Further Notes on Student Power

Regents are not Apolitical

On May 6, 1997, Editor in Chief of the Daily Lobo, Susan Montoya, wrote an editorial denouncing the endorsement of Republican congressional candidate Bill Redmond by Richard Toliver, a Regent of UNM. Montoya said the problem was “a university official has endorsed a political candidate.” (I have written on Toliver before. While not giving substantially monetarily, he was a major campaigner for Gary Johnson, who became governor. Had some social capital as director of United We Stand America, and generally hard conservative view, would not be a surprise he endorsed the far right Redmond. )

First of all I would expect Ms. Montoya, as an editor in chief of a campus newspaper, to have a better awareness of the role of the Board of Regents. Or, with access to public records, know that the Regents come from campaign contributors of the governor of the state of the time, and the governor appoints the same Regents. So the process is already political.

Some of us in progressive student politics noted that if the regents are already a politically based appointment, they should be elected by voters. We did secondary campaigns that linked the regents as positions of power on issues such as tuition. We even tried to put in a resolution through the student senate about it, but it didn’t go anywhere.


This brings up another issue with positions of power at UNM, the undergraduate student senate. Called ASUNM for Associated Students of UNM, it has its share of corruption. The abuse of it was shown starting in 1996. That year in the Spring elections were held for student government, and a slate of candidates won, made up of student athletes. Back then candidates could run only as individuals and not as slates of groups. That year a flyer was circulated urging athletes and supporters to vote for a list of candidates. And they won. The election was challenged on the slate rule. The current ASUNM senate voted to nullify the election. Yet they do not have final say, the regents do. The decision was sent to the regents and the election was upheld despite the rule breaking.

So the athletic slate was in power and the election rules are then changed. It was significant because when they came to power, one thing the Senate has power over is the committee that allocates student fee money, the Student Fee Review Board. The next year it voted on cutting many programs that were funded such as tutoring and child care, and giving a major increase to the Athletic department. The slate was created to get a new policy of increasing athletics funding. (The role of athletics at UNM has been talked about before here too.) This galvanized many constituencies at UNM, and a coalition was formed, SAVE UNM, for Students Activating Voicing Empowering UNM (we were suckers for acronyms). The Progressive Student Alliance played a key role in it, as well as a number of other student organizations like Raza en Accion and about 20 others, and a number of unaffiliated students who wanted to do something on this issue. SAVE UNM held meetings, organized an open forum, and even crashed a town hall held by President Peck. They got a lot of press in the Daily Lobo. The campaign lasted through the semester. But as with other decisions at UNM, the real decision was left to the administration. They made a lesser increase to the allocation to Athletics and slight increases to other programs. After this the momentum died down.

Another thing that affected the coalition was the action against Peck’s town hall. The main issue was hearing student voices, and they wanted him to move it to a time that was more convenient for students on campus to make. The president rejected it, and SAVE UNM decided to stage a protest on it. The plan was to attend the meeting and then walk out. The plan after that was not as clear. So after the walkout of the town hall, about 25 people marched to Scholes Hall, the administrative building, and marched inside. UNM campus police were called in, and then the protest went to the president’s house nearby. Afterward it dispersed. There was criticisms of the protest not only by the President, but by the Lobo, and students both outside and inside the coalition. There was some attempts to justify it, but it was clear it was not well thought and consensus was not met on it.

Later that semester SAVE UNM died out, and the PSA did a protest against tuition. (I wrote about this too).  They held an outdoor concert by a local rock band, and did some speeched about tuition. A smaller protest was held from the year before when students got arrested and had demonstrators of nearly 100. About 25 students protested and spoke at the Regents meeting that voted on another tuition hike. One issue was whether to expand SAVE UNM’s mission to deal with tuition. Looking back, if tuition was an issue that affected all students, wouldn’t it have made sense to have them do it? Also that year student government elections were held, and a Progressive slate was run, but none of the candidates were elected.

