Joni Arends is the executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a group that monitors impact on the environment and human health attributable to Los Alamos National Laboratory. Arends spoke to SFR the day after the final public hearing on the supplemental environmental impact statement released in regard to the $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement nuclear facility, which would allow for manufacture of more plutonium pits.

SFR: You attended all four meetings on the CMRR statement. How did you feel they went?
JA: The facilitator at the meeting both in Albuquerque and Española took the microphone away from several speakers for going over the time. Every night was something different. One of the things I asked [LANL] to do was to come up with a protocol for holding these hearings that would be available to the public, so we would know what to expect…Mainly, the issue was that to put together a three-minute comment is different than putting together a five-minute comment; and in certain circumstances, if you prepare a five-minute comment, you get there and you’re told it’s three; the majority of your argument gets eliminated.

Not all of the local nuclear nonproliferation activists believe that this process allowing public comment is useful, but you really do.
Yes, probably the most important point is to hear each other’s concerns and to understand that we’re not alone…I remember that it is important for me to sit there for three hours or four hours and hear one another speak, and to feel that love and concern for not only fellow human beings but the plants and animals and the Earth.

New information emerging about the seismic risks at the proposed CMRR site was part of the reason LANL had to do another environmental impact statement. Do you feel like there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the seismic risks?
Yes, the fact that, for 16 years, there have been recommendations for improving the seismic network raises some really big concerns about how seriously the laboratory has taken the seismic risk.

Based on comments made at the Santa Fe public forum, it seems as though some people feel LANL is misleading the public about the seismic risks.
It’s ironic that, for a laboratory with the tagline of the “World’s greatest science protecting America,” they don’t know what the seismic risk at this point in time is, when there’s a proposal on the table for a $6 billion facility. It really goes to the heart of how the laboratory operates.

Which is?
They have to be pushed to do anything right. Whether it’s storm-water protection, whether it’s compliance with the Clean Air Act, whether it’s compliance with the hazardous waste laws of the state of New Mexico, it requires citizen groups or community groups to sue them to get them to do something right, to be in compliance with the laws.

You have untiring passion for this kind of advocacy work. Why is this so important to you?
All the future generations are on the planet right now because women are born with their eggs. When people are exposed now, it’s going to affect future generations, and it doesn’t matter if it’s radiation or its hazardous chemicals or it’s toxic materials. All of those things in synergy are affecting us right now. There’s a flu that’s going around Santa Fe and probably all around the country that people are calling the Fukushima flu…there’s a new story in the Washington Post today that says the fuel rods [in Fukushima, Japan] started melting down within 11 hours after the tsunami. You know, life is great. So how do we protect it so other beings can experience what we have?