Inside the Capitol

Sunday, March 30, 2008

4-9 Let's Assess Nuclear New Mexico

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Political campaigns and the Legislature have kept me from the subject of a nuclear New Mexico for the past eight months. That is much longer than it should have been.
First, I want to apologize for a remark I made 20 years ago when the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad was beginning to designate routes for transporting nuclear waste to the WIPP site.
One of those routes was from Los Alamos National Laboratory, down St. Francis Drive, through Santa Fe. There was great hysteria. I pointed out that the route passed just about a block from my home and office and I saw no reason to be afraid.
I noted that the transportation process had been studied and explained in a very public manner with the utmost safety in mind.
I also ventured that enriched plutonium had secretly been carted up the hill to Los Alamos for the past 45 years, apparently without WIPP's safety precautions and nothing bad enough happened for the public to ever give a thought to what was passing through town.
Those two claims I still believe to be correct. But then I said that, as far as I knew, the entire nuclear process, from mining uranium, through research, development, production, testing, transportation, storage and disposal had been conducted in New Mexico without anyone being harmed.
How wrong I was. I was working with the information I had at the time. Sounds like a senator we've been hearing about recently. Now we know of many deaths and unimaginable suffering among Navajo uranium miners.
We are slowly becoming aware of death and illness from the Trinity test fallout. And a five-year examination of records at the Los Alamos lab indicates the exposure of workers and the community was much higher than ever acknowledged by the lab.
All this makes the prospect of uranium mining in northwestern New Mexico and uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities in southeastern New Mexico worth a very hard look.
Neutron Energy, Inc. is seeking approval from the state for an application to drill 44 uranium exploration holes 20 miles northeast of Grants. The state Mining and Mineral Division is seeking public comment on the exploration permit. It will hold a public hearing sometime this spring.
The new mine would be located on private land just outside Navajo Reservation boundaries. In 2005, the Navajo Nation imposed a ban on further uranium mining and processing. It will lose out on millions of dollars in fees and royalties but tribal elders say the lives of their people are much more important.
Hundreds of gaping mine sites dot the country after mining companies walked away from cleanup responsibilities as the Cold War ended. Tribal elders say they want the mess cleaned up and their people cured before they consider allowing mining again.
From 1945 to 1962 our government conducted a series of above-ground nuclear tests, which disgorged radioactive fallout over New Mexico, Nevada and neighboring states. In 1990 U.S. senators from Nevada and Utah secured creation of a fund to compensate downwinders exposed to radiation.
New Mexicans were not included. Experts on nuclear fallout say they should have been. In 2000, downwinders in some Arizona counties were added? Last year, legislation was introduced to add downwinders in Idaho and Montana.
What happened to New Mexicans, the original downwinders and also downwind from the Nevada tests? Have our members of Congress been asleep at the switch?
And then there is the five-year review of the Los Alamos National Lab files, now in its fourth year. The multi-million search and retrieval project is examining millions of records.
An interim report, released last August includes previously unreleased data on those exposed to the Trinity test, lab workers and those living in the community.
The final report is expected to produce a bounty of knowledge to guide us in our future decisions.
WED, 4-09-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home