Thursday, June 22, 2017

It's A Heat Wave But The Shivering Is Underway Over Los Alamos; Billions In Federal Funding On The Line Against A Very Iffy State Political Backdrop, Plus: Straightening Out The Simms' 

New Mexico may be baking under a heat wave but that's not stopping chills from running up the spines of anyone with a hand in Los Alamos National Labs. This multi-billion dollar bombshell dropped on the nuclear facility is behind the fear and trembling:

Even as Los Alamos National Laboratory is under orders to ramp up production of plutonium nuclear weapons triggers – a key part of a huge plan to modernize the nation’s weapons stockpile – testimony before a national oversight board here last week indicates there’s a possibility that the work and its billions in federal dollars could be moved elsewhere. Members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board were told that an analysis is underway to consider all options for meeting the national weapons complex’s mission to manage plutonium work and produce products like the “pits” that set off nuclear bombs.

Pulling the pits and the billions that will be appropriated to make them in the decades ahead could deliver a severe body blow to the northern NM economy and perhaps lead to a permanent downsizing of the iconic facility where the first atomic bomb was developed.

We'll get to the political analysis of this in a moment, but first where would the pits be produced if not Los Alamos? No place else is equipped to do it but a top federal nuclear safety official:

. . . disclosed that NNSA is now quietly studying whether to keep plutonium pit operations at Los Alamos. Options being considered include upgrading the facilities there or “adding capabilities or leveraging existing capabilities elsewhere in the country, at other sites where plutonium is already present or has been used.” 

No question that the Labs lousy safety record is catching up with it and at the worst possible political timing.

The Department of Energy oversees the labs and former Texas Governor Rick Perry was named cabinet secretary for the agency. Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich voted against his nomination, blistering Perry as "utterly unqualified."

Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) whose job includes traveling the country condemning Trump and trying to swing the US House back to the Democrats.

Senator Udall has been one of the most outspoken Trump critics on Capitol Hill,

You can see where this leads. When it comes to billions of federal dollars at stake the long, sharp knives come out. Heinrich is seeking re-election next year and is heavily favored. Still, a "who lost the pits" argument is not what he needs dogging him on the campaign trail. Ditto for Rep. Lujan.

Following the hearings in Los Alamos another bomb was dropped--a lengthy piece from the investigative journalism group Center for Public Integrity. It called into question the continued safety of Los Alamos and its handling of plutonium. (Full report here.)

Even those of you who are not congenitally conspiratorial have to wonder what's going on here.

And one other thing. That Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board so key to the future of Los Alamos answers directly to the President of the United States. That's the fella who made two ABQ campaign visits hoping to make inroads but didn't and who was snubbed by the city's Republican mayor. And that's also the guy the sitting Republican Governor refused to endorse.

If the weight of the evidence tilts against Los Alamos, a reprieve may be hard to come by. And that's how you get shivering during a heat wave.


Henirch put out a statement Thursday after he questioned Energy Secretary Perry, saying he had secured "a commitment to maintain LANL's plutonium mission."

However, in the brief 90 second exchange Perry simply answered "yes" when Heinrich asked him if it was his intent to extend the mission into the future.

Well, intending and committing are two different things. We'll keep an eye open for you on this one.


Gov. Simms
We, along with reader Isaac Romero, were on the wrong side of history in the first draft of the Wednesday blog. Romero, responding to our contest for Vintage ABQ tickets, said that Gov. John Simms Jr. had also served on the state Supreme Court as did Gov. Thomas Mabry. We confirmed that by reviewing a list of all Supreme Court justices but the John Simms who served on the high court was the father of Governor Sims. Armchair historian and ABQ attorney Foster Hannett straightens out the record:

Joe, You (and evidently readers Isaac Romero and Gene Henley as well) are mistaken in stating that John Simms had served on the NM Supreme Court.

The John Simms who served as Governor in the 1950's was John F. Simms, Jr. John F. Simms, Jr. was never a judge of any kind as far as I am aware.  His father, John Field Simms Sr., served a short time as a New Mexico state Supreme Court Justice (1929-1930). Incidentally, a number of years ago I was the attorney for John F. Simms, Jr.'s sister, and both she and his brother, Dr. Albert G. Simms II are both still living. As John Simms Jr. was born in December 1916, had he served on the NM Supreme Court in March 1929, he would have been only 12 years old when he took office.

Thanks for setting the record straight, Foster. And because not long ago you gave me a walking tour of ABQ's Fairview cemetery where Gov. Simms and many other NM political notables are buried and I should have known better, I am taking punishment of not just ten lashes with a wet noodle, but twenty lashes. Ouch!

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