Those were the activist happenings at UNM around 1996 and 1997. One thing all present student activists should realize is that it is not just activism but organizing, not just campaign against issues but get people involved in the process. To build community. There is a stereotype of university communities full of ready activists, but the reality is far different. One has to put in work to organize people there, especially at campuses not known for activism. It has its own contradictions too, such as the rapid pace of university life, but these contradictions have to be acknowledged and worked out in any situation. Not only look at the structures of power in any institution but work to build your community’s power too.

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Air Force military research at UNM, 1994-1998

From previous research on the effects of military research in universities, I attempted to look at the effects on my own university, the University of New Mexico (or, why i took a couple years more to graduate). We have seen before that science and engineering departments obtain a major part of their research money from the military, especially electrical engineering departments. One more public part of military research is the influence of the Air Force and its Office of Scientific Research, (now the Air Force Research Laboratory), which has a large presence at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

A public search of research contracts from the Air Force revealed the following:

14 awards were given to UNM from the Air Force for research from 1994 to 1998.

2 are listed from the Department of the Air Force, 12 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Here are the Departments or units of the Principal Investigators (PI):

Electrical and Computer Engineering: 9
Center for High Technology Materials: 2

Physics and Astronomy: 2
NM Engineering Research Institute: 1

Here are the Administering Units:

Center for High Technology Materials: 7
Electrical and Computer Engineering: 4
Physics and Astronomy: 2
NM Engineering Research Institute: 1

Of the 14, 11 went to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. 2 to Physics and Astronomy, and 1 to the New Mexico Engineering Research Institute. Most of the administrators are in the Center for High Technology Materials.

Three of these projects are for Edl Schamiloglu in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, who is working on the E-Bomb for the military.

These awards went to 11 people, called Principal Investigators. Here is the breakdown:


PI: Mike Stamm

Dept/Unit of PI: New Mexico Engineering Research institute
Administering Unit: New Mexico Engineering Research Institute
Sponsor: Department of the Air Force
Title: IPA
ORS Reference #: 02607144-714
Dates: 5/15/1994 to 05/14/1997
Total Award: $222,630 ; Direct: $222,630  ; Indirect: $0


PI: Steven Brueck

Dept/Unit of PI: Center for High Technology Materials
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Measurement of the Linewidth Enhancement Factor at High Excitation Levels
ORS Reference #: 02810235-319A
Dates; 08/31/1994-08/30/1997
Total Award: $118,306 Direct: $81,916 Indirect: $36,390

Dept/Unit of PI: Center for High Technology Materials
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Optoelectronics Research Center
ORS Reference #: 04074235-404
Dates: 03/15/1996-05/14/1997
Total Award: $1,200,000 Direct: $816,589 Indirect: $383,411


PI: Ravinder Jain

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Efficient near and mid-infrared dielectric waveguide lasers
ORS Reference #: 02807235-322A
Dates: 08/31/1994-08/30/1997
Total Award: $142,306 Direct: $98,133 Indirect: $44,173


PI: Kevin Malloy

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: FAST Center for IR Semiconductor Technology (FIRST)
ORS Reference #: 00606235-369
Dates: 09/30/1995-09/29/1997
Total Award: $1,330,355 Direct: $951,307 Indirect: $379,048

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Ultralow Threshold Semiconductor Lasers Based on Gain Without Inversion
ORS Reference #: 04207235/4207
Dates: 07/01/1996-06/30/1999
Total Award:  $247,811 Direct: $171,406 Indirect: $76,405


PI: Julian Cheng

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Integrated Wavelength-Space-Time Optical Multiplexing Technologies & Architectures for Large-Scale, Reconfigurable, Multiple-Access Com Net
ORS Reference #: 00490235-359
Total Award: $371,096 Direct: $264,164 Indirect: $106,932


PI: Edl Schamiloglu

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: A Study of Pulse Shortening in an Annular Electron Beam HPM Amplifier
ORS Reference #:04412133-734
Total Award: $133,841 Direct: $92,758 Indirect: $41,083

