Los Alamos still active 69 years after dropping of atomic bombs

World Today

Wednesday marks the 69th anniversary of the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima during the West’s efforts to end WWII.

The atomic age was ushered in by a secret enclave in the U.S. state of New Mexico, a town called Los Alamos.  Seventy years later, Los Alamos is still actively designing, building, and researching nuclear weapons.

CCTV’s Sean Callebs reports.
Follow Sean Callebs on Twitter @seancctv

Los Alamos still active 69 years after dropping the nuclear bombs

Wednesday marks the 69th anniversary of the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

It could be any small town, carved out of the rough terrain in the southwestern United States. But Los Alamos has its place in history secure.

It all started here. As World War II raged, the U.S. government lured scientist Robert Oppenheimer and legions of other brilliant scientists to build the world’s first nuclear bomb.

Folksy home movies helped document work on the project that was code-named “The Manhattan Project.” Photos show what Los Alamos looked like back then. An important landmark right in the middle of everything is Ashley Pond.

Seventy years after ushering in the atomic age, Los Alamos and nuclear weapons remain intimately intertwined. Instead of the Manhattan Project, today it is the Los Alamos National Lab, a sprawling facility that employs 9,000 people. What frustrates critics is that facility remains shrouded in secrecy.

“Well, they are in the fear marketing business. They need a cold war,” said Greg Mello, head of watchdog organization Los Alamos Study Group. “They are not arms racing with someone else. They need to arms race themselves.”

In the name of national security what goes on at Los Alamos National Lab is top secret. The LANL budget is close to $2 billion a year, with three quarters spent on nuclear weapons research.

In an era that is supposed to be characterized by dismantling nuclear weapons, Mello says think again.

“All told, the United States has between 7,000 and 8,0000 nuclear weapons, including those that are slated for disarmament. In the arsenal, I would say 4,600, 4,500.”

That’s far more than any other nation.

You can’t see Los Alamos National Lab from the town — and that is by design. But you can’t miss its effect on this community. Forty percent of the land in the city is owned by LANL and the lab funds a full 80 percent of the county’s operation budget.

LANL scientists work with high level radioactive materials and much of the waste is still stored on site.

“A majority of the residents understand the mission of the lab because they have chosen to work for it. So we don’t have a lot of what you might anticipate with detractors for the lab in our local community,” said Los Alamos County Administrator Harry Burgess.

Within this top secret site, the mission includes designing new nuclear weapons, but analysts say an overwhelming majority of LANL’s $2 billion budget has scientists researching how the aging U.S. arsenal would perform if it was forced into use. That’s a colossal waste of money and resources according to Mello and other critics.

LANL management resists efforts to cut spending. And can always rely on two crucial words: National Security.

Michael O’Hanlon joined CCTV America to discuss the Los Alamos National Lab, and how facilities like this one still exist. He is a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. He is also director of research for the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.  TWITTER: @MichaelEOHanlon

Nuclear waste: How the money is being spent?

Michael O'hanlon on nuclear waste.