LANL Prepares to Reopen

* Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is preparing to fully reopen following the stand-down of activities announced on July 16, 2004. LANL officials claim that the inventory of classified material is nearly complete and that classified operations will resume by the end of September.

The stand-down began following the loss of two computer disks containing classified information. Safety concerns were also raised after a student intern was injured in an incident with a laser. The stand-down prompted Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Spencer Abraham to halt the use of all classified removable electronic media, such as computer disks and hard drives, across the DOE complex.

During the stand-down, more and varied criticisms about LANL have surfaced, including five reports by the DOE Inspector General criticizing LANL's policies and procedures.

Moreover, an independent groundwater hydrologist found that LANL has grossly overestimated the amount of time that it may take contaminants from its waste sites to reach the Rio Grande. LANL had previously estimated thousands of years for contaminants to reach the river, while George Rice has found that it may take a few as 26 years for fast-moving contaminants to reach the Rio Grande.

Also, two former contract employees filed suit against LANL alleging that working conditions at LANL are unsafe and that their health and well being were compromised as a result of their work.

Further, the New Mexico Environment Department released the Compliance Order on Consent, which is the culmination of negotiations about its Corrective Action Order. The May 2002 order found that LANL presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and the environment in northern New Mexico. The order commands LANL to investigate its sources of waste and contamination and develop a cleanup strategy to address them.

Also, U.S. Representative David Hobson, of Ohio, chair of the House Energy and Water subcommittee, has been highly critical of federal nuclear weapons spending, saying that, "it could be viewed as a jobs program for Ph.D.'s, the ultimate in white-collar welfare."

Representative Hobson's counterpart in the Senate, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, remains one of the nuclear weapons industry's most vocal supporters. He has routinely secured increasing budgets for New Mexico's nuclear weapons laboratories and actively courts new nuclear development in New Mexico. In the last five years, Domenici has secured an increase of more than $2 billion in weapons spending. Following the LANL stand-down, Domenici said in a open letter to LANL that, "In Washington, Los Alamos' reputation as a crown jewel of science is being eclipsed by a reputation as being both dysfunctional and untouchable."

Hobson argues that the U.S. should no longer fund a Cold War nuclear arsenal when it no longer faces a Cold War adversary. Hobson advocates stricter oversight of weapons spending saying, "Appropriators want to know what work needs to be done and how much it will cost, because every dollar spent on DOE nuclear weapons work is a dollar not spent on some other competing national priority."

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