Particle Beams

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

LAS CONCHAS FIRE: Apocalypse Delayed

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Towering flames in the Jemez Mts.

July 6, 2011

The Las Conchas fire, started on June 26 by a downed power line, has been near-apocalyptic in its dimensions and its danger. Firefighters said they’d never seen the likes of it. Within eight hours it whipped from 100 acres to 30,000, propelled by 35 mph winds. It burned from the forest floor to the tops of the trees, devouring everything in its wake, roaring through the canyons to the mesas, racing up and down the wooded hillsides of the beautiful Jemez Mountains and right up to the boundaries of the Los Alamos laboratories, where it threatened areas in the 40 square mile facility stocked with all manner of radioactive and toxic wastes, most notably barrels of transuranic wastes stored above ground in Area G, the most contaminated section of the entire property.

The smoke in the sky and air, the heat of the day amplified by closed windows and fast burning fires, the scarlet moon reflecting the scarlet dropping below a limp grey veil, the stuffy nights, the morning cough. These things are the result of the dry drought-stricken forests burning with intense heat, tall flames propelled across the canyons and mountains toward the rim of the famous nuclear laboratory whose intense efforts during the Manhattan Project spawned the atom bomb, and whose wastes continue to accumulate in nooks and crannies beyond the footsteps and unseen by the eye in hidden places all across the Lab’s 40 square miles, and beyond.

The blaze stopped within short miles of its western boundary and moved North, where eventually it consumed 16,000 acres of the sacred lands of the Santa Clara Pueblo instead of releasing into the air untold quantities of noxious and radioactive chemicals.

And we give thanks. We thank Divine Providence for a change in the fast-blowing winds that could have pushed relentlessly forward toward the infernal boundary. We thank courageous firefighters, here and all over this region, and we appreciate the advanced technologies that they used to channel the flames away from one of the worst places fire can go. We thank the Lab for whatever steps it has taken to suppress fire and contain its poisons. And we thank the regulatory agencies who keep pushing a recalcitrant band of nuclear experts whose environmental work is markedly underfunded by the government, and the corporate bosses, who own the facility.

We must thank all conscious beings who prayed for the winds to change and the rain to fall, among them the Native American tribes whose prayers have probably protected us from innumerable catastrophes these nigh seventy years of the Lab’s existence. And that must include the people of Santa Clara Pueblo, forced by circumstance to make this enormous sacrifice to spare us all the worst consequence of the fire. In a just world, they would be reimbursed for their loss. They didn’t invent the atomic bomb, nor bring all these people and industry to the wild Pajarito Plateau. We did that.

Finally, we thank the activists. These people, recognizing the intense dangers posed to our environment by the activities at the Lab, have not been satisfied with small victories that might lull the average person back to sleep. They seem to work tirelessly, perusing stacks of documents, researching alternatives, and attending all of the endless hearings seeking the stronger controls that could be achieved by the regulatory process that exists, but is constrained at every juncture from true effectiveness.

The work of the activists is what protects our local security more than any other, but it may not be enough to make this place safe once again.

The fire could easily have reached many of the outlying technical areas still contaminated with depleted uranium residues from weapons testing; with high explosives of countless varieties, and PCBs; with plutonium,  not only stored in barrels but widely distributed throughout the canyons and the sparse vegetation from careless disposal during the 40s and 50s; and all of daughters of the ancestral Uranium brought here from the western Indian lands to fuel the lab’s experiments.

No one really knows exactly how to clean up all those”legacy” toxins in the soil and in the water, taken up by the plants and small animals, and discharged into the air as fine particulates blown by desert winds to distant places; and no one wants to spend the taxpayers’ money to protect our health from these things. Instead, billions and billions of dollars continue to be spent on refurbishing old weapons and “modernizing” others, a euphemism from what is much the same thing as making new ones.

Obama’s administration plans to spend $180 Billion on such modernization over the next ten years, if there’s any money left in the till by August. Los Alamos is one of three labs that expects new funding for their role in the three-part process of producing nuclear weapons. Here it plans to construct a new facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgic Research Replacement  and Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) for the purpose of manufacturing many more plutonium pits, the core triggers of nuclear weapons. Other necessary parts for the weapons will be produced in Kansas City, with a new facility in the middle of town, and at Oakridge in Tennessee. With all these expensive projects, it’s hardly any wonder there is no money for clean up the existing mess. Only to create more mess! There is not a single nuclear project that does not generate more radioactive waste.

