Public Opposes Nuclear Weapons Production at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Public Opposes Nuclear Weapons Production at Los Alamos National Laboratory

On the 61st anniversary of the United States nuclear bombings of Nagasaki, Japan, the Department of Energy (DOE) held a public comment hearing in Espanola, New Mexico in order to obtain opinions about their proposal to expand production of plutonium pits, the core of a nuclear bomb like the one dropped on Nagasaki.

The August 9th meeting was the second of three public comment hearings held by DOE to receive verbal comment on the draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). As a part of expanded nuclear weapons production, the draft SWEIS states that 1,800 55-gallon drums of waste, 860 cubic yards of transuranic waste, 12,000 cubic yards of low-level radioactive waste and 2,750,000 pounds of chemical waste would be generated annually. The operations would require more water than LANL is currently allotted from the regional aquifer, and would result in LANL dumping 268 million gallons of industrial and sanitary waste water annually into canyons which flow to the Rio Grande.

The DOE, who facilitated and organized the meeting, did not make a statement concerning the bombing of Nagasaki. When asked before the meeting if they planned to, Elizabeth Withers, the DOE’s manager for the SWEIS process, said that she would not feel comfortable leading a moment of silence in recognition of the deaths because it would violate the separation of church and state. She had no explanation for why DOE scheduled a hearing on that day.

All the people who spoke opposed the proposed expansion of nuclear weapons production. Many were concerned about the health impacts and the threat that accidents, such as fire and earthquake, would have on their families. Many spoke of the disproportionate impact operations have on low income and minority communities which surround LANL. For example, LANL has not changed the economic situation for most people who live in surrounding communities. While Los Alamos County is the wealthiest county in the United States, several of the surrounding counties are some of the poorest.

One commenter stated that the DOE did not reach out far enough into the surrounding communities about the hearings, indicating “the process was purposefully done that actively or inactively, prevented people from knowing about their right to comment. And as a result, tens of thousands of people have been disenfranchised.”

Many who spoke believed that DOE would disregard their opinions. Jan Wilcynski-Chavez, DOE Deputy Manager at LANL, although unwilling to make a statement, expressed her regret that the public felt their comments would not be taken into consideration. When asked what public comment she had heard that evening, if any, she felt was likely to be incorporated into the final SWEIS, she was unable to offer an example.

Kalliroi Matsakis, of CCNS, said, "the DOE’s lack of respect for public comment is demonstrated by the lack of adequate time to prepare for the hearing and the timing of the hearings."

DOE is legally required to collect and consider the public’s comments. DOE has granted a two-week extension to submit comments until September 20, 2006.

 Learn more about the draft SWEIS

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