On Ninth Anniversary of WIPP Explosion, Neighborhoods Along Transportation Routes Offer Roses to Governor Lujan Grisham

On February 14th, 2014, one or more drums of radioactive and hazardous waste exploded in the deep underground disposal site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). To raise public awareness of the Valentine’s Day anniversary and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) expansion plans, individuals and non-government organizations joined together for a press conference at the New Mexico State Capitol.  Afterwards, they delivered red roses to the Governor’s Office to remind her that she has the tools to protect the People from dangerous radioactive waste.  To view the event, visit Frost Fowler’s film at https://vimeo.com/frostfowlerfilms/download/798958494/0885ef27a7

Cindy Weehler, with the 285 Alliance, spoke eloquently at the press conference.  Her full statement is below.  Weehler said:

“Today is the anniversary of the most infamous Valentine’s Day in New Mexico’s history.   It happened on February 14, 2014, at the WIPP nuclear weapons’ waste repository.  A drum holding hazardous chemicals and radioactive waste exploded inside WIPP, spewing radiation throughout the underground, reaching the surface, closing WIPP for years, and costing billions to reopen.  It could have happened on the route as the truck passed local neighborhoods, schools, and businesses.  For New Mexicans, Valentine’s Day isn’t just a holiday, it’s a reminder that transporting and handling nuclear waste is a risk.

“People who live in the many neighborhoods along the WIPP route are here today. Each person holds a Valentine rose labeled with the name of their neighborhood or one nearby and all are on the route.

“The risk that concerns the neighborhoods along the transport route is an accidental release of powdered plutonium, because

1) inhaled powdered plutonium causes cancer 100% of the time, and

2) powdered plutonium is almost impossible to clean up if released over buildings and land, according to Sandia Labs.  Site Restoration: Estimation of Attributable Costs From Plutonium-Dispersal Accidents, Sandia National Laboratories, 1996, SAND96-0957; https://www.osti.gov/biblio/249283

“Estimating risk for complex projects is incredibly difficult and has never been done with complete accuracy.  As it began the space shuttle program, NASA predicted the chance of a shuttle explosion as 1 in 100,000.  NASA’s assumption was made with the overconfidence that good engineering would make the shuttle program very safe. Then the Columbia and Challenger shuttles exploded, showing the risk was actually 1 in 66.  Jones, H. (2018).  NASA’s Understanding of Risk in Apollo and Shuttle.  NASA Ames Research Center. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20190002249/downloads/20190002249.pdf

“DOE [and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)] demonstrate the same misplaced overconfidence with their plan to expand WIPP’s mission.  Worse, this isn’t astronauts taking on a risk that they chose. It is civilians who have no idea that they are test subjects being put at risk.  So, our first Valentine message is to the public: you’re at risk and you deserve to know it. The federal government has no plans to tell you. We’ve asked them to do so for three years.

“The original WIPP mission was risky, as the explosion, which happened after only 15 years, demonstrates.  But it felt manageable because it had limits.  The new expanded WIPP mission is much riskier because it no longer has most of those limits.  It increases how long WIPP will operate, the amount of waste, number of shipments, distance of transport, and danger of the waste.  It’s only a matter of time before human error derails a project so vast and complex.

“We want the public and the Governor to see the faces – OUR faces – of the people whom DOE has chosen to put at risk.  They’re YOUR faces, too.  We won’t know exactly when or where an accident will occur; only that, like the space shuttles and the WIPP explosion, it will and that it will be catastrophic for that particular neighborhood.

 “The legal and social limits are still in place that the DOE made with New Mexico and the state has the option to stop this federal overreach.

“Our message to the Governor is first, ‘Thank you for supporting our petition last year, when we asked you for help.’  Second, on this day that so perfectly symbolizes risk, is ‘Governor, stand fast and say no to the federal agencies that want to remove limits on WIPP’s mission in the new permit application.’

 “The maps help you find your neighborhood in relation to the radioactive route.  Contact us at 285alliance@gmail.com if you want to understand how the WIPP expansion affects your neighborhood. Our purpose is to present this information to anyone who wants to know more.”

The press conference was hosted by a coalition that includes The 285 Alliance, Tewa Women United https://tewawomenunited.org/, and Stop Forever WIPP https://stopforeverwipp.org/home

For more information, please attend The 285 Alliance Community Forum on Sunday, February 19th between 3 and 5 pm at the El Dorado Community Improvement Association (ECIA) Railroad Building, located at One La Hacienda Loop (near the swimming pool).

Action items include learning how the new DOE mission will affect you; create a comment with your concerns and send it immediately to the correct agency; send the Governor a short video message; and do it with other concerned citizens.  Bring your smartphone or iPad.  WIPP Community Forum 2_19_23(3)

  1. Friday, February 17th from noon to 1 pm – Join the weekly peaceful protest for nuclear disarmament on the corners of Alameda and Guadalupe in downtown Santa Fe with Veterans for Peace, CCNS, Nuclear Watch NM, Loretto Community, Pax Christi and others.



  1. Sunday, February 19th between 3 and 5 pm – The 285 Alliance Community Forum at the El Dorado Community Improvement Association (ECIA) Railroad Building, One La Hacienda Loop, Santa Fe. For more information, contact 285alliance@gmail.com



  1. March 9 and 10, 2023 – ICAN and ICAN Norway are hosting the ICAN Act on It Forum in Oslo, Norway. You are invited to join campaigners, youth, politicians, academics and others interested in nuclear disarmament to amplify voices demanding the end of unlawful and inhumane nuclear weapons.  March 2023 is the 10th anniversary of the first conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, hosted by Norway.  https://www.icannorway.no/



  1. April 1st to 7thJoin the Sacred Peace Walk, an interfaith journey of approximately 60 miles from Las Vegas to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) (formerly the Nevada Test Site), through the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, on the beautiful traditional lands of the Indigenous Western Shoshone and Paiute Peoples, bringing the message of non-violence to the test site and Creech AFB (the center of drone warfare and assassination for the US military and the CIA). For more information, contact the Nevada Desert Experience at kingsbayplowshares@gmail.com and http://nevadadesertexperience.org/



  1. April 15th to 22nd – Shut Down Drone Warfare – Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico – “From Tax Day to Earth Day, Rise Up!” Co-sponsored by CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace and Ban Killer Drones.  Join for a week of peaceful resistance against drone warfare and out-of-control U.S. empire.  Why Holloman?  It is the largest-drone training base in the U.S. – training 600 or more drone pilots and operators annually.  For more information:  http://www.shutdowndronewarfare.org/

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