While there is much to applaud in a recent editorial (“Boom times on the Hill need to be shared,” Our View, Nov. 10), the main point — that the “entire region” could “thrive” from an expansion of Los Alamos National Laboratory — doesn’t hold up to even casual scrutiny.
More broadly, the editorial’s neoliberal assumptions, coupled with the lack of any vision for green, resilient, democratic communities and a real social contract, make Santa Fe ripe for plucking not just by the nuclear weapons industry but by hungry capitalists of all stripes.
The political heroin offered is similar: the promise of high-paying “jobs” for a few, the benefits of which will supposedly trickle down to the many.
Over 75 years, LANL has spent roughly $130 billion, a vast sum anywhere but especially in Northern New Mexico. Yet LANL has not generated shared prosperity nor social development. A very few have benefited economically. Most have not.
Besides permanent pollution and more than 1,600 federally documented occupational deaths, what does the region have to show for the money and talent poured into LANL? What has been built for people? For New Mexico?
Now LANL wants to hire a few thousand more people, principally for its expanding plutonium and related weapons missions and their support functions. Why would this mission, quite different from LANL’s research and development identity and history, be better?
If present plans proceed, LANL will become the “dirty lab” in the warhead complex, as a LANL spokesman privately predicted 25 years ago.
LANL’s hinterland remains highly unequal and poor, with some of the worst human development statistics in the U.S. An “aura of apartheid” dominates the region, even in tony Santa Fe. Where’s the “thriving?”
Most of the reasons LANL hasn’t and won’t create economic development derive from its raison d’etre as a nuclear weapons facility. Only a few percent of LANL’s budget goes to unclassified civilian projects (in which LANL’s competence and relative value are doubtful, to say the least).
LANL was not built nor is it funded today to benefit New Mexico. Local benefits are incidental and secondary at best, and they come with heavy costs.
LANL was built on the Pajarito Plateau primarily because the site was isolated and “scenic.” LANL’s isolation and “scenic” topography are now intractable challenges to its grandiose plans. Better regional transit — essential regardless — will not overcome LANL’s isolation. To grow as planned, thousands of additional housing units are required in Los Alamos itself. Is Los Alamos ready for that?
LANL salaries are very high, especially for the region. Aside from making LANL a potent engine of inequality, which has very negative economic and social effects, this creates fewer jobs per dollar than other federal spending, while sucking in precious local talent like a black hole.
LANL’s high-income households save, rather than spend, a much higher fraction of their income than other households, and their spending is less local.
Most of LANL’s best-paid employees are hired from elsewhere, which benefits the region — uh, how, on a net basis?
Meanwhile, LANL’s blue-collar jobs are unavailable to many of the people who most need them. It’s a world apart.
Most importantly, LANL suborns the attention and loyalty of our political and civic leadership, providing false answers to the economic, environmental and social problems we face. Instead of coming together to truly grapple with these problems as if our children’s lives depended on us — which they do — we talk about LANL “jobs,” a narrative that centers our attention on LANL, not where it belongs — on our communities.
Greg Mello is executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.