Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety: Kudos to the Director and Board

As I rotate off the board of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) I want to write this shout-out for executive director Joni Arends and board members Chuck Montaño, Bob Gilkeson, and Manny Trujillo, who just joined. I can’t think of a better person for the job.

All three board members are former Los Alamos National Laboratory employees. Two of them, Chuck and Bob, are whistleblowers who left employment there. Manny retired last year.

Bob, an independent registered geologist, went to work in Los Alamos in 1988 as a senior consultant. He was put in charge of developing and drilling a network of monitoring wells across the Lab facility to look at groundwater contamination from laboratory operations. But after reviewing the work he stipulated that there were numerous deficiencies with the wells: most of them were in the wrong location; the well screens were too long and diluted the pollution in the samples; the well screens were not placed at the top of the water table in order to detect pollutants; the sampling techniques did not detect many contaminants of concern; and the mud rotary drilling method needed to be stopped once and for all because the bentonite clay bound up the pollutants in the well, thus preventing detection. When these deficiencies were never ultimately corrected, he left LANL in 1999 and continued to advocate for them. In 2009 he examined two LANL seismic reports to support construction and operation of the proposed $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) and found these reports to be inadequate, with data gaps and incorrect analysis and findings. LANL sits on the Pajarito Plateau Fault System and next to the Embudo Fault System where the damage from a potential earthquake would be catastrophic, resulting in a radioactive and toxic release and collapse of the CMRR-NF. Bob has consulted pro bono for CCNS since 2004 and joined the board several years ago.

Chuck, who is being awarded the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s Whistleblower Award next week in Washington D.C, spent most of his career at the Lab in various accounting and auditing positions. As such he quickly learned that “Laboratory managers routinely ignored what auditors reported. Because of this, serious security and financial lapses occurred that otherwise could have been averted . . . and ended up costing the taxpayers lots of money.” Chuck’s profile at the Lab and in the community rose during the battles over impending layoffs—Reductions in Force, or RIF’s—in the mid-1990s. The Lab planned to send out “at-risk notices” and reduce the work force by 1,000 in 1995 and 500 in ’96 and ’97. The workers organized, filed suit against the Lab, and ultimately settled. Some workers were rehired, but the best thing that came out of the case was the formal organization called Citizens for LANL Employee Rights, or CLER. Chuck described his own job at LANL as being been on “life support” due to his involvement with the RIFs and eventually filed a whistleblower’s suit over the Lab’s failure to act on his and others’ reporting of procurement fraud. He eventually received a settlement from the Lab in 2011 and soon joined the CCNS board (he also sits on the steering committee of Nuclear Watch New Mexico). In 2015 Chuck published a book, Los Alamos: Secret Colony, Hidden Truths: A Whistleblower’s Diary, which he says “documents, for posterity, that part of the lab’s legacy that the Los Alamos Historical Society prefers to ignore. My book is about presenting a perspective on the lab most historians would otherwise know nothing about.”

Manny was one of the Lab employees who was RIFFED in 1995. A native of Santa Fe, he graduated with a degree in engineering from New Mexico State University and started at the Lab in the mid-1980s. After years of raising complaints about the lack of management opportunities for Hispanics and organizing with fellow Lab workers to form the Hispanic Round Table, he was labeled a “troublemaker.” When the RIFS came in 1995 the official rationale was post Cold War defunding that required belt tightening—despite increased funding for the nuclear weapon stockpile stewardship program—but the workers interpreted it as “a golden opportunity for managers to get rid of those they didn’t like.” Along with Chuck and others Manny helped organize CLER, and brought the Lab to the settlement table. Manny was rehired in 1998 and became involved in union organizing, which eventually led to the right of LANL workers to collectively bargain, overturning a University of California (manager of LANL) policy that precluded UC workers outside the state of California labor protection. He became president of the University Professional and Technical Employee (UPTE) Local at LANL.

Executive Director Joni Arends had a busy week after my last board meeting. She attended a gathering in Albuquerque with activists and organizations from across the country concerned about the proposed transportation of commercial and defense high level plutonium waste—both national and foreign—to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) despite its 2014 closure due to a vehicle fire and ruptured waste canister from LANL (see March 12, 2013 and March 5, 2014 La Jicarita articles). She will attend and make public comments at the Department of Energy’s Consent-Based Siting of defense and commercial high-level radioactive waste and irradiated fuel at their meeting in Sacramento, California on April 26th.

She’s working with Tina Córdova of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium whose members are trying to obtain compensation and medical care for their exposure to radiation as a result of the July 16, 1945 Trinity Atomic Test. She’s also preparing comments on the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposed changes to the LANL Consent Order that will seriously compromise cleanup efforts at the same time LANL is slated to be the production site for increased plutonium pit production. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn (a Gov. Susana Martinez appointee) previously compromised the existing Consent Order by allowing LANL cleanup extensions time and time again and now wants to allow the Department of Energy the oversight that should be under NMED purview.

CCNS continues litigation over the LANL Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the NM Hazardous Waste Act permitting on open burning as well as NMED permitting of groundwater discharge at LANL. CCNS is represented by New Mexico Environmental Law Center attorney Jon Block. A big thanks goes out the NMELC.

Please check out the CCNS website, Facebook page and Twitter feed for updates on the group’s activity. And be grateful that Joni, Bob, Chuck, and Manny are continuing their longtime commitment to protecting all of us from the effects of nuclear weapons development at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

 

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