The contamination we see at the Lab has invaded many other sites. Hanford, one of the three original atomic labs, is the worst superfund site in America. It sits on the shores of the Columbia River, which it has polluted, along with its glorious salmon. Rocky Flats, the former site of plutonium pit production, has been buried with all its contaminants under what is now titled deceptively a “natural preserve,” as if anything that hides a nuclear dump can be called natural. The Idaho National Lab at Idaho Falls has polluted the Snake River, one of the largest tributaries of the Columbia River. Across the country, 104 nuclear power plants leak steadily into the air which, blown by the winds, drops its nanoparticles wherever they go. Dust from old uranium mines stands below ground and above ground in piles of “mill tailings.” The Las Vegas, Nevada, test site endured some 982 atomic and thermonuclear tests. The list goes on.

And this is only the United States! Not many people have heard of Chelyabinsk, where the Soviet Union’s atomic reactor Mayak was placed. For over six years, the Mayak complex systematically dumped radioactive waste into the Techa River, the only source of water for the 24 villages which lined its banks. It has been called the “most contaminated spot on the planet.” What about all those Marshall Islands, where the U.S. and France conducted numerous tests? What about the nuclear power plants in China, India and across Europe, and the test sites those countries have used? What about Israel, with its still unmentionable and uncounted 250 nuclear weapons? Are we counting the depleted uranium bomb blown up in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan? And of course we have all shared the strange fruits of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, all said to be much less fatal to citizens than they have turned out to be.

“We are all connected,” say the Bioneers, proponents of positive solutions to ecological problems. They do not tackle, nor even approach, the topic of planetary irradiation. But it is that nuclear radiation, of all things, that must prove how tightly we are bound together. Radiation does not stay within any known boundaries. Depleted uranium has been found in the Andes Mountains and in the glaciers. Chernobyl infected Eastern Europe and even sent atomic emissaries across the Pacific.  One country’s explosion is another’s fallout. And it is so clear that we will either die connected or we will figure out, collaboratively and connected, how to survive.

But the hour grows late for our salvation. The Las Conchas Fire continues to burn, approaching 130,000 acres, the worst fire in New Mexico’s history. We have been spared the worst scenario for now. But if the monsoons don’t come, who knows what fires will follow? As the Southwest slips deeper into drought, who knows how these fires may spread? The endless buckets of water poured in the sizzling flames have taken a toll on our already stressed water supply. Will the taps go dry in Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the not-so-distant future? Will the lovely farms of Northern New Mexico fry?

Will the Lab improve its environmental clean-up on a pathetically low budget, less than one percent of the total?  Or will it drag its feet, as has been its history?

Will it strengthen its fire-suppressant capacity? Los Alamos has been cited by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board and by the Department of Energy’s Office of the Inspector General, for the Lab’s failure to meet regulatory standards for fire suppression.

Yet in the latest proposal for the $6 billion CMRR, to be built on an earthquake fault in the soft volcanic tuff of the Valle Caldera region, the Lab has offered to reduce its budget for the new facility by eliminating the fire sprinkler system in the Nuclear Facility where six metric tons of plutonium will be stored.

Plutonium is so inflammatory that it doesn’t need a fire to burst into flames. Exposure to water and air can produce that infernal result. Like depleted uranium, it is pyrophoric. It self-ignites, and is released as a radioactive gas.

We are killing ourselves and our planet with our weapons-based approach to national security. Real security can only be had by breaking  this obsession with “building a strong defense” at the expense of life.

Life. The thread that connects us. The one thing we cannot create in a lab.

What's left of the Forest









LANL takes the credit for stopping the fire? See this article from the NY Times, Previous Burn, Restoration Work Helped Spare Los Alamos From Catastrophe


5 Responses

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  1. Thanks Stephanie, It does take courage to mention the spiritual aspect of life, the hidden part of ourselves in any publication . Yamouna

    francoise spiegelman

    July 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  2. I want to expand your list of thanks and you for writing such a balanced and deeply-felt account of Las Conchas fire and the situation at the labs. Thank you also for speaking of the interconnectedness of all life. What will it take for us to realize it? dominique mazeaud

    Dominique Mazeaud

    July 6, 2011 at 10:37 pm

  3. Thank you for this. Excellent information. Beautifully expressed and very clear. We can only hope that our intelligence and consciousness as a species, ultimately rises above the greed and selfishness of our inertia as a species.

    Sarah Hutt

    July 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm

  4. what a great article on this fire and all the impending nuclear disasters too. thanks for compiling all the info and acknowledging the spiritual aspects and how Santa Clara pueblo paid for it instead of the Lab and all the toxic materials getting into the atmosphere.
    Marcia Starck

    Marcia Starck

    July 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm

  5. […] Hiller is the best and most real­is­tic assess­ment of the fire I’ve read… — SallieLAS CONCHAS FIRE: Apocalypse Delayed“The Las Conchas fire, started on June 26 by a downed power line, has been near-apocalyptic in […]

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