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More than 60 years after scientists assembled the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lethal waste is seeping from mountain burial sites and moving toward aquifers, springs and streams that provide water to 250,000 residents of northern New Mexico.
Isolated on a high plateau, the Los Alamos National Laboratory seemed an ideal place to store a bomb factory’s deadly debris. But the heavily fractured mountains haven’t contained the waste, some of which has trickled down hundreds of feet to the edge of the Rio Grande, one of the most important water sources in the Southwest.
So far, the level of contamination in the Rio Grande has not been high enough to raise health concerns. But the monitoring of runoff in canyons that drain into the river has found unsafe concentrations of organic compounds such as perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket propellent, and various radioactive byproducts of nuclear fission.
Laboratory officials insist that the waste doesn’t jeopardize people’s health because even when storm water rushing down a canyon stirs up highly contaminated sediment, it is soon diluted or trapped in canyon bottoms, where it can be excavated and hauled away…
Except that when Lab officials aren’t lying about the dangers, they’re spending time stonewalling programs designed to clean up the waste.
“When you see a child’s footprints and Tonka toys in canyons where there is plutonium, there is reason to believe that a lot more work needs to be done to make the environment safe,” said Ron Curry, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department…
Moreover, scientists at Los Alamos say they haven’t determined where all of the waste was buried across the laboratory’s 40-square-mile property. And they acknowledge that some of the monitoring wells used to measure contamination in deep groundwater may have failed to detect certain radioactive isotopes.
Adding to the uncertainty, a draft report released last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the lab may have substantially underreported the extent of plutonium and tritium released into the environment since the 1940s.
Which brings us back to the lying part. And, perhaps, the interlocking politics of LANL, “courageous” American journalism, Roundhouse politicians who think memorializing slogans achieves something.
Our local newspaper once had a prizewinning editor who wrote a series of exposes on Los Alamos crap management of radiation and safety. Unfortunately, the owner and publisher of the newspaper was tied to the Atomic Energy Commission. He fired the editor.