We need to stop N.M. from becoming another Rocky Flats

Even if Los Alamos doesn't become a permanent new version of the decommissioned Rocky Flats bomb parts factory, chances are that manufacturing replacement plutonium triggers for America's aging nuclear arsenal will remain a stop gap manufacturing operation.

If the DOE has its way, it could produce as many as 1000 or more plutonium trigger pits in next 14 years.

Actually, with new research telling military scientists and Congress that the plutonium triggers in the 5,000 or so remaining American warheads are not deteriorating as fast as feared, the need for a new factory might turn out to be bogus.

Few New Mexicans are thrilled with the idea of Los Alamos' manufacturing any plutonium triggers. At least three members of our Congressional delegation - Rep. Tom Udall, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and even nuclear advocate Sen. Pete Domenici - think the need isn't urgent enough to transform Los Alamos into a major factory for fabricating these lethal bomb components.

For those of us who consider the whole nuclear weapons enterprise to be a symptom of nationalistic and scientific madness, the idea of turning Los Alamos, the Pajarito Plateau, much of the eastern Jemez mountains and the "down wind" communities in the Espa¤ola Valley - not to mention Santa Fe - into a sacrifice zone for bomb-making seems like a Strangelovean nightmare come to life.

When the Rocky Flats complex, outside of Denver, stopped nuclear pit production in l992, it had some 800 buildings, and a disastrous environmental record that was so bad that the FBI raided the place and shut it down.

Human error, carelessness, the nature of working with plutonium itself, made the operation a danger to the public health of the whole of eastern Colorado.

The same health risks would exist in Los Alamos, unless human nature has somehow changed since the l990s.

We're already seeing signs of environmental dangers coming from present and historic work with plutonium. Springs near the Rio Grande, fed by waters around Los Alamos, have been found to contain perchlorate, a chemical used in processing plutonium, and thought to cause thyroid cancer.

New Mexico is poised to become the nation's nuclear sacrifice zone with new uranium mining in the west; a uranium enrichment plant in Eunice; hopes for spent nuclear fuel rod recycling plants near Roswell; and the underground nuclear weapon waste storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico.

Much of the nation's nuclear stockpile is stored in Albuquerque, and trucks with nuclear waste, bombs and bomb parts cruise the state's highways. That's crazy enough. We don't want northern New Mexico to be any deeper than it already is in plutonium and its by-products.

How many bombs do we really need? A piece recently in Live Science reports that even a "small scale regional nuclear war could disrupt global climate for a decade or more."

Let's always be civil, but let's be vehement, too, about keeping the disasters of Rocky Flats out of New Mexico.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
December 16, 2006