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NRC, Hunger Striker Keep New Mexico in Nuclear Crosshairs

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Alaric Balibrera; photo taken by Elizabeth Romero.
Alaric Balibrera; photo taken by Elizabeth Romero.
 By Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Contact
August 13, 2012

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico remains in the crosshairs of the ongoing debate over the safety of the nuclear industry.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s new chairwoman, Allison MacFarlane, has indicated that a site near Carlsbad, N.M., where nuclear waste is stored four miles underground, offers some hope of a permanent repository. MacFarlane made the comments in the wake of last week’s unanimous decision by the five-person panel to suspend licensing for U.S. nuclear power plants until it can be proved that the lack of a storage plan does not threaten public health and safety. MacFarlane is the first geologist to sit on the commission. She finds the industry’s evaluation of earthquake vulnerability to be inadequate currently, recognizing that geological knowledge is “constantly changing.”

Meanwhile, a New Mexico man ended a 24-day hunger strike over what he sees as environmental threats posed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Alaric Balibrera's father officially documented activity at Los Alamos as a filmmaker from 1967 to 1982, so Balibrera says he grew up around the nuclear industry. But today, he sees it much differently than does his dad.

"What I'm calling for is a transformation in our approach to using science to sustain life and enrich life. What we're looking at is a system that thrives on greed and hatred and fear."

When he was young, Balibrera says his father brought home non-classified films from the lab and watched them, sometimes with LANL scientists.

"No one saw these images except me and my little sister. We saw the images of the mushroom cloud exploding on my living room wall regularly. The bomb was always a kind of intimate part of my awareness growing up."

Balibrera says he's still trying to meet face-to-face with a number of decision-makers to share his concerns. He wants to see U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Gov. Susana Martinez and LANL Director Charles McMillan.

Arnie Alpert, with the American Friends Service Committee, supports Balibrera's views. Alpert says the organization has been campaigning for an end to nuclear weapons since the first time they were used. It's trying to get Congress to reallocate funds from military and nuclear weapons programs, to others that address human needs.

“Wouldn’t our country actually be stronger and more secure if our families had access to the health care and education and housing that they need, instead of having another rack of nuclear bombs that we pray will never get used?”

Balibrera doesn't think his father, now a Hollywood screenwriter, shares his concerns. However, he is joined by people and organizations who do. He says some 30 people have joined the hunger strike for differing lengths of time. Some of them are continuing the strike.

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