In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby. Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction. Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.
A short-form documentary from Navajo Nation highlighted the problem with lack of clean water for many residents. Vice News traveled to the Navajo Nation, where at least 40 percent of residents lack clean running water. As a whole, 99 percent of Americans have access to clean running water. Reporter Neha Shastry spoke to residents as well as George McGraw, the founder of DIGDEEP Water. The non-profit seeks access to clean water for those in underdeveloped parts of the world—the project on the Navajo Nation was the first in the United States for the non-profit.
The Animas River turned a sickly orange-brown as waste from an abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado flowed into the river. The water with high level of heavy metals has made its way down the river into New Mexico. The cause? A breach from a team working for the Environmental Protection Agency that was trying to treat some of the contaminants in the mine. Here are a few things you should know about the spill as well as some other background.