Three dozen protesters gathered Wednesday around the St. Francis of Assisi statue outside City Hall to punctuate their message that a nuclear agency does not belong in a peace-loving city.
The protesters were responding to news that the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees Los Alamos National Laboratory, is behind one of seven proposals to develop the city’s 64-acre midtown campus on St. Michael’s Drive.
The demonstrators brandished signs to express their opposition, which included: “No war work in Santa Fe,” “City of faith or city of nuclear weapons?” and “LANL is not an education institution.”
A nine-member city committee is vetting the seven prospective master developers and hopes to select one by April.
The protesters said it doesn’t matter that the agency has no plans to produce nuclear components at the campus site. They don’t want the agency to have any presence in the city, even if it’s a training center or offices for lab personnel.
“If you’re against the nuclear mission, you’re against the training of the workforce and administrative support,” said Jim Eagle, a retired Navy officer who served on nuclear submarines.
The nonprofit Los Alamos Study Group, an anti-nuclear watchdog, organized the protest.
The lab wants a satellite campus to accommodate the additional staff and support operations needed to make 30 plutonium “pits” — the triggers for nuclear warheads — by 2026, said Greg Mello, the group’s executive director.
Producing pits will require hiring and training as many as 1,500 personnel and doing major upgrades to the aging plutonium facility, he added.
“That’s what’s driving this is pit production,” Mello said. “The reason LANL is interested in this project is they are outgrowing Los Alamos.”
A National Nuclear Security spokesman in Washington, D.C., said that, out of respect for the review process, the agency wouldn’t comment.
Mayor Alan Webber said the guidelines the committee is using ultimately will decide who gets picked as master developer. He couldn’t say whether an activist group’s opposition to a candidate would wield any influence.
“My comment to the group was to trust the process,” Webber said.
The group also is concerned that even if the lab isn’t chosen as master developer, it still could become a tenant at the site, said Lydia Clark, the group’s outreach director.
Mello fired up the protesters by suggesting they should explore how they can make Santa Fe a nuclear-free zone.
It’s unclear, however, whether such a zone would bar the agency from manufacturing and transporting nuclear components within city limits or forbid it from operating at all within Santa Fe.
Mello argued that education and technical training at a lab campus likely would be geared toward preparing students to work at the lab. Several protesters agreed.
“I’m tired of seeing our young people being harvested by nuclear colonialism,” said Beata Tsosie-Pena, environmental justice program coordinator for Tewa Women United, a nonprofit Native advocacy group.
Expanding the lab to Santa Fe could be a slippery slope, even if it’s innocuous at first, said a protester named Susan, who asked that her last name not be published.
“They get their foot in the door, and then it expands and expands and expands,” she said. “I just feel we have to rein in some of this stuff. Let it stay up in Los Alamos.”