Thursday News Roundup: New Security System Finally Complete At Los Alamos

Apr 3, 2014

New Security System Finally Complete At Los Alamos - The Assocaited Press

Federal officials say the problem-plagued $244 million security system to protect the most sensitive areas at Los Alamos National Laboratory is finally complete.

The advanced security upgrade for the lab's plutonium complex was supposed to be done almost two years ago at a cost of $213 million. But as it was nearing completion officials acknowledged there were major problems, and said they needed an additional $41 million to fix it. The National Nuclear Security Administration said Thursday the system was ultimately completed for $244 million.

The modern system protects what is known as Technical Area 55, the only place in the country where nuclear weapon triggers can be made. The area is one of the most sensitive at Los Alamos and includes a cement, bunker-like complex that houses two aging labs where most of the work with dangerous plutonium is done.

Navajo To Benefit From $1B For Uranium Cleanup The Associated PressThe Navajo Nation will benefit from more than $1 billion to clean up abandoned uranium mines that have left a legacy of disease and death on the reservation.

The money is part of a $5.15 billion settlement that the federal government reached with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for the cleanup of thousands of long-contaminated sites nationwide. The settlement resolves a legal battle over Tronox Inc., a 2005 spinoff of Kerr-McGee Corp. that Anadarko acquired in 2006.

Federal and tribal officials on Thursday hailed the settlement as the largest ever for environmental contamination.

Kerr-McGee once operated about 50 uranium mines near Cove, Ariz., and a uranium mill in Shiprock, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. The more than $1 billion will address about 10 percent of the tribe's inventory of abandoned mines.

Crisis Team Not Called In Albuquerque Shooting- The Associated Press and The Albuquerque Journal A specialized Albuquerque police unit trained to defuse dangerous encounters with suspects battling mental illness was not used in the March 16 police shooting of a homeless man.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Barri Roberts, executive director of the Bernalillo County Forensic Intervention Consortium, said the police's Crisis Intervention Team played no role during the long standoff with 38-year-old James Boyd.

Police shot and killed Boyd in the Sandia foothills after authorities said he threatened officers and claimed he was a federal agent.

Chief Gorden Eden told reporters after the shooting that a CIT officer had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Boyd before the shooting.

But Roberts says police did not make a distinction between full-time CIT detectives and field officers who have completed 40 hours of CIT training.


Gov. Martinez announces Child Welfare Proposals - The Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has unveiled a series of initiatives aimed at reforming the state's child welfare system and the way child abuse cases are investigated.

Martinez says the initiatives stem from an extensive review of the Children, Youth and Families Department and the case of a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy who police say was kicked to death by his mother last December.

The governor says she reviewed the case of Omaree Varela and every agency can learn from it.

Authorities say the boy had previously tried to report allegations of abuse. His mother has been arrested in his death.

Martinez will be signing a number of executive orders this week to implement the changes, one of which includes improving communication between social workers and law enforcement officers.


Officer Under Investigation In Varela Case Fired - The Associated Press

One of two Albuquerque police officers under investigation for how they handled a child abuse call involving Omaree Varela has been fired.

The police department terminated Officer Gil Vigil on Wednesday.

Vigil's attorney, Sam Bregman, says his client's termination is unjustified and that the officer wants his job back.

Vigil and another officer were placed on administrative leave in February after it was discovered that they went to the boy's home in June to respond to a 911 call in which a dispatcher overheard threatening, profane and abusive comments.

The police department had said the officers never listened to the call and did not file a report.

Six months later, the boy died after his mother allegedly kicked him to death. She has been charged and remains jailed.


Los Alamos Resumes Nuclear-Waste Shipments - The Associated Press

Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is under a tight deadline to get nuclear waste off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, has begun trucking the remainder of the waste to Texas.

Los Alamos and Department of Energy officials say the first shipments arrived at a commercial nuclear waste dump in Andrews County in west Texas on Wednesday.

Removal of the waste was halted in February after a truck fire and radiation leak shuttered indefinitely the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico. But federal officials last month reached an agreement to temporarily move the waste to Waste Control Specialists.

The state of New Mexico pressured Los Alamos to get the material off a mesa following a massive 2011 wildfire that lapped at the edges of lab property.


Crews Enter Troubled Nuclear Waste Dump - The Associated Press 

Officials say crews have made their first trip into the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump since a release of radiation in February contaminated 21 workers.

The U.S. Department of Energy says two crews of eight made the initial descent Wednesday into the half-mile deep Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico, and no radiation was detected.

The agency called the entries a critical first step toward figuring out what caused the leak. But they say more expanded trips will be needed to continue the probe and assess the extent of damage.

Shipments to the dump were halted Feb. 5 after a truck hauling salt in the mine and repository caught fire. The dump was shuttered nine days later after the mysterious leak sent low levels of radiation into the air.


Albuquerque Mayor Unveils Police Reforms - The Associated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry is asking the U.S. Justice Department to complete its investigation of the city's troubled police department and help officials develop a reform plan.

Berry said he wrote a letter Wednesday asking the department to expedite its review and begin negotiations with the city.

While defending other reforms made in recent years, the mayor called the fatal March police shooting of a homeless man "a game changer." He says the city needs to make changes soon. A publicly released video of that shooting sparked a 12-hour protest by hundreds of angry residents Sunday.

Berry also detailed a number of proposed reforms that he and new Police Chief Gorden Eden want to implement, including hiring a fourth deputy chief to oversee DOJ reforms, improved officer training and mental health awareness.


Delays Expected On Interstate 25 From Road Work - The Associated Press

The state Department of Transportation is warning motorists to expect delays on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe starting next week because of construction work.

A $4.9 million road rehabilitation project begins Monday along a five-mile stretch of the interstate between Canoncito and Glorieta.

Northbound traffic — beginning about 10 miles outside of Santa Fe — initially will be restricted to a single lane. Intermittent lane closures will shift later to southbound I-25.

The department said traffic delays are possible on the four-lane highway during the work week from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. The construction is scheduled to be finished by the end of June, weather permitting.

The road project contractor is Fisher Sand and Gravel-New Mexico Inc. of Placitas.