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"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

Archive for May 2011

Success! Citizens Hold Lab to Water Rules

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Rio Grande below Los Alamos Lab

In New Mexico, nuclear activists never rest. Like rabbis, they keep carrying on, nose to the text, poring over huge scientific and legal documents to ferret out the inconsistencies, the omissions, the lack of full compliance with the law. They are steadfast in their conviction that their work constrains the radioactive monster to its cage until, God willing, the last breath escapes from its body and it expires at the gate, exhausted by its own sorry efforts to hold the world in its thrall. Though they seldom win, the activists never really lose; they keep on keeping on, because the cause is just; and even though the adversary is richer and more powerful, the substance, the radioactive material, is more powerful still;  and hence the days of privilege and secrecy that once protected the nuclear edifice from all eyes must one day come to an end.

Last week’s negotiated settlement to resolve a three year legal battle over contaminated storm water runoff is one of those little victories that speaks of a greater triumph: the recognition by the Lab and its regulatory agencies that local groups have learned the science, and they are watching.

Eight local groups and two individuals  succeeded in flagging the environmental indiscretions and legal discrepancies that had allowed Los Alamos National Laboratory to skid by the regulations that protect our drinking water from radioactive and other toxic wastes.

The May 2000 Cerro Grande fire sounded the alarm. It burned over 47,000 acres on the Pajarito Plateau where LANL is located. Increased flooding, erosion and runoff resulted because the Lab did not have the required stormwater control measures in place. Whenever it rained or snowed, contaminants migrated down the canyons toward adjacent Native lands and into the Rio Grande, the principal drinking water source for Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other communities along the river.

LANL denies it, but their own data shows that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for example, were recorded at levels 38,000 times the New Mexico water quality standard.

PSBs are a probable human carcinogen, according to the EPA. Further, they have been shown to have negative impacts on the immune, endocrine, neurological and reproductive systems of animals, and are likely to have similar effects on people.

What is most impressive about the actions of the non-governmental groups is that they took it upon themselves, assisted with a couple of experts, to do their own sampling of the river waters, participating in the annual trips to sample the Rio Grande springs that are conducted by the New Mexico Environment Department and LANL.

Based on information gathered, they appealed the storm water permit that had been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the lab, and won one of the strongest storm water permits in the country. The permit requires that in the next five years, the release of pollution from over 400 of the Lab’s worst dumps will be stopped. Within three years, the Lab will capture or eliminate storm water discharges from the 63 “high priority sites” within three years. Work on those sites is nearly completed.

Perhaps most remarkable is that the community groups, with their experts and technical advisors, will have access to the waste dump sites, have technical meetings with LANL, and have the opportunity to carefully review and comment on all decisions being made on the new permit.

What ho! Is this not a form of collaboration between the Laboratory on the Hill and the little people down below?

That is certainly what it seems to be — a hard won victory after 11 years and countless hours of effort by these citizen groups to gain recognition of one of the real consequences of weapons-making work and the equally real needs of the public.

And, as if it had done all this alone and unasked, the Lab is happy too. Quoted in the local papers, the Lab’s Chris Cantwell, associate director for environment, safety, health and quality, said, “The agreement is a win-win achievement.” Hooray!

The irony is that many of the people who work at the nuclear Labs consider themselves environmentalists; and perhaps they are. Towering over all these individuals is an institution, an edifice, which is called a person (LANL is run by a consortium of corporations) but is not a human being. Its profit-driven needs, its commitment to the US government and its agencies, have taken precedence over the needs of families and the natural world on which all rely.

However slowly, we are moving into a different world. Noblesse oblige made real: with power comes service.

Plaintiffs in the case were Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Rio Grande Restoration, SouthWest Organizing Project, Tewa Women United, and Gilbert and Kathy Sanchez from San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Congratulations to them, and hooray for us!

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