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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear lab

More Money for Clean-Up is More Money for Bechtel

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The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, formed in 2011, has the stated intention of lobbying for increased funding to clean up the contaminated Hill on which the nuclear lab is sitting, and where it has been designing new plutonium weapons since the Manhattan Project was initiated almost 70 years ago, a date already being celebrated in Los Alamos with pro-nuclear lectures and an upcoming gala event for pre-selected members of the media. (So much for democracy and a free press in a nuclear society.)

Currently, as you must know if you have been following LANL news during the past five years or so, the Lab is preparing to manufacture new plutonium pits – the explosive cores of thermonuclear weapon formerly manufactured by the now-defunct Rocky Flats facility – to fulfill a mandate from some superior government agency that has never been publicly named; but alas, the Lab just can’t seem to come up with the right construction formula to win the support of Congress.

That is partly because the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), the nuclear division of the Department of Energy (DOE), has such a terrible record of cost over-runs, mismanagement and technical failures that a money-strapped Congress has finally been forced to recognize that it’s a cash cow that gives no milk.

In a meeting of the Senate Water and Energy Appropriations Committee earlier this month, in which the committee was assessing and marking up the NNSA budget proposal for FY ’14, Chairman Diane Feinstein (D-CA), whose state hosts Lawrence Livermore National Lab, another one of these multimillion dollar laboratories, opined that the labs that “were once pristine” were no longer so. She was shocked to learn that the Lab’s CEO is actually employed by Bechtel, not by the Fed.

Bechtel, an international engineering company of dubious repute, is the most prominent member of the consortium that runs the Lab as the Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS). Of every taxpayer dollar that LANS receives, half goes to “overhead,” a miscellaneous category that can include anything from lobbying to post-graduate fellowships and profits. Bechtel does very well at Los Alamos. As Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group, has pointed out, since the Fed pays the bills, there is virtually no risk to the company.

Feinstein’s Committee did cut half a billion out of the proposed budget for the Agency, but New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall managed to get some of those dollars back, with $40 million more directed to cleaning up LANL.

This is one of the accomplishments for which the Regional Coalition is proud and grateful. As reported by Espanola Mayor Carol Lucero, Vice Chair of the Coalition, at the monthly meeting held last friday, July 19, several members had traveled to Washington in the midst of this budget deliberation, visiting the state delegation and also various relevant committees, and they were gratified that their lobbying efforts had not been in vain.

The Regional Coalition is composed of elected leaders from eight cities and pueblos directly impacted by activities at the Lab. Environmental clean up is one of its declared functions; the full mission: “The organization’s focus is environmental remediation, regional economic development and site employment, and adequate funding for LANL”.  [emphasis added]

Adequate funding for LANL?

The eight towns contribute a percentage of their budgets to fuel this effort, which, with annual trips to Washington and an outside contractor to manage its promotional efforts, is getting expensive. So the Coalition is pleased to receive a substantial sum from the DOE.

The DOE is well known in these parts for funding agencies and projects which might find themselves to be in opposition to some of the Lab’s activities, possibly limiting with these contributions what the organization may feel free to do; we the people don’t really know what is in these agreements. Perhaps it is simply loyalty to the hand that feeds which discourages grant recipients from displaying what may seem to be a lack of gratitude by pressing too hard on the tough issues; or perhaps it’s the fear of looking stupid or sounding emotional, two cardinal errors that invite contempt from the scientific intelligentsia. The forces that coerce us, poor weak humans that we are, into compliance with the mindset of the public-private partnership in which we now reside are subtle indeed.

Unfortunately, the contract apparently did not provide quite enough money to keep MVM Llc  that has served as Executive Director to the Coalition, which was formed through a Joint Powers Agreement.

According to the Free Dictionary online, a Joint Powers Agreement is “a contract between a city, a county, and/or a special district in which the city or county agrees to perform services, cooperate with, or lend its powers to, the special district.” And the special district in this case is — ? I can’t find anything on Google that identifies the Lab as a special district.

MVM Group “is a strategic consulting firm. We assist in implementing strategies in a significant, sustainable and meaningful way,” it says on the Santa Fe Chamber’s web site. Oddly, MVM does not seem to have a web site of its own. It has a page for The Velocity Group, an entrepreneurial accelerator group that it helps to facilitate, but there’s not much there besides a video. Whatever this company is really about, it seems doubtful that they understand much about what is really going on at the Lab, a place of byzantine hierarchical structure and convoluted procedures, all documented in pages and pages of texts that are composed at great expense and subsequently buried in the depths of the Library, read only by their authors and the hard working nuclear watchdog groups here. In other words, it’s not easy to know what really goes on up there unless you’re content with Public Relations dogma, in which the Lab is expert.

How much can MVM Group, whoever they are, know or care about the secrets of that special district of 40 square miles? It’s a job, after all, and a fairly prestigious one, and no doubt they feel they have been contributing to society by helping to get Los Alamos cleaned up.

The problem for the neighborhood is that it’s a drop in the bucket. MVM Group may not realize that Senator Udall and his colleagues are still so deeply committed to continued weapons work at the Lab that they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars in a weak economy, in an impoverished state, to build more thermonuclear weapons to add more pollutants to the landscape and to terrorize the rest of the world with more dastardly, inhuman weapons which if used could reduce the world to a state of frigid, cloudy weather and famine.

What good will a $40 million clean-up do then, poor thing?

Nor is it likely that the Coalition, with its aims to do good, knows much about nuclear secrets, how the lab is mismanaged and run, how much Bechtel is making (about 8 times what the University of California earned while doing the same job for more than 20 years), and how entrapped New Mexico is in the military budget, so entrapped it can’t see the forest for the blackened burnt trees, while its attention is focused on the institution as a source of jobs for unemployed New Mexicans – and tax money for state coffers.

Money and jobs are important, but what are you willing to do for the money, that has always been the question, and does it even matter to our aching hearts and muddled brains? What’s one more plutonium pit in an arsenal of thousands if it can keep one New Mexican on the job, or provide tens of hundreds of dollars to a political campaign to ensure more years in the office? And don’t we have to maintain the deterrent to protect our “national security”? Don’t we?

It’s just more nuclear shenanigans in the Land of Enchantment.