The Safety and Protection of LANL: From Within or Without?

By KAY MATTHEWS

On August 9 La Jicarita reported on the arrest and arraignment of six protestors at Los Alamos National Laboratory who blocked the entrance to a gate on LANL property in a day of nonviolent protest to commemorate Hiroshima day. The Lab was doing some blocking of its own that day. Headed to Albuquerque, I attempted to leave the town of Los Alamos via NM 501, West Jemez Road, that travels along the west side of town, past Pajarito Ski Area, and connects to NM 4. I was stopped at a blockade erected across the highway near the Los Alamos Medical Center. There a guard informed me that without a “badge” I couldn’t pass through the gates. I was told to turn around and follow East Jemez Road back out of Los Alamos to access NM 4 south of White Rock if I wanted to continue through the Jemez Mountains to Albuquerque.

Megan Rice, the nun who was arrested at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear facility

That got me on the phone, trying to find out how LANL had the authority to close a state highway. LANL communications specialist Fred deSousa told me that although the Lab has rarely manned the blockade, because of the Hiroshima day of nonviolent disobedience, and the “incident” at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the head of LANL security made the decision to allow only those with “badges” to pass through the security gates. “Badges” are only issued to Lab employees and safety personnel such as police and firemen. The “incident” he was referring to happened on August 2 when a nun and two fellow members of Transform Now Ploughshares cut through a security fence and poured blood on the wall of the Oak Ridge facility where weapons grade uranium is stored. Megan Rice, 82 and Michael Walli, 63, were released pending trial, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, waived his right to an attorney and remains in detention. According to many reports, the security failure there was an embarrassment for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy agency that operates U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, and for the international security firm G4S, the contractor responsible for protecting the facility. G4S was also at the center of a dispute over security at the London Olympics.

Toni Chiri, the LANL public affairs officer, sent me an e-mail stating that because the section of NM 501 that was blocked off runs through the Lab it is actually owned by the DOE and maintained by LANL. She stated: “The Lab is governed by security and access rules under Article 161k of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as amended, and by DOE requirements and the regulations governing Federal property. The Act and those rules require us to take necessary steps to secure the Lab’s missions and facilities. This includes the guard gates, the truck inspection station on East Jemez Road near NM 4, and our ability to conduct random vehicle checks for explosives or weapons.”

I also contacted the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT). The head of the district that includes the Los Alamos area told me her department hadn’t been notified of the blockade of NM 501 and that she would get back to me. The public information officer then emailed me that “NM 501 is a state road in name only. It is not controlled or maintained by NMDOT. LANL/DOE performs all maintenance activities and controls the guard/check stations on the road and has the authority to take actions they deem necessary for the safety and protection of LANL/DOE property.” Los Alamos County police enforce traffic laws on NM 501, as well as other roads owned by the DOE: parts of Diamond Drive; Pajarito Road from Diamond Drive to NM 4; East Jemez Road from Diamond Drive to the Los Alamos County line; and West Road from Diamond Drive to the intersection with West Jemez Road. Enforcement was halted in 1999 because of a bureaucratic dispute but resumed in 2003 when LANL, the DOE, and the County of Los Alamos signed a Memorandum of Agreement.

Several people at LANL told me that to their knowledge the only other time NM 501 had been blocked off was during the Las Conchas fire. It’s interesting that the security breaches from within the Lab during the last ten years—the Wen Ho Lee scandal, the downloading of classified weapons information, the loss of hard drives containing classified information—brought about firings, retaliations, a temporary closure of the Lab itself, and a change to corporate management that has further demoralized workers and diminished accountability. The largest threats from outside LANL and the Oak Ridge facility were a group of nonviolent protestors sitting in front of a gate and an 82-year old nun throwing blood on a building. It makes you wonder about what constitutes “terrorism.”

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