Where are America's millionaires? Apparently Los Alamos, a warren of lucrative nuclear industry, government research, and development operations...

This week, Fairewinds Energy Education would like to share a blog post written by Crew member Sue Prent. You will find this blog post and others on our Fairewinds site under "Demystify".


Los Alamos

by Sue Prent

There's been a lot of talk lately about the “1%” in America, and that has played havoc with the old notion of "how the other half lives."

Despite having reframed the time-honored ratio of rich people, we have lost none of our curiosity as to how and where they live.

As they are the ones who ought to know best about the comings and goings of America’s 1%, I bow to the superior sources of the Wall Street Journal who just gave us a tantalizing glimpse.

In answer to the rhetorical question, "Where Are America's Millionaires," WSJ reveals an unexpected fact:

“The region with the highest concentration of millionaires is better known for the Manhattan Project than Saks Fifth Avenue. Los Alamos, N.M., had the highest share of millionaire households in 2014 in a ranking of more than 900 U.S. metro areas, according to a report from research firm Phoenix Marketing International released Wednesday.

More than one in nine households in Los Alamos have more than $1 million in investable assets, giving the region a higher concentration of wealth than tonier locales such as Napa, Calif., or Martha’s Vineyard, Mass”.

Who'd've thunk it?

Perhaps fearing it might put readers off of their uranium stock and cornflakes, WSJ doesn't dwell on the Manhattan Project connection. We at Fairewinds need not observe the same delicacy.

Nestled in the bosom of Los Alamos is a warren of lucrative nuclear industry and government research and development operations.

Employees of the Los Alamos Lab, Sandia, and similar research facilities can jostle through the supermarket, elbow-to-elbow with their neighbors, secure in the knowledge that no one they are likely to touch is pulling down less than six figures, even if they are just shredding documents.

 This bounty in the midst of a generally depressed New Mexican economy is thanks to the continued generosity of more than seventy years of federal funding for nuclear research.

Los Alamos’ ‘golden ticket’ has bought a legacy steeped in famous names like Robert Oppenheimer and infamous ones, like "Fat Man" and "Little Boy”. It is the place where it could be argued that modern day terror had its inception.

In case you were sleeping in seventh-grade History class, Los Alamos was the birthplace of the atom bomb: the original weapon of mass destruction.

Babcock and Wilcox (B&W) is the company that was transformed in that birthing from a humble boilermaker to the mighty conglomerate of uranium and nuclear technology it is today. Now holding the contract to manage the Los Alamos Lab for the U.S. government, B&W also designed and built the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant that melted down in 1979.

Judging from the WSJ story, the big boom business is still booming; and why not?

With a whole lot of help from federal funding, insurance waivers and an incredible postwar PR makeover, research to develop the first nuclear weapons was successfully repackaged for civilian consumption as America’s nuclear energy initiative through the Eisenhower administration’s ‘Atoms For Peace Program.’

One might even say that nuclear power enjoys a charmed "half-life" as, through all of its incarnations, the industry has maintained close ties to federal purse strings (our tax dollars), the military, and an extremely forgiving regulatory system.

Self-righteous nuclear industry voices remind us, whenever possible, that they have been beating swords into plowshares (or 'Megatons to Megawatts,' as they would have it) when they converted U.S. and soviet nuclear weapons into reactor fuel; but that ‘supply” has been exhausted and the industry must look elsewhere for its reprocessing opportunities.

Unless a nuclear arms race figures into your long-term business plan, the “Megatons to Megawatts” model was a pretty dubious platform on which to build future technology, even if you could come up with a way to safely sequester all of that stubborn nuclear waste.

…But nevermind.

There is still plenty of spent fuel piling up with no place to go but into risky new modes of energy release. Never mind the contamination, terrorism and proliferation hazards involved in storing, moving and reprocessing nuclear fuel.

Life couldn't be better in Los Alamos, the community that fission and federal funding built.



Book of the Month
 A Bluish White Light
by Yasunaga Tatsumi and Sato Yutei

The Fairewinds office was honored to receive a copy of A Bluish White Light as a gift from co-author Yasunaga Tatsumi. These powerful short poems are written in the classical Japanese style of “tanka”, a major genre of Japanese literature. Sato Yutei, author and farmer of the Fukushima Prefect, started writing tanka poems during the early operation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the 1980s. By 1988, Yutei foretells a chilling end to farming in the region and advises his son to leave the family business behind and pursue a different life path. Years go by, radiation leaks from the reactor and neighbors get sick, and die from poisoning. A voice like those of so many living in the radioactive shadow of a nuclear plant, Yutei’s tanka style like a personal diary takes us through the decades leading up to Fukushima’s meltdown capturing the uncertainty and vulnerability of the Japanese people whose lives already greatly affected by nuclear in the 1940s are hit once again with the nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.

unnamed.jpgFairewinds in the News:

Huntington News featured our most recent video on Nuclear Containment Risk. How could five radiation barriers fail at Fukushima Daiichi? Using the childhood game of dominoes, each domino represents a failed radiation barrier and like the game when a domino falls all others follow. Nuclear containment risk is nuclear power’s fifth domino. During the 1960s when the American Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards debated containment structures, some members argued for the need to make stronger containments. Regrettably, a majority of the members believed that the emergency core cooling systems were adequate, so more than 50 years ago the Advisory Committee ignored its minority members and pushed ahead without rigorous failure-proof containment structures and systems. The Nuclear Regulatory Committee made the decision not to require stronger containments. Japan followed the American lead.

unnamed-1.jpgNational Nuclear News:

Fukushima resident Chieko Shiina is a supporter of the Fukushima Collaborative Clinic that works to confront authorities about people’s exposure to radiation released by the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown.  Chieko Shiina’s presentation in San Luis Obispo near the Diablo Canyon reactor, exposes the cancer epidemic underway in Japan right now, with 85 children already treated for cancer and 112 more children suspected to have cancer. The Japanese government denies these facts insisting instead that the rise in pediatric thyroid cancer is not due to the catastrophe at Fukushima and the media will not report them.  In her presentation Speaking Out: Fukushima, the Abe Government Expansion & Export of Nuclear Plants at the Nuclear Free California Network Conference, Shiina reported that the head of Japan’s National Cancer Research Center has estimated the rate of cancer has gone up 61 times.  Fairewinds Energy Education has been following the risk of thyroid cancer in Fukushima children since the March 2011 meltdown; watch our video here.  Mothers for Peace member Carole Hisasue provided the exquisite translation of Chieko Shiina’s moving talk. 

Scandalous emails between Pacific Gas and Electric executives and California Public Utilities Commission state regulators divulge ‘back-room’ deals with expensive wine exchanges in quid pro quo nuclear regulatory arrangements. PG&E is the owner of the controversial, aging Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant that is nestled between two serious fault lines. Friends of the Earth commissioned Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen to submit an expert report detailing the risk of aging Diablo Canyon’s mechanical failures and safety issues in the event of an earthquake here. PG&E is pushing to relicense this dangerous nuclear site and using any means necessary to do so, even resorting to “unethical conduct”. The Utility Reform Network, led by Mark Toney is calling for the California Public Utilities Commission to reexamine all behind-the-scene agreements made between former PG&E vice president Brian Cherry and former commission president Michael Peevey and release any deal-making internal emails. State prosecutors have raided both Peevey and Cherry’s homes for computers, day planners, and other documents that would pertain to a corruption investigation. 

International Nuclear News:

In Fairewinds’ most recent video on Nuclear Containment Risk, we focus on the radiation leaks and toxic radioactive substance releases that occurred during the first four days after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster from which data analysis shows that only 25% of the radioactivity escaped the containment systems. Experts were surprised that 75% of the radioactivity that leaked out of the containment systems occurred during the subsequent two weeks. NHK World News has created an excellent video demonstrating how all this radioactivity was released from the plant into the surrounding environment. During the meltdown, fire engines pumped 30 tons of water every hour onto the reactors to keep them cool however in-house investigations by plant operators show that only one ton of this water was actually able to hit its target. According to experts, the water hitting the reactors was not enough to cool the fuel, so the zirconium fuel cladding started overheating and the fuel melted which is why more radioactivity and toxicity escaped for a longer period of time. Masanori Naitoh, director of the Institute for Applied Energy (a foundation authorized by Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry) stated, “Fuel keeps melting slowly as zirconium generates a relatively large amount of heat. The metal remained hot for some time. This means radioactive materials will be released for a longer time.”

 The Japan Atomic Energy Agency violated safety regulations by ignoring an alarm at its materials testing reactor in Ibaraki Prefecture near Tokyo resulting in a radioactive water leak. The Nuclear Regulation Authority called JAEA “dysfunctional”, a ludicrously light berating in consideration of the upcoming four- year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

  • published this page in Newsletters 2015-07-14 15:51:58 -0400


get updates