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Department of the Air Force
Title:A Versatile High-Power Laser System for High Spatial Resolution Nanosecond Plasma Diagnostics in Electron Beam-Driven
ORS Reference #:04575113-738/4575
Dates: 08/01/1996-07/31/1998
Total Award: $141,087 Direct: $141,087 Indirect: $0

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Upgrade of a Long Pulse, High Power Backward Wave Oscillator to Ultraclean Vacuum Condition
ORS Reference #: 07048113/7048
Dates: 03/01/1997-02/28/1998
Total Award: $125,095 Direct: $125,095 Indirect: $0


PI: Jeffrey Nicholson (Co-PI), PI: Wolfgang Rudolph

Dept/Unit of PI: Physics and Astronomy
Administering Unit: Physics and Astronomy
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Radar Waves with Optical Carriers
ORS Reference #: 07190135
Total Award:  $24,982 Direct: $16,880 Indirect: $8,102


PI: Luke Lester

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Center for High Technology Materials
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: MBE System for Antimonide Based Semiconductor Lasers
ORS Reference #: 07065235-445
Dates: 03/01/1997-02/28/1998
Total Award: $295,317 Direct: $295,317 Indirect: $0


PI: Sudhakar Prasad

Dept/Unit of PI: Physics and Astronomy
Administering Unit: Physics and Astronomy
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Information Dynamics in Image Deconvolution
ORS Reference #: 07141234
Total Award: $61,469 Direct: $42,830 Indirect: $18,639


PI: Thomas Caudell

Dept/Unit of PI: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Administering Unit: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Title: Spatially Distributed and Stabilized 3D Surround Sound Using Multiresolution Signal Processing Algorithms for Virtual Environment
ORS Reference #: 07046113/7046
Dates: 04/01/1997-12/31/1997
Total Award: $60,856 Direct: $60,856 Indirect: $0


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Nuclear Missiles In Colorado

Here’s a flyer I obtained while in Colorado around the mid 2010’s. The nuclear weapons legacy exists in many regions of this country, along with opposition to it.

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Depleted Uranium, New Mexico, and Resistance


Another role that New Mexico plays as part of the military industrial complex is its part in the development of depleted uranium weapons. Their use was widely reported in many military interventions in the post-Cold War era, along with the grave health effects from exposure. New Mexico military research facilities are involved in the development of these weapons. But along with the development of these weapons was the rise of an activist, Damacio Lopez, who became one of their main opponents. 

The film Uranium-238: The Pentagon’s Dirty Pool, gives an overview of these weapons:

Depleted uranium is a waste byproduct of nuclear fuel processing. The density of this metal, twice that of lead, made it valued for development of armor-piercing ammunition because of its penetrating qualities. Weapons were developed starting in the 1970’s. They were used by the U.S and NATO countries in military interventions in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. Israel also reportedly uses these weapons in their occupation of Palestine. 

Their use became widely known after the Gulf War of 1991 in Iraq, which left tens of thousands of casualties. The notorious Highway of Death was an area of tons of burnt tanks and other military vehicles, several casualties, their bodies burnt; many of them pierced with DU rounds. The DU weapons create much heat, and oxidize into fumes and ash, with inhalation being toxic. The effects on Iraqi soldiers and civilians has been heavily documented, with it being linked to several deformed newborns, and other severe health effects in children and adults. The range of symptoms known as Gulf War Syndrome is also though to be caused in part by exposure to depleted uranium. 

Depleted uranium retains 60 percent of the radioactivity of pure uranium, and both the DOD and DOE say it is safe. But the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1996 classified DU as a weapon of mass destruction. 

A story about the New Mexico connection to depleted uranium weapons appeared in Crosswinds Weekly in 2001. (1) According to the Military Toxics Project in a report issued in 2001, New Mexico tied with California as the state with the most sites DU is used, tested, or stored. Weapons are tested at White Sands Missile Range, Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, and facilities with New Mexico Tech in Socorro. (2)  The latter was one of the main facilities for testing this weapon in this state, and also the home town of Damacio Lopez, an activist who would campaign against these weapons. 

