Sunday, February 15, 2015

St Valentine's Thoughts for New Mexico

    The article by Patrick Malone, in today's Santa Fe New Mexican entitled "Repository's future uncertain but New Mexico town still believes," provokes thought:

     Malone points out the dependency developed by the Carlsbad, NM community on the income provided by the WIPP site, since it first opened for business in 2003. The fact that WIPP has been closed for repairs for the last year, and may remain closed for several more years, is of great concern to WIPP workers, as well as to members of the Carlsbad business community. In fact, whether or not WIPP will ever reopen is uncertain.

     Malone reminds us of the role played by Los Alamos National Laboratory in the debacle unfolding at WIPP; e.g., which began with two events in February of 2014. This role was elucidated by the DOE in its recent studies of the failed safety culture at WIPP, and the failures of management at LANL. Of course, the history of management problems at LANL, stretching back over at least the last 20 years, is well-known.

     It appears that DOE has assigned the truck fire that occurred on 5 February, 2015, in the WIPP underground, to a failure of safety practices at WIPP. However, the barrel of radioactive waste stored in the WIPP underground, which burst open nine days later, on St valentine's Day, had been packaged and vouched for by LANL. Hence, DOE ascribed this failure to LANL prime contractor LANS-LLC, which responded to criticism by reassigning several managers from LANL's EM Directorate.

     Although speculations as to the physical cause of the barrel explosion have been much discussed, no attempt to recreate the environment thought to exist inside the culprit barrel has led to an explosion.

     Meanwhile, by blaming its WIPP contractor for the truck fire, and LANS-LLC for the burst barrel, DOE has been able to deflect media and congressional attention from itself, and from its own history of management failures.
     In his evolving series, Malone, has drawn a portrait of an important part of the nuclear weapons industry, and the role it plays in the daily life of New Mexico's citizens. Whether WIPP succeeds or fails, ultimately we will all have to play our part in "taking out the garbage" of the nuclear weapons industry.

     But, we do seem currently to be headed off in the wrong direction.

     Just recently, it was announced with jubilation by the offices of NM senators Udall and Heinrich, and the office of US Rep. Lujan, that their eagerly sponsored legislation, creating a National Nuclear Weapons Park, had finally been passed by both houses of Congress. Henceforth, we can look forward to endless celebrations of our creation of the world's first nuclear weapons (how clever some of us were,) used by some others of us to incinerate ~200,000 Japanese civilians, in the summer of 1945.

     This pompous program of national self-promotion will take place in an international atmosphere of uncertainty and fear regarding the role of nuclear weapons in international relations.

     Instead of trying to further wind down the nuclear weapons industry, the present Administration seems willy-nilly to be allowing it, perhaps even encouraging it, to re-inflate. Dog help us all!

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