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Shut Down Creech

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Mexico fires threaten Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab – again

From the Christian Science Monitor:

New Mexico fires, having blazed through 61,000 acres in three days, now approach Los Alamos. Residents have evacuated and the fireproofed buildings of the National Laboratories are about to be put to their second test in 11 years.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer
posted June 28, 2011

For the second time in 11 years, a New Mexico fire is threatening one of the nation's three nuclear-weapons laboratories, as well as the town that hosts it.

The approaching Las Conchas fire is raising concerns that if the blaze reaches the lab, it could free radioactive material from the grounds and storage sites surrounding the laboratory.

The bulk of the lab's stockpile of highly-radioactive material is stored in structures specifically designed to withstand fire, lab officials say.

IN PICTURES: Wildfires around the world

But the facility also hosts some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-bearing waste – ultimately destined for long-term storage in southern New Mexico – at a facility atop a small mesa just outside White Rock, N.M., known as "Area G." As of midday on Tuesday, the fire was two miles away from Area G.

The laboratory grounds also include at least one canyon that was used as a dump in the early years of the US nuclear weapons program.

Teams from the National Nuclear Safety Administration are expected to arrive on-site Tuesday, to help deal with any releases that might occur if the fire reaches the lab.

The Las Conchas fire started Saturday afternoon in the Santa Fe National Forest. The cause remains under investigation, but by Tuesday morning, the explosive blaze had scorched nearly 61,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as the town of Los Alamos, both about 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe.

Lessons from the past: The Cerro Grande Fire
The last fire that threatened the lab, the Cerro Grande, took two weeks to burn 48,000 acres when it moved across New Mexico in 2000. That blaze caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, destroying lab buildings and some 400 family homes, but no fatalities from the fire were reported.

During the Cerro Grande fire, some forms of radioactivity increased to between two and five times their normal levels, according to a study led by lab researcher David King.

But they weren't from the radioactive materials at the nuclear weapons lab.

Instead, radioactive byproducts from naturally-occurring radon gas, which had settled on plants and the soil around the plant, got caught up by the fire and redistributed. The team calculated that, even at the height of the blaze, the firefighters and volunteers were exposed to a level of radiation far below that of someone on an airline flight.

Still, the work highlighted a lack of information on the kind of radiation released by any wildfire – a gap filled by measuring the release of radioactive particles from four experimental fires, including two controlled burns in the Carson National Forest outside of Taos, N.M., in 2001 and 2002.

Lab scientists did find elevated levels of radioactive elements in ash following the Cerra Grande fire – including isotopes of plutonium, cesium, and strontium that appeared to be residual fallout from the years prior to a ban on above-ground nuclear tests.

The concern: storm water run-off following a fire could carry the ash into reservoirs or the Rio Grande River, which flows south through the valley below Los Alamos and on through Albuquerque.

To deal with the run-off – an issue not just after wildfires, but an ongoing concern because of lab-produced chemical contaminants – the lab has built a low-slung rock dam across one canyon, to slow the flow of storm run-off and allow sediment to fall out behind the dam. It has also planted willows and restored wetlands in strategic locations along the courses taken by run-off.

The current concern: Power failure
In looking at the potential radiological risk from the Las Conchas fire, the biggest uncertainty rests with a broad power failure involving the lab, says Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, a watchdog organization based in Santa Fe.

Most of the sensitive facilities are hardened and "pretty much fireproof," he says. As for the 20,000-barrel Area G storage facility, if a fire engulfs them, "the consequences are severe, but the probability is probably relatively low." The facility is not within the Ponderosa forests that are currently burning, and the lab has taken pains to clear the facility's immediate surroundings of vegetation.

But loss of power to the lab injects an extra element of uncertainty into the safety equation, Mr. Coghlan continues.

"I don't draw any parallel to Fukushima except to note that stuff happens when power goes out," he says.

Firefighters are prepared to build a line around the lab if the need arises, even as they set up containment lines to protect area homes.

In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, deputy Los Alamos County fire chief Mike Thomas said, "We'll pre-treat with foam if necessary, but we really want the buildings to stand on their own for the most part. That is exactly how they've been designed. Especially the ones holding anything that is of high value or high risk, for the community, and really, for the rest New Mexico for that matter."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The special drone show in Iran

RAN has shown Russia US drones it shot down over the Gulf, Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hadjizadeh was quoted as saying.

"Russian experts requested to see these drones and they looked at both the downed drones and the models made by the Guards through reverse engineering," the official IRNA news agency quoted Hadjizadeh as saying.

Hajizadeh did not elaborate on the number or type of unmanned US aircraft it had shot down, or when or where it had done so.

