* New Mexico has most nuclear Warheads in U.S.

* Protest delays new weapons testing in Alaska.

* Russian activists protest Russian-U.S. proposal to use plutonium as nuclear fuel.

* Tigua tribe sues to stop nuclear waste dump.

* New Mexico has the highest number of nuclear warheads in the nation, according to a report from the Nuclear Defense Council, a Washington D. C. non-profit group. The report, titled "Taking Stock: Worldwide Nuclear Deployments 1998," notes that New Mexico's 2,450 beat 13 other states for the largest share of the nation's 12,000 nuclear warheads. Georgia was second, with 2,000 warheads. According to the report, the warheads are being held in a storage complex near Kirtland Air Force Base. Officials from Kirtland refused to acknowledge the presence of nuclear weapons on the base. Spokeswoman Lt. Michelle Dugan would say only that an on-site munitions squad is responsible for "maintaining, shipping and receipt of weapons every day." The Albuquerque storage site occupies 56 acres, a couple of miles east of the base. The $43 million dollar complex stores warheads for the Air Force, and also functions as a transfer point between the Pentagon and the Department of Energy's Pantex plant near Amarillo, where nuclear warheads are dismantled.

"Overall, the average person doesn't have to worry about safety... They don't put (nuclear warheads) in a garage in downtown Albuquerque," said council senior analyst Robert Norris, the report's co-author. He said that disarmament treaties and the end of the cold war have resulted in a reduction of nuclear arms, but there are still 36,000 nuclear weapons around. Russia has 22,500 warheads, the report said. France, China and Britain each have 500 or less. In the U.S., weapons are stored in 24 storage "depots" across the country, and in seven other countries. There are also 500 underground missile-launching silos in 5 states, and 18 ballistic missile submarines.

* Protests from environmentalists and indigenous people from Alaska all the way to Turkey have caused the U. S. Air Force to delay tests of dummy bombs, scheduled to be dropped on the Tanana Flats in Alaska. The bombs contain depleted uranium, a less dangerous form of the material used in nuclear warheads. It will not explode, but is used to mimic the weight and density of the refined uranium used in real bombs. Critics fear that the shells may somehow break open and scatter nuclear contamination on the Fort Wainwright bombing range, 35 miles from Fairbanks. The test is the last required by the DOE and the Defense Department before the B61-11 officially becomes a part of the U.S. weapons arsenal. The weapon is designed to burrow into the ground before its nuclear warhead explodes, in order to destroy underground bunkers. Activists claim that it is a new weapon, and as such violates international anti-nuclear proliferation treaties. The military claims it is simply a modification of previous weapons.

Earlier this week 109 groups sent a letter to President Clinton, urging him to stop the tests and the certification process. The groups ranged from Alaska Natives who fear uranium contamination of the environment to Turkish activists who don't want the bomb used on neighboring Iraq. Air Force spokesmen disclaim the risk, since the bombs will not explode. They say that in the unlikely event of escaping uranium, a clean-up squad will be present. Some veteran groups maintain that even the unexploded uranium used on the outside of weapons in the Persian Gulf War may have caused nausea, depressed immune systems and cancer when breathed or ingested in large doses.

* Environmentalists in Russia denounced a plan being considered by the U. S. and Russia to use surplus plutonium, left over from Cold War nuclear bomb production, as fuel for nuclear power plants in both countries. The plutonium would be mixed with uranium to make mixed oxide fuel (MOX). Russian protesters said that they believe the new fuel would be far more dangerous and pose huge additional storage and transportation costs. If stolen, moreover, it could be used for weapons. The protestors accused the Russian Government of already starting work on the program, without informing the public. The U.S. DOE said last year it was considering the plan along with other options, while conducting studies on the best method of plutonium disposal.

* The Tigua Indians have filed a law-suit to keep the government from building a nuclear dump on their land in Sierra Blanca, in far West Texas, about 90 miles east of El Paso. In the law-suit, filed on March 4, they ask state officials "to vacate and remove all their equipment" from a site at Sierra Blanca where they propose to build a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. According to the tribe, the dump site is in violation of their right to possess the property. Texas state officials refused to comment because they hadn't seen the lawsuit.

Environmental activists have been opposing the dump for years, because it lies in an earthquake zone and poses a threat to the Rio Grande. The state maintains the site is safe. Tigua tribal Gov. Vince Munoz said, "We're trying to preserve our land. The state doesn't have the right to mess it up with a nuclear dump."

Back to News Index