The Nuclear Hot-Seat: Tales of Being a Taos Down-Winder

By: Jean Stevens, World BEYOND War, January 12, 2021

I have lived in Taos, New Mexico for over 30 years.  It is a beautiful place with a remarkable history.  It is also the location of the Taos Pueblo which is a World Heritage Site.  I am a retired educator and the founder/director of the Taos Environmental Film Festival.  I am also a Climate Reality Corps Leader and am profoundly concerned about the dangers facing all life on earth as was reported via the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the 2020 Doomsday Clock which is 100 Seconds to Midnight (the closest ever due to climate change & new nuke bomb proliferation).  We are now approaching a new Doomsday Clock report in 2021.  With a global pandemic, and an unhinged Trump presidency, I fear for the results.

In 2011, I evacuated to Ouray, Colorado when the Las Conchas fire erupted and came within two miles of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL),which houses approximately 30,000 barrels of nuke plutonium waste.  In 2000, I was unable to evacuate as a full-time teacher during the Cerro Grande Fire.  This fire also came dangerously close to LANL and the smoke drifted to Taos, which is 45 miles downwind.

During a film festival in Telluride, I spoke to a former firefighter of the 2000 Cerro Grande devastation and she reported seeing mini explosions, emanating from the ground, while fighting the fire.  When I asked for more details she didn’t want to discuss the traumatic experience.


The nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) largest repository of nuclear weapons is the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico is a massive storehouse of waste from the research and production of US nuclear weapons. It is located in the southeastern region of New Mexico called the “nuclear corridor” which also includes the National Enrichment Facility near Eunice, New Mexico, the Waste Control Specialists low-level waste disposal facility just over the border near Andrews, Texas, and the International Isotopes, Inc. facility to be built near Eunice, New Mexico.

And then there are the three major nuclear weapons laboratories in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons complex, two of which – Los Alamos (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) – are located in New Mexico.

What we’re witnessing is a new Cold War surge in nuke weapons research and development in New Mexico, which is arguably the ground zero for nuclear weapons modernization on our planet Earth. The Los Alamos Study Group stated the current LANL nuke modernization is the biggest expansion at LANL since the Manhattan Project.

In 2018 a new director was hired for this new era at LANL, Thomas “Thom” Mason, a Canadian-American condensed-matter physicist. Prior to this appointment, he had been an executive at Battelle Memorial Institute from 2017–2018, and the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007–2017. The same year Triad National Security won a $25 billion contract from the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration to manage and operate the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This November, the Taos News reported that LANL director Dr. Thom Mason is recruiting students to work on the huge proliferation and modernization of nuclear weapons.


Don’t Bank on the Bomb states that “Modernization can be misleading, especially when it comes to nuclear weapons. Modernizing nuclear weapons is more about maintaining or expanding the ability to murder civilians using an indiscriminate weapon outlawed by international treaty.” Don’t Bank on the Bomb’s extensive database identifies the privately owned companies that are most heavily involved in the nuclear weapons industrial complex, such as Honeywell International which has a contract with Sandia Labs (Albuquerque, NM), where the warhead and missile combine to make increasingly destructive and de-stabilizing weapons.

The largest per producer investments reported in 2017 as reported by Don’t Bank on the Bomb are:

  1. Boeing: Boeing makes specifically designed missiles for the United States nuclear arsenal as well as the guided tail-kit for the next generation gravity bombs. Boeing, based in the US, is the world’s largest aerospace company and a leading manufacturer of jetliners and military, space, and security systems. Its products and services include commercial and military aircraft, satellites, bombs and missiles, electronic and military systems, launch systems, advanced information and communication systems, and performance-based logistics and training. In the financial year ending 31 December 2019, Boeing reported revenues of US$ 76.559 million,
  2. Honeywell International: Honeywell is involved in US nuclear weapon facilities as well as producing key components for the US Minuteman III ICBM and the Trident II (D5) system, currently in use by the US and UK.  Honeywell International, based in the US, operates as a diversified technology and manufacturing company. The company’s business units are aerospace, building technologies, safety and productivity solutions and performance materials and technologies. In the financial year ending 31 December 2018, Honeywell International announced sales of US$ 36,709 million.
  3. Lockheed Martin: Lockheed Martin is involved in both UK and US nuclear weapon production as a provider of key services and components for nuclear armed missiles.  Lockheed Martin, based in the US, focuses on research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. In the financial year ending 31 December 2019, it generated revenues of US$ 59.8 billion.
  4. Northrup Grumman: Northrop Grumman is involved in all aspects of the US nuclear weapons arsenal – from facilities producing warheads to producing key components for specially designed delivery systems. Northrop Grumman is connected to at least US$ 68.3 billion in outstanding contracts related to nuclear weapons, with work anticipated to run until at least 2036. Northrop Grumman, based in the US, is global aerospace, defense and security company, which conducts the majority of its business with the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community. In the financial year ending 31 December 2018, Northrop Grumman generated revenues of US$ 33.3 billion.
  5. Raytheon: Raytheon is involved in production of US ground and air launched nuclear armed missiles and was chosen as prime contractor for the new Long Range Standoff weapon. Currently, Raytheon is connected to at least US$ 963.4 million in nuclear weapon related contracts, running through 2022.  The merger with United Technologies corporation results in at least another US$ 500 million in nuclear weapon related contracts. Raytheon, based in the US, provides military, civil government and cybersecurity related products. In the financial year ending 31 December 2019, Raytheon generated revenues of US$ 29.2 billion.
  6. Bechtel: Bechtel is involved in several US nuclear weapon complex facilities. It is also part of the team that will develop the replacement nuclear weapon for the US Minuteman III, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.  Bechtel Group, a private company based in the US, operates as an engineering, construction and project management company.  In the financial year 2018, Bechtel Group reported revenues of US$ 25.5 billion.


Back from the Brink states that “The extraordinarily devastating force and deadly toxicity of nuclear weapons sets them apart from all other weapons. The detonation of a single nuclear bomb can kill hundreds of thousands and cause injury and illness for many more. A limited nuclear war can kill up to 2 billion through climatic effects that cause global famine. A full-scale nuclear war threatens humanity itself.”

In conclusion, it is my hope that we can all come together on January 22, 2021 – the historic day the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enters into force – to speak truth to power, honor everyone who is protecting our health and the well-being of our sacred Mother Earth, and mobilize for nuclear abolition. One of the best places to find resources, education, and events is at

3 Responses

  1. Great article Jean, thankyou! I knew there were NW in NM, but had no idea it was the epicentre. Tragic to hear with such amazing ecosystems there,its history,raw beauty, cultural and artistic riches. We have a lot of work to do. Learning and writing here in BC on the Ban Treaty, Canada & NATO, promoting WBW whenever possible. All good wishes and onward!

  2. Environmental film fest- Hi Jean, I have a friend, Lilly, staying next door for a few more days before she heads out, she is the director of the Yale Environmental Film Fest and I would love to link the two of you up and help support you if you are considering a virtual film fest this year. That is if you are willing. I have been SO impressed with what you do for the TEFF and what an important role it plays in our community.

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