The Archbishop And The Laboratory

Norteños for Peaceful and Resilient Futures 

Dear Editor,

We begin by expressing our great appreciation for John C. Wester,  Archbishop of Santa Fe’s recent courageous actions.

On December 16, during Advent,  Archbishop Wester held an “Unveiling and Blessing of a Sign of Peace” at the Shrine of Our of Lady Guadalupe in Santa Fe, during which he called for conversations about the urgent need for nuclear disarmament and unveiled the sign which reads, in Spanish and English, Pope Francis’s assertion in August, 2020,  “The possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Then, on January 11 Archbishop Wester followed up with a press conference to discuss his Pastoral Letter on the growing nuclear arms race and the urgent need for nuclear disarmament. The Archbishop emphasized the need to initiate ongoing and what will be difficult conversations among the various stakeholders in Northern New Mexico on the subject of nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and elsewhere. In addition to referring to Pope Francis’s bold shift for the Roman Catholic Church, he also referred to the United Nations International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in Jan 2021, making nuclear weapons illegal under international law along with biological and chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, here in Northern New Mexico, LANL is moving full speed ahead with its plans for industrial-scale plutonium pit production. While the laboratory is receiving billions of federal tax payer dollars to implement its plans,  no comprehensive environmental review has taken place since 2008.

Northern New Mexicans began calling for environmental review in the form of a new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for expanded plutonium operations at LANL in 2019. The Los Alamos Study Group began calling for a new SWEIS as early as 2018. A SWEIS in this case would analyze all the potential impacts of new pit production from A-Z, including potential impacts on indigenous peoples, regional communities,  proposed new transportation routes, and pristine environments, to the unholy curse of huge amounts of new radioactive and hazardous waste. To date, all public concerns and requests have been ignored, not only by NNSA, but also by our New Mexico congressional delegation and the governor.

Instead, in September 2020, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) issued an Amended Record of Decision (AROD) for the Supplement Analysis (SA) for planned new plutonium operations, including industrial-scale plutonium pit production, at LANL in which NNSA determined  “….no further NEPA analysis is required prior to implementing “elements of the Expanded Operations Alternative in the 2008 SWEIS.”  Translation- Just trust the fox guarding the hen-house!  And the pit money is flowing into LANL as it moves full steam ahead without even a pause due to the national and global emergencies of COVID and global warming. It appears that NNSA is putting its multi-billion dollar nuclear weapons production plans above all else, including full funding of its nuclear workforce development pipelines. LANL needs our youth to build the nuclear weapons infrastructure, and to do the incredibly dangerous work of pit production itself, nuclear waste cleanup, and more.

Then, on January 6, at the New Mexico Environment Department’s virtual Consent Order Update Meeting, it was revealed that NNSA has received funding to start a new SWEIS for LANL! Great news! Right? Not necessarily.  In fact, a new SWEIS will be a grave disservice to the public and the environment it is meant to protect if massive infrastructure preparations underway are allowed to continue during the review process and surely NNSA has no intention to even slow its pace let alone pause.

Since the concerns of the public have been studiously ignored by NNSA, we now urge our local elected representatives to take action on their constituents’ behalf and call on our state representatives, the governor, and especially our New Mexico congressional delegation to use their considerable influence to assert that the 2020 AROD be rescinded, and a new SWEIS should be conducted in order to:

1.) evaluate all potential impacts of new plutonium pit production at LANL to protect the environment,  and ensure the health, safety, and well being of Northern New Mexico populations and associated climate impacts.

2.) use their influence to halt new plutonium operations at LANL now, and until a new SWEIS has been completed and a new Record of Decision has been issued in the Federal Register

A new SWEIS under any other circumstances will just be more smoke and mirrors to keep us in the dark, passive, and compliant to the will of the nuclear weapons industry and its continuing colonization of New Mexico. 

It is beyond time to begin these difficult conversations.