Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee Asked to Investigate Plan to Host Glove Box Training Center at UNM-LA – Los Alamos Reporter
BY MAYOR O’NEILL
Benjamin Bonnet of Taos called on the State Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee to conduct an open investigation into the chain of events through which a “fissile material training center” was incorporated into SB207, the Law on General Obligations for Investment Projects, and “even more urgency” to stop public funding of a glove box training center project at UNM-LA. Bonnet said he wanted to share his concerns and the concerns of many in the community about the Department of Energy’s new workforce training initiatives in northern New Mexico.
“As you may know, branches and community colleges in our region – under pressure from the Department of Energy, the Triad, the N3B and some local elected officials – have set up in recent years DOE workforce training programs (“pipelines”) as part of their curricula. Designed to prepare pools of semi-skilled workers for frontline positions at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other nuclear weapons facilities, these accelerated programs (10 weeks to 2 years) are intended to channel young Neo Mexicans in some of the most dangerous jobs in US industry, ”Bonnet said.
He said three community colleges in northern New Mexico – Santa Fe Community College, UNM-LA, and Northern New Mexico College – have implemented new DOE workforce training programs.
As part of efforts to train a new generation to work in the DOE nuclear weapons complex, UNM-LA officials recently proposed renovating several buildings on campus to create a ‘hands-on lab box. gloves “. The new facility is proposed for use in training current LANL employees in the handling of fissile and other radioactive and hazardous materials – skills that LANL will need in the years to come to perform its intended mission of producing triggers. ‘nuclear warheads, often referred to as plutonium “pits,” Bonnet said.
“It seems unlikely, for example, that voters in New Mexico would be able to discern the true purpose of an establishment described in SB 207 simply as a” lab for workforce development and training. ” continuing technique, ”or that the public realizes that New Mexico’s scarcity of higher education funds would be used to turn campus buildings into a facility to train LANL employees in nuclear weapons production.
He said as the truth about the glovebox project proposed by UNM-LA slowly emerged, questions arose among members of local communities, including:
Is the “glove box training laboratory” offered by UNM-LA an appropriate use of public funds? Why are New Mexico’s scarce higher education dollars being used to build the facilities needed to carry out national security programs? Have cuts to more urgent and legitimate higher education needs statewide been made to fund the UNM-LA grant to DOE / NNSA on-the-job training?
“It should be noted that LANL’s operating budget for fiscal 2021 was approximately $ 3.5 billion, making it by far the best-funded site in the DOE nuclear weapons complex; whereas the DOE has requested an additional billion for fiscal year 2022, for plutonium activities at LANL in particular; and finally, that the glove box lab publicly funded by UNM-LA is in all respects a DOE workplace training center, ”Bonnet said. “Although funds have been authorized for the construction of the glove box facility with the passage of GO Bond C, the question remains whether public funding for this project should continue. As of May of this year, the facility was still in the planning stage, with construction plans due to NMHED and the Ministry of Finance and Administration for approval in the coming months.
The Los Alamos Reporter has contacted UNM-LA Chancellor Cynthia Rooney for a response to Bonnet’s allegations. Rooney said UNM-LA is committed to serving students and supporting local employers by developing workforce programs to meet their needs and ensure a skilled and employed workforce for the region, and that this requires upgraded facilities and classrooms.
“We are used to working with local employers including: Los Alamos County to develop fire science and emergency medical services programs; LANL on the mechanical engineering program; and N3B on radiation monitoring technician and waste operator programs, ”said Rooney. “We have also implemented cybersecurity programs, certified nursing assistants and expanded our welding program to meet workforce needs throughout our community. “
More recently, she said that UNM-LA was working on a nuclear enterprise science and technology program and a project management program.
“All of these programs benefit the citizens of our region, preparing them for employment, and all require up-to-date classrooms and equipment. The $ 1.7 million funding for the UNM-LA capital project approved by voters in November 2020 was for a “Workforce Development and Classroom Renovation” project. of continuing technical education, ”Rooney said. “This project meets the needs of multiple classrooms in different buildings, for a variety of programs, with the aim of renewing, replacing, upgrading and equipping the space for workforce development / technical training programs. professional.”
The UNM-LA campus is made up of various buildings, some dating from the late 1950s, most of which were built in the 1980s, and Rooney said those buildings were in need of renovation. Taos
“The project will also address significant ADA improvements in the areas identified, so that our campus can be accessible to all. We thank voters, lawmakers and government officials for the funding that will allow us to update these various spaces around campus so that we can better prepare students for careers in our community and in New Mexico, ”a she declared.