If a phoenix has emerged from the Los Alamos fire, it's the lengths to which government has been willing to face a mea culpa and level with its citizens. The case is awkward, albeit strangely poetic, in that the argument over accountability is mostly intra-governmental or between government and the gentrified class (many homes in question were opulent) whom government mostly serves.
The "working poor" were affected as well. But that's an old scenario and a predictable one. Their story is quickly forgotten by the media.
What we have are America's most expensive lawyers from both public and private sectors going head-to-head over "accountability" for damages. But through the wash it becomes apparent that they all hail from the same collective (corporate-political) law firm, representing the same abstracted interests.
Los Alamos has become an embarrassing dilemma which must be handled with kid gloves by the media who continue to assure us all is well, democracy remains securely in place, the banks are safe, our generals competent, our presidents interested in the common welfare, our weapons invincible and our institutions the wonder of an admiring world.
But look at the real truth:
49,000 acres burned, one-third of the nuclear weapons facility, the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The federal government is invested only in a "normalcy" public relations campaign and is putting public policy over and above any serious scientific and ecological assessment of the situation. Information must be protected because LANL fears losing "assets" (funding, scientists, etc).
The fire hit 2,200 contaminated sites (uranium, plutonium, high explosives, PCBs, etc.). It consumed decommissioned, contaminated buildings dating back to the Manhattan Project. The main research and development facility (DARTH), storage areas, contaminated canyons and other buildings were also hit.
Contaminated running water is moving into the watershed. Once monsoon season arrives in July, the rain will run in arroyos, through the town of Los Alamos, and into the Rio Grande River. Sediments will end up on Indian land and in a reservoir called Cochiti Lake. There, deposits of radio nuclides, heavy metals, PCBs, etc., will end up mixed in mud.
From there it will concentrate in the biological chain, seep through Cochiti Dam into the Rio Grande (water source of millions) and end up in the Gulf of Mexico.
If that isn't enough, consider the "airshed." All toxins (uranium and plutonium dust, etc.) will become airborne in fierce, dry New Mexico winds.
This area, by the way, was already declared a "sacrifice zone" long ago; that means public information is classified. Yet it is known that alpha radiation is, on average, running 10 times the normal amount and beta radiation twice normalcy. Some spot measurements measured 36 times beyond normal. But labs refuse to do the isotope analyses to assess which elements are responsible for the increases. Instead they release the story that these readings are commensurate with "normal expectations" of releases of natural radon in a fire.
And without surprise, the local media have shown no interest in any sustained investigative reporting.
We're talking about millions of dollars already needed in reforestation to offset flooding and to prevent the spread of contaminants. But the Feds, and LANL are prioritizing the standard procedure of "normalcy" -- i.e., evasion, denial, secrecy and deception -- and maintaining the status quo by making sure nothing interferes in the business of weapons and defense. This, despite monsoon season just around the corner.
In the land of milk and honey and Disneyland dreams, money is still the alpha and omega and the proof of grace, the god from which all blessings flow. This mass-consciousness is so embedded in the national psyche that it will take many more disasters like Los Alamos before it's burned out and we wake up to the need for a revamping of social values.
In a world of purifying abstraction, power and impunity are ensured. Dealing with crises as symbols/abstractions instead of specific cruelties/tragedies inflicted on specific people allows everyone to disclaim any responsibility for the casualty lists. None of it is anyone's fault. This is why we hire lawyers; it's the language of law.
We watch as a witchhunt for "targets of accountability" ensues while real dangers just float out there in LA-LA land (Los Alamos). And those unfortunate enough to draw the shortest straws are force-fed humble pie hurled across courtrooms and airwaves -- like an old Three Stooges show.
But nobody's laughing. p
Richard Hiatt is a therapist and freelance writer living in Manitou Springs