Concerned Firefighters Leave Cerro Grande Tent Camp on LANL Property

Senate Confirms Air Force General John A. Gordon as National Nuclear Security Agency Head as LANL's Security Problems Continue to Unfold

Senate Republicans Confirm Push for New Nuclear Weapons

*Almost 100 firefighters involved in the Cerro Grande Fire cleanup efforts have left or are planning to leave their tent camp located at Technical Area 49 (or TA-49) on Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) property. The camp has been set up since the end of the fire for firefighters working on rehabilitation efforts to stop the flow of contaminants from LANL property to the Rio Grande River. Most of the firefighters are from out of state and they became concerned about their health when jokes started to spread through the camp about the firefighters "glowing."

Lee McAtee, deputy director for environmental, health and safety at LANL, stated that "[a] lot of these people, they come in from Timbuktu or somewhere, and they've never had any kind of experience with nuclear materials or radiation and so they don't have the experience or knowledge or familiarity with the issues to make a decision."

TA-49 was used for high-explosives and radioactive materials experiments and a portion is currently a storage area for wildfire response supplies and a helicopter pad. TA-49 is located downwind from the smoldering fire at the Material Disposal Area (or MDA) R at TA-16. Department of Energy (or DOE) officials reported recently that the eastern and western portions of the MDA R fire is out, after it burned for over a month.

Bill Sweet, spokesperson for the cleanup team, said the firefighters don't trust DOE. Sweet stated that, "We get folks who just don't have confidence in what the lab and the Energy Department are telling them."

In response to the concerns of the firefighters, DOE workers are setting up an air monitoring station at TA-49. LANL has also offered radiation detectors to the firefighters to wear while they are doing rehabilitation work. Activists question if these measures are a little too late. Firefighters who were on LANL property during the fire were not given radiation detectors despite the fact that DOE's own wildfire protocols required radiation detectors for firefighters while they are fighting the fire.

* On June 14th, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Air Force General John A. Gordon as head of the new, semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Agency which is charged with overseeing nuclear security matters. General Gordon is deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

On the same day at a joint Senate hearing about another possible security lapse at LANL, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee questioned DOE and LANL officials. The security lapse involves two missing hard drives from a vault in a secured area of the X Division, a complex where nuclear bomb designers work. The missing hard drives contain nuclear weapons data from the United States, Russia, China and France, along with U.S. "improvised" designs made in anticipation of designs that might be created by terrorists with access to weapons materials and facilities. The hard drives contained information used by the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (or NEST) which responds to nuclear accidents or terrorist acts. The NEST has the ability to disarm and dismantle nuclear devices.

Senators questioned the reporting delays of the breach of security to LANL Director John Browne. After discovering the missing hard drives while evacuating the facility on May 7, three days after the start of the catastrophic Cerro Grande fire, NEST members failed to report the missing materials until June 1, more than three weeks after the discovery. DOE security procedures require reporting such missing items within eight hours. The Senators described DOE as "disfunctional" and asked why a check out sheet for taking materials out of the vault was not required. One Senator indicated that there was more security at the local library where a person is required to check out materials before leaving than at the national laboratory where nuclear weapons designs are kept.

According to a former X Division worker, security plans were required and drawn up, but never implemented. The Clinton administration has suspended six of LANL's managers with paid leave.

* According to the June 12th Washington Post, Senate Republicans have added a provision in the Fiscal Year 2001 defense authorization bill that specifically requires the secretaries of Defense and Energy to undertake a study to develop a new "low-yield" nuclear weapon that can destroy deeply buried targets and permits the nuclear labs to conduct limited research and development that may be necessary to complete the study. This legislation encroaches on, but doesn't completely overturn, a 1994 law advanced by Congresswoman Elisabeth Furse that prohibits research and development of "mini-nukes," which are also called low-yield nuclear weapons. The report supporting the provision directs "plan[ning] for the long-term sustainment and modernization of U.S. strategic nuclear forces."

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