Santa Fe City Council Opposes Continued Operations at LANL's TA-18

* The Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution this week opposing continued operations at Technical Area (TA) 18 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) because of recent findings that the facility is not safe and secure. The resolution is a response to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report issued in May that found that an accident during operations at TA-18 could cause the greatest off-site radiation exposure of the entire LANL complex.

Councilors Matthew Ortiz, David Coss and Patti Bushee sponsored the resolution in support of the hundreds of northern New Mexicans that requested that local and national decisionmakers urge the Department of Energy (DOE) to stop operations at TA-18 until the problems raised by the board could be resolved.

The resolution requests not only that operations cease, but also that DOE make good on its requirement to transport all of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium from TA-18 to the Nevada Test Site. Former DOE Secretary and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson ordered in 2000 that the move be completed by September 2004. Shipments were delayed, but reports indicate that they began recently. The resolution also requested that each shipment of nuclear material be escorted as it is transported through the City of Santa Fe.

Five unshielded critical assemblies are located at TA-18, which, in the event of an accident, could release a lethal dose of radiation to a person located offsite. Criticality experiments use assemblies of enriched uranium or plutonium to create self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions. These assemblies differ from nuclear reactors in that the nuclear reaction is not sustained, assuming there are no accidents.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Creative Commotion, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico and Peace Action New Mexico began a collaborative campaign to stop operations at TA-18 in June. The collaboration organized public education events and a postcard campaign to Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, Governor Richardson and DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham. New Mexico Representative Tom Udall has voiced his support for stopping operations at TA-18.

The collaboration argues that in addition to the board's recent report, TA-18 should be closed because it has failed mock terrorist intrusion multiple times, any of which could have released enough nuclear material for a crude weapon.

Further, TA-18 lies in a flood plain, which makes the nuclear material stored there vulnerable to storm events that may wash it toward the Rio Grande. Moreover, LANL is threatening to disable the air monitoring system surrounding TA-18, an issue that Councilor Ortiz specifically criticizes.

Only Councilor David Pfeffer voted against the resolution. Pfeffer argues that the city council has no place advocating what he views as a political position during the election season. The resolution passed six votes to one, with Councilor Karen Heldmeyer abstaining.

Amy Williams, of CCNS, said, "The citizens of Santa Fe are well served by a city council that understands and responds to public health and safety concerns that may arise as a result of LANL activities."

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