In his October 20 opinion piece “Safety underpins LANL operator’s commitment to NM,” lab Director Thom Mason declares that “Our commitment to safety is inseparable from our commitment to the community,” as if the Lab is some kind of feel-good neighbor while it gears up to expand the production of plutonium pits, the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons. The essence of Mason’s argument is to trust that LANL will improve nuclear safety.
First of all, the public wouldn’t know about the lab’s long track record of nuclear safety infractions if it weren’t for the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. But the Department of Energy is trying to kill the messenger by seriously restricting Safety Board access to nuclear facilities, in direct conflict with the DNSFB’s enabling congressional legislation. That does not engender confidence in Mason’s ‘trust us’ approach. (See LANL’s dismal nuclear safety history at https://publicintegrity.org/topics/national-security/nuclear-negligence/.)
Nor should the history of nuclear weapons programs in New Mexico and across the nation engender public trust. After all, it was New Mexicans who experienced the world’s first fallout with the 1945 Trinity Test, causing increased infant mortality and an unknown number of cancers for which our fellow state citizens have never been compensated (see <https://thebulletin.org/2019/07/trinity-the-most-significant-hazard-of-the-entire-manhattan-project/>.)
Ask the downwinders of nuclear weapons tests at the Marshal Islands and the Nevada Test Site whether the government should be trusted. Why should LANL be trusted, when it used to claim that groundwater contamination was impossible, but today we know it is contaminated with chromium, perchlorates, high explosives, etc.?
More recently, how can the public trust LANL when it sent an improperly prepared radioactive waste barrel that ruptured and closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for three years, contaminating 21 workers with plutonium and costing the American taxpayer $3 billion to reopen?
Mason promotes this feel-good ‘trust us’ approach to help clear the way for expanded plutonium pit production. Seventy percent of LANL’s ~$2.6 billion annual budget is already for core nuclear weapons research and production programs, and increasing each year. So-called cleanup remains flat at around $200 million per year (one-tenth of the nuclear weapons budget), with plans to leave the vast majority of radioactive and toxic wastes permanently buried above our groundwater. Funding for renewable energy research is approximately 2/1,000ths of the nuclear weapons budget, while the Lab has no dedicated budget line item to address climate change.