Iran announced on January 2 that its forces had downed two US drones after they "violated" Iranian-controlled territory.

It later said it would put the aircraft on public display.

"The planes that were shot down are among the most modern US navy drones and have a long-range capability," the Fars news agency quoted the commander of the Guards' naval forces, Ali Fadavi, as saying at the time.

Further reading.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Drone attacks part of daily life in Yemen


June 2011 already saw 130 people killed by drone attcks in/on Yemen.
And His Royal Nobelpriziest Highness plans to step up the attacks.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New book on Area 51 discussed on DemocracyNow

Annie Jacobsen, investigative journalist, on her new book "Area51: Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base" on DemocracyNow.org today, June 9th 2011:

Located some 80 miles north of Las Vegas, the secret U.S. military base Area 51 in Nevada was established in the 1950s to build and test hi-tech spy and war planes including the U2, the stealth bomber and surveillance drones. Located inside the Nevada Test and Training Range, Area 51 also played a key role in nuclear weapon tests. For decades, the government denied Area 51 even existed, but in recent years many CIA and military documents have been declassified. We speak with Annie Jacobsen, author of the new book, "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base."

Read the rest here.

Here is a review of Ms Jacobsen's book in the NYT.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fr. Bill Bichsel's ordeal: Cruel and inhuman punishment

John Dear SJ: Fr. Bill Bichsel's ordeal: Cruel and inhuman punishment
June 1st, 2011

...since Obama's inauguration, over 2,600 people have been arrested for similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and injustice, a stunning number given the total lack of media coverage on peace and justice movements. (Bill Quigley, in Common Dreams)

Last week's Supreme Court ruling against California's prison system as "cruel and inhuman punishment" was not a surprise -- except in the sense that it was said publicly. Many of us who have experienced our criminal injustice system first hand know well how horrific it is. The court ruled that 35,000 California prisoners would have to be transferred or released because the system is so unjust.

The case sparked new discussion on overcrowded prisons (156,000 prisoners suffer in California prisons built for half that number), but it started years ago because of the atrocious lack of health care in California's prisons. Many prisoners died needlessly over the years, usually because they were not given their medicine.

It's not surprising either that our violent, imperial nation has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. The most recent figure says we have over 2,292,000 people in prison. The so-called "war on drugs" and mandatory sentencing laws against nonviolent offenders are partly to blame for this huge prison population.

Prison is bad for one's health, to put it mildly. During my last stint in the Las Vegas Jail for the Creech 14 action, I was stunned as the woman in charge of the main admitting area where a hundred of us sat in chains or handcuffs, yelled at us and threatened us. Then, she ordered an officer to beat up one prisoner, and he threw him against the wall. Nobody blinked.
NCR - June 10, 2011

Certainly one of the worst places I've ever been is the Robeson County Jail in North Carolina near the South Carolina border. Built for 75 people, it held 400 people when I was there for a few weeks in 1993 for our Plowshares action. One human rights report claimed that over 25 people had died in the five years previous to my stay. Most of them had been denied medicine, and were simply found dead the next morning.

I remember an elderly man serving a year for a nonviolent offense that Philip Berrigan and I had befriended. He was in the cell across the hall from us. We occasionally talked. He told us of his heart condition. We saw pills delivered to him every day. About a month after our transfer to another jail, we received word that he had died. He had argued with a jailer, so the jailer did not give him his medicine, and he died that night.

This week, many of us will gather in San Francisco to celebrate the release of Franciscan Fr. Louie Vitale after his six months in prison for protesting the "School of Americas," our U.S. assassination and terrorism school at Fort Benning, Ga. Louie's in fine fettle, as determined as ever to do what he can to resist our wars and weapons. We go to honor his indomitable spirit (See: www.paceebene.org).

Last week the Nuke Resister [added updated link, but it comes from Common Dreams here - LaLa] reported that since Obama's inauguration, over 2,600 people have been arrested for similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war and injustice, a stunning number given the total lack of media coverage on peace and justice movements. As our prisons continue to worsen, it's amazing that activists are willing to risk imprisonment for social change.

At the moment, some friends are currently languishing in Tennessee and Georgia jails for civil disobedience at the Y-12 nuclear complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn. (See: www.jonahhouse.org). This past weekend, one friend suffered severe chest pains and was refused medical help. We are hoping and praying for her healing, and mobilizing folks to work on her behalf.

Read the rest here.

Also follow this blog for updates on those in prison because of their actions for peace and humanity.

Gonna take Us All, Jon Fromer (RIP

To keep the spirit!

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We are all Bradley Manning!