Damacio Lopez was born in Socorro in 1943. At age 17 he joined the military, during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After he left the service in 1965 he went to college, and played golf in the student club. In 1969 he became a professional golfer, and played many tournaments. This was to be his career until in 1985 he was involved in an auto accident, and moved back to Socorro to recover from injuries. 

In Socorro at his parents home, he noticed clouds of smoke from nearby explosions caused by weapons testing by the university nearby, less than 3 miles away, and how it was downwind from there. His father, who often was outside to tend his garden, later developed cancer and passed away. Looking for connections, he found high incidences of cancer and hydrocephalic births in the area of his town, that of a population of 8,000. He also found out about the nature of experiments at New Mexico Tech. 

I have discussed New Mexico Tech before. Founded in 1893 as a mining school, it shifted its focus after World War II to weapons development. It regularly has around 1,500 students. It hosts the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, the main facility on the campus. Of the 140 faculty employed, at least 100 work for the EMRTC division. Those faculty not with the division, as well as anyone else, is left out of the loop of its projects. New Mexico Tech began DU testing in 1985, and may have had preliminary testing since 1972. (3) (4)

Lopez began speaking out about depleted uranium in 1985 at the university Board of Regents meetings. The university was the main employer in the small town, and a powerful institution in its own right, so few people spoke out with him. But shortly after he began to speak out, boxes of documents were leaked to him by university employees that showed the contracts the university had for depleted uranium development. He brought this evidence to the university president, who insulted him racially by questioning his English skills. Lopez later campaigned for the state Environmental Protection Department to act, but in their response they said that the material was safe. Not satisfied, Lopez campaigned for mayor in 1986 to bring attention to his campaign, a result of which he was nearly run over by a car while on his bicycle. 

New Mexico Tech admitted to ending testing of DU around 1992, but admits there is still “legacy waste” cleanup to do. The university later set up a foundation to filter its contracts through, to avoid this kind of scrutiny. 


After this Damacio Lopez became a full-time organizer against depleted uranium. After the Gulf War in 1991 he was part of a delegation of observers to Iraq that included former attorney general Ramsey Clark. He spoke at several conferences and community groups, including at the United Nations, as he became a sought after expert on depleted uranium. (5) In 1998 he founded IDUST, the International Depleted Uranium Study Team. He helped produce several media materials about depleted uranium, including some films. In 2013 he hosted the Uranium Film Festival. (6) The efforts of the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons, which he was a part, led to the country of Costa Rica to ban the weapons. (7)

The development of depleted uranium weapons in New Mexico is just another part of the military and nuclear legacy of the state. One person described the state as a nuclear estate because of its history with the nuclear weapons complex. It also shows the continuing shadowy legacy of New Mexico Tech in Socorro in this complex. But with this story also shows people willing to resist it. People like Damacio Lopez, and hundreds of others like him who organize against militarism and for a state not dependent on the military-industrial complex and the development of weapons of war and destruction. 


1. Wessely, Joe Gardner. “Depleted Uranium Weapons and the New Mexico Connection.” Crosswinds Weekly. April 5-12, 2001.

2. http://www.dmzhawaii.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/depleted-uranium-fact-sheet.pdf

3. https://www.transcend.org/tms/2016/07/socorro-the-city-of-depleted-uranium/

4. http://www.hiroshimapeacemedia.jp/abom/uran/us3_e/000514.html

5. http://www.tacomapjh.org/depleteduranium.htm 

6. https://www.abqjournal.com/307924/uranium-film-festival-to-hit-duke-city-first.html

7. http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/icbuw-in-costa-rica


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Operation Paperclip and White Sands


This photo from the Wikimedia Commons page. Its description is as follows: Group of 104 German rocket scientists in 1946, including Wernher von Braun,[1]Ludwig Roth and Arthur Rudolph, at Fort Bliss, Texas. The group had been subdivided into two sections: a smaller one at White Sands Proving Grounds for test launches and the larger at Fort Bliss for research.[2] Many had worked to develop the V-2Rocket at Peenemünde Germany and came to the U.S. after World War II, subsequently working on various rockets including the Explