Keeping Los Alamos National Laboratory supplied with adequate power to fuel its many operations — including increased production of plutonium pits that trigger nuclear weapons — is a matter of national security.

That doesn’t mean a proposal to build a high-voltage power line to ensure the power supply can go without scrutiny. A 12.5-mile transmission line, costing as much as $300 million, is being touted as necessary to augment the lab’s power supply. Two current power lines are thought to be reaching capacity, one this summer and the second by 2026.

Before a third line can be built, many concerns need to be addressed.

First, the environmental assessment will be conducted — it’s required by law for the Department of Energy to obtain the necessary permit to install the power line on public land. That study will gauge the effects of the line, including the impact of new transmission towers along its path. The line would stretch across White Rock Canyon, south through the Caja del Rio area and then east through the Santa Fe National Forest before arriving at a substation.

As the environmental assessment takes place, it became clear that environmental impact isn’t all those federal agencies must consider.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration promised to work with federal land managers in weighing the project’s environmental impact — but to date, tribal officials say they are not being consulted. That’s a problem, considering the presence of sacred sites in the area.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors, representing 20 pueblos in New Mexico and Texas, has adopted a resolution to support preserving the Caja del Rio. There, Pueblo people point to petroglyphs, ancestral homes, ceremonial kivas, irrigation structures and other cultural resources.

A new transmission line would be one more burden on an already overwhelmed area. Tribes believe past mismanagement by federal agencies has led to desecration of sacred sites.

That’s easy to witness in person when driving or walking through the Caja. Portions of the area are used for shooting practice by gun enthusiasts — many of whom do not pick up after themselves — and it’s also a popular spot for people seeking to dump trash without paying a dump fee.

Pueblo leaders sent a letter to the Santa Fe National Forest last month to ask that forest officials consult with tribes. That is not too much to ask.

Beyond the potential impact on sacred sites and the ongoing effort to preserve Caja del Rio, federal officials need to talk more about why other alternatives are impossible. Two transmission lines up to LANL already exist — using those corridors seem a natural fit for a new line, rather than cutting through forest land for any part of the line.

What’s more, considering LANL’s expertise in renewable energy, placing solar or wind power generators near the laboratory to supplement power seems worthy of consideration. If it was considered and abandoned, tell people why.

Instead, federal officials presented one option for providing additional power. As they develop their plans and consider impacts, they aren’t necessarily taking the viewpoints of tribal officials and others into account. As is so often the case, not enough information is being shared.

Keeping Los Alamos National Laboratory powered up matters to New Mexico and the nation. But a new transmission line should not be the only option.

(12) comments

Greg Mello

Apologies if this posts twice; the comment section didn't take my first try.

I missed this whopper on Saturday. The first sentence lacks any color of truth: keeping [the hugely expanding] LANL, and its [unnecessary, wasteful, destructive] proposed pit factory well-supplied with electricity is "a matter of national security." Really? When will the New Mexican stop groveling at the feet of LANL? The rest of the editorial is so much weak tea, arguing in favor of "consultation" with tribes before the (LANL-demanded) project goes through. Oh please. Shame on the New Mexican.

Joe Brownrigg

I was stopped short by "a matter of national security" also, Greg. HOW is this "national security"? We already have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over. The pits also do NOT need to be replaced. SO, HOW is this "national security"?

To the contrary, this is precisely what Pres. Eisenhower warned us about: the military industrial complex." This is a FOR PROFIT organization...NOTHING more!!!

The New Mexican STARTS with an unacceptable assumption. I've learned that ASSUMPTIONS are always dangerous, especially in journalism!!!

Greg Mello

I missed this whopper on Saturday. The first sentence lacks any color of truth: keeping [the hugely expanding] LANL, and its [unnecessary, wasteful, destructive] proposed pit factory well-supplied with electricity is "a matter of national security." When will the New Mexican stop groveling at the feet of LANL? The rest of the editorial is so much weak tea, arguing in favor of "consultation" with tribes before the (LANL-demanded) project goes through. Oh please. Shame on the New Mexican.

Patrick Brockwell

How many more nuclear weapons do we need? Let's not study war no more.

Mike Johnson

We need more than Russia and China have combined at least, and we are short today, as I understand it.

Joe Brownrigg

WHY, Mike? What good would it do to have more than Russia and China? ESPECIALLY when we ALREADY have more than both of them combined!!!!

Mike Johnson

Considering the Native Americans think all the land is still theirs and thus "sacred", is there any place to build anything?

Joe Brownrigg

This is another unfounded assumption, Mike. Knock it off with these racist comments. You know better than this.

Khal Spencer

Given LANL's expertise in all things nuclear, I say build a nuclear power plant or three onsite. Don't need to run power lines anywhere or worry about problems upstream of the lines or the lines themselves. If we can put them on Mars, we can put them on The Hill.

https://www.lanl.gov/discover/science-columns/top-columns-and-blogs/2018/space-kilopower-reactors.php

Mike Johnson

Excellent idea Khal, and maybe some geothermal from the nearby caldera, oh, but that may be sacred land too......

Joe Brownrigg

Good point, Khal. Although we have found that nuclear power plants are neither practical, not economical, nor do we have an adequate way to dispose of the nuclear waste...unless we store it in the Colony of New Mexico.

Melissa Savage

Routing the transmission lines through the Caja del Rio is probably the cheapest and most direct way to get power to Los Alamos Lab. But is it the best way? Certainly the Pueblos don't think so, and isn't it about time we respected their attachment to their ancestral lands. And the impact on this family wild and austere landscape is going to be massive. I think an alternative route for these lines must be found.

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