Story was biased against Los Alamos

  Laura Paskus’ one-sided article, “New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut,” has largely parroted the viewpoint of the local anti-LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) organizations (HCN, 11/24/03: New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut). I am a LANL employee, although the opinions expressed here are my own.

The problems with this article begin in the first paragraphs, in which Paskus presents a highly skewed background description of Los Alamos, designed to present it as a dark and repressive place. With statements like “lab employees can, to some degree, express their personal politics,” she insinuates that dissent is discouraged. In fact, Lab employees enjoy more freedom to express personal politics than is commonly seen in private industry (where I also spent many years employed) — probably a result of LANL’s heritage of being run by the University of California.

Although most of the facts Paskus quotes are technically correct, many are half-truths presented without background or qualification. For instance, she quotes the recent report by the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (a local anti-LANL group) “showing that cesium-137 has reached the Rio Grande,” without mentioning that the levels detected are at the ragged edge of the minimum detectable with the test used, and that even if accurate, these levels are consistent with those resulting from worldwide radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Further, in describing LANL’s new Biosafety Level 3 Facility, Paskus leaves the impression that LANL is developing bioweapons. This is not true — one of the missions is to examine defenses AGAINST terrorist bioweapons.

Paskus makes a half-hearted effort to present both sides of the issues discussed, but commonly quotes anti-LANL viewpoints as fact while quoting LANL representatives in such a way as to insinuate they are lying or hiding something. Her article falls far short of the well-researched, fair and unbiased coverage of environmental issues that used to be the standard for High Country News.

Blake P. Wood
Los Alamos, New Mexico