KUNM

Scrutiny Intensifies Over Safety At US Nuclear Weapons Lab

Jun 21, 2017

Scrutiny Intensifies Over Safety At US Nuclear Weapons LabThe Associated Press

The safety record at Los Alamos National Laboratory is facing intensifying criticism as work ramps up to produce a key component for the U.S. nuclear weapons cache.

A series published this week by the Center for Public Integrity cites numerous internal reports and other documents outlining regulators' concerns about safety lapses over the years. The problems involved spilled plutonium and workers positioning plutonium rods in a way that could have had disastrous consequences.

In an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press, Los Alamos officials reassured employees that the lab's plutonium facility is operating safely.

The birthplace of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos has struggled for years to address management and oversight issues as well as more recent safety concerns about the handling of radioactive waste and plutonium used to make cores for nuclear bombs.

New Mexico Top Elections Official To Run For Re-ElectionAssociated Press

New Mexico's top elections official says she will run for re-election in 2018.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced her bid for the Democratic nomination Tuesday, saying she wants to continue implementing reforms of the state's campaign finance rules as well as increasing voter education in rural and Native American communities.

Toulouse Oliver was elected secretary of state during a special election in November 2016.

She's serving out the remainder of the term vacated by Republican Dianna Duran, who resigned as secretary of state in 2015 and was convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Before taking over the statewide office, Toulouse Oliver served as the Bernalillo County clerk from 2007 to 2016.

Southern New Mexico City Opens 'Cooling Stations'The Associated Press

Officials in one southern New Mexico city have opened a handful of "cooling stations" where residents can find temporary relief from the heat wave.

Las Cruces officials say the stations at community and recreation centers around the city are designed to help the elderly and other high-risk residents who could be affected by the extreme temperatures.

The stations will be in operation only for certain times of the day.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service say temperatures across southern New Mexico's lower elevations are expected to top out about 10 to 15 degrees above normal Wednesday.

A heat advisory has been issue for the area. It warns that afternoon highs between 105 and 110 will be common across the region through Saturday.

An advisory also has been issued for parts of central and western New Mexico.

Texas Oil Company Opens Regional Headquarters In New MexicoThe Associated Press

A Texas-based oil company has opened a new regional headquarters in southeastern New Mexico as activity in the Permian Basin heats up.

Officials with Mewbourne Oil say the new office represents the company's commitment to the region and its interest in expansion in the years to come.

Founder and owner Curtis Mewbourne says the Permian, which spans parts of New Mexico and West Texas, has emerged as one of the premier basins in the global oil and gas industry.

Mewbourne already is among the most active oil and gas drillers in New Mexico. The company has about 135 employees in Hobbs and expects to hire more.

Gov. Susana Martinez was among those who were in Hobbs on Wednesday to mark the opening of Mewbourne's new office.

Albuquerque Police Officer Faces 2 Suits For On-Duty CrashesThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

An Albuquerque police officer who has been in at least five on-duty vehicle crashes in the past three years is facing lawsuits in connection with two of the crashes.

The Albuquerque Journal reports officer Patrick Casias was sued in March and then again last week. Both lawsuits were filed in state district court and are seeking damages.

Albuquerque police said Casias could not have prevented either accident, and point out the many hours officers spend in their cars each day.

The lawsuits come at a time when the department faces scrutiny for the number of crashes its officers have been involved in. Albuquerque's Police Oversight Board recently asked for a presentation from the department about its crash statistics compared to other departments.

Navajo Council Waiting For Special Session On Plant LeaseAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation Council has tabled legislation seeking to extend the lease on a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona.

Council members say they'll wait for a special session on the issue Monday in Window Rock.

The current lease for the Navajo Generating Station in Page is scheduled to expire in December 2019.

If the tribe doesn't approve a lease extension by July 1, the plant will have to close at the end of this year to be torn down by 2020.

The plant's owners announced in February they plan to close it when their lease expires, citing the availability of less expensive power generated by burning natural gas.

The power plant and a coal mine that supplies it employ about 750 people.

Albuquerque Officials Warn Of Dry Conditions For July 4thAssociated Press

Officials in New Mexico's largest city are urging people to attend public fireworks displays instead of purchasing fireworks this July Fourth.

They pointed to triple-digit temperatures and dry conditions as reasons for the increased fire danger along Albuquerque's stretch of the Rio Grande, the foothills bordering the city to the east and the mesa on the west.

City ordinance prohibits the sale and use of all aerial fireworks within the city limits.

Officials say people who purchase illegal fireworks and bring them into Albuquerque are placing the community at risk.

In 2016, the city's firefighters received more than 2,300 illegal fireworks calls during the July Fourth holiday weekend. More than two dozen citations were issued.

Police Implore New Mexico Author To End Treasure HuntAssociated Press

New Mexico's top law enforcement officer is asking the author and antiquities dealer who inspired thousands to comb remote corners of the West in vain for a chest of gold and jewels to end the treasure hunt.

The plea from New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas follows what authorities believe is the latest death related to the hunt for Forrest Fenn's hidden treasure.

Kassetas told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Fenn should retrieve the treasure from wherever he hid it and "stop this nonsense."

Fenn says he's been considering how to make the search safer or cancel it altogether but hasn't made any decisions.

The New Mexico Search and Rescue team is reaching out to the public through a survey for their thoughts on whether Fenn should call off the search.

Medicaid cutbacks could hinder addiction plan in New MexicoAssociated Press

New Mexico stands to lose critical funding for substance abuse treatment that helps combat a local opioid epidemic, under a Republican campaign in Washington, D.C. to roll back President Barack Obama's health care law.

Reforms approved by the U.S. House would phase out expanded Medicaid that allows states to provide federally backed insurance to low-income adults, including behavior health treatment for addiction. New Mexico senators protested the plans Tuesday.

New Mexico officials say the local Medicaid expansion population accounts for one in five dollars spent on behavioral health treatment — $101 million out of $477 million annually.

State Behavioral Health Services Division Director Wayne Lindstrom predicts a major setback for substance abuse treatment and other behavior health programs if Republicans do away with federal Medicaid expansion funding.

Report puts New Mexico at No. 34 for education spendingAssociated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

A report by the Census Bureau ranks New Mexico as 34th in the nation for its public education spending.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Census Bureau released their findings last week. The report took from nationwide data from 2014-15. According to the Census Bureau, New Mexico spent $9,752 per student during those years, 14 percent less than the national average for that period.

In comparison, Utah spent around $6,500 per student, while New York invested a hefty $21,206.

Experts found that despite those amounts, the state's proficiency scores and graduation rates are behind New York's by less than 10 percent while Utah's graduation rate exceeds New Mexico.

The bureau's data shows that New Mexico has slowly been increasing the money it puts toward students since 2012.