Nuclear-Free Future

in the Category


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Window Rock
1 December 2006

Southwest Research & Information Center

‘New Mexico, Land of Enchantment.’ Sante Fe. And for this jet-lagged traveler the clock has crashed without a blackbox. In the distance, the rugged caramel mountains are toasted golden purple by the fading, majestic light. Or is it sun-up? Whatever, the lusty scent of pine trees, juniper and sage seems directly snatched from a Southwest scratch-and-sniff travel brochure. Yes it is sun-up! And the friendly kitchen staff races about preparing a breakfast buffet featuring crispy-on-the-outside and juicy-on-the-inside carnitas, lighter than air buttermilk pancakes, tamales with organic red and green chile, homemade diced carrot apricot jam, a rainbow ceviche with tuna, fluke, and salmon – plus, for dessert, flan of organic goat’s milk. Wait a minute. Are we talking midnight brunch?

A rose in the desert I loved her so in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico

But outside the ‘City Different’ the ‘Land of Enchantment Not.’ The winding arroyos leading to Los Alamos are as contaminated as that city’s twisted soul. Our friend Greg Mello’s billboard broadcasts: New Mexico. #1 in nuclear weapons. #1 in poverty. Coincidence? Trinity Test Site, the great promoter of the Bhagavad-Gita, still rocks the needles of Geiger counters. The Four Corners area is saturated with abandoned uranium mines and mills, many wildcat and most unremediated. Near Carlsbad, Westinghouse Electric’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) stores transuranic waste that must be handled by machines in heavily shielded rooms called ‘hot cells.’ Last exit radioactive waste? Dream on: that shell game is doomed to continue, in human terms, forever – or until we forget how to play (whichever comes first).

We must change direction, or we shall wind up where we are headed 

“The old boy scout adage to ‘leave a place as clean or cleaner than you found it’ reflects a degree of land stewardship that many people outside DOE recognize…”

Albuquerque. 105 Stanford Drive SE. The home of the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC). Despite efforts to hold down electric bills, here all the office lights seldom go out: Annette Aguayo, Steve Fox, Don Hancock, Frances Ortega, Paul Robinson and Chris Shuey routinely work late into the night to help communities come to terms with the region’s radioactive legacy.

Peter and Katherine Montague founded SRIC in 1971 as a non-profit NGO dedicated to providing scientific, legal, and journalistic expertise on nuclear issues. The organization’s first campaign was to publicize the savaging of Navajo lands by the nuclear industry, an issue that refuses to disappear. Today SRIC helps Native Americans and others from the region suffering from diseases related to uranium mining and milling gain compensation via the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act – legislation SRIC helped champion, then expand.

Over the years the nuclear issues SRIC monitors have broadened dramatically. Each step of WIPP’s journey from a research pilot project to a fully operational temporary nuclear waste disposal site is closely followed by Don Hancock, head of the SRIC Nuclear Waste Safety Project. Some say WIPP’s half-presentable record is all Don’s fault. Closer to home, another hotspot SRIC watchdogs is the remediation of the Sandia National Laboratories mixed waste landfill. Research director William Paul Robinson doesn’t understand the government’s sloth commitment to cleaning up the 2.6 acres of un­lined pits and trenches that between 1959 and 1988 were fed a variety of classified radioactive and hazardous wastes. “The old boy scout adage to ‘leave a place as clean or cleaner than you found it’ reflects a degree of land stewardship that many people outside DOE recognize as a common sense version of an effective clean up standard for waste sites”, he tells us.

Concerning the new Bush incentives to jumpstart in situ uranium mining in Navajo country, Uranium Mining Assessment Program director Chris Shuey says: “One of the companies that would qualify under the wording of the proposed provisions right now is in Texas, Uranium Resources Incorporated. You can imagine what a grant of 10 million dollars in a year, or 30 million dollars over three years, what infusion of cash that that would do for that company”. What’s the Navajo share? “This proposal split families. It didn’t just split the community, and it didn’t just split clans, it split blood families”.

Together, the multi-cultural staff at Southwest Research and Information Center embodies a collective commitment of over 100 years of promoting the health of people and communities, protecting natural resources, advocating citizen participation, and securing environmental and social justice.

So come back amigo wherever you go to the Land of Enchantment New Mexico

–Craig Reishus