For the Journal
Santa Fe city leaders are teaming up with anti-nuclear watchdogs and other community groups in hopes of thwarting a federal plan that would expand Los Alamos National Laboratory's role in manufacturing plutonium pits— the highly radioactive cores of modern nuclear weapons.
At a daylong workshop on Saturday, Mayor David Coss and City Councilor Matthew Ortiz laid out their opposition to the National Nuclear Security Administration's proposal to transform the nation's nuclear weapons complex.
"Santa Fe stands for peace," Ortiz said to a sympathetic crowd gathered at Santa Fe's Genoveva Chavez Community Center. "We cannot have bomb-making and have peace at the same time."
The city was listed as a sponsor— along with several watchdog and religious organizations— for Saturday's community event, "Turning Swords Into Ploughshares."
The Santa Fe City Council last month unanimously approved a resolution opposing the NNSA proposal and expanded pit production.
Coss defended local government's stance on the federal plan, saying the city has a right to be involved in what goes on in its backyard, especially on issues of national security.
"I think it's valid for us to take a position on that. We just reject this know-your-place mentality coming from the federal government," Coss said.
The city is lending its voice to a growing chorus of local opposition to the NNSA's plan, which envisions a smaller, more responsive nuclear weapons complex that can produce weapons on an as-needed basis.
"Because our nuclear weapons stockpile is decreasing, the United States' future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of number of weapons," NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino said in December when he unveiled the transformation plan. "Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary."
That means LANL would have to maintain the capability to produce 50-80 pits per year, according to NNSA. That's far fewer than the hundreds produced annually at the nation's last pit factory, the long-defunct Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. But even at the more modest production rate, anti-nuclear watchdogs and community leaders worry about increased pollution associated with plutonium work.
The lab should focus on cleaning up the decades worth of industrial waste created by its past weapons work, said Picuris Pueblo Governor Craig Quanchello on Saturday. Others called for the lab to move beyond Cold War thinking.
"I fully support a mission change for LANL," Española Mayor Joseph Maestas said in a written statement, which was read aloud at Saturday's gathering.
Maestas, who opposes the NNSA's transformation plan but remains sensitive to the jobs that LANL provides his constituents, said he was moving forward with economic development initiatives focused on renewable energy.
New energy research and development facilities in the Española Valley could be "a potential catalyst for change of the LANL mission" while creating new "green-collar" jobs, Maestas said.
Saturday's event took place just ten days before a series of NNSA-sponsored hearings on the complex transformation are to be held across the state. Activists said they are stepping up efforts to organize opposition in hopes of getting more individuals and groups to submit on-the-record comments to NNSA.
Sponsors for Saturday's workshop include the City of Santa Fe, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Faithful Security: National Religious Partnership on Nuclear Weapons Danger.
Nuclear Plan Hearings
The proposal to designate Los Alamos National Laboratory as the nation's plutonium pit manufacturing center is part of a sweeping plan to shrink the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
The National Nuclear Security Administration plans hearings across New Mexico this month:
- Socorro: Macey Center at New Mexico Tech, Monday, March 10, 6-10 p.m.
- Albuquerque: Convention Center, Tuesday, March 11, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6-10 p.m.
- Los Alamos: Hilltop House, Wednesday, March 12, 6-10 p.m.
- Los Alamos: Hilltop House, Thursday, March 13, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.
- Santa Fe: Genoveva Chavez Community Center, Thursday, March 13, 6-10 p.m.
- Española Mayor Joseph Maestas said Saturday that NNSA has agreed to schedule an additional meeting in Española on March 27, from 6-10 p.m., at the plaza's Mision y Convento.