also called low-yield nuclear weapons. The report supporting
the provision directs "plan[ning] for the long-term sustainment
and modernization of U.S. strategic nuclear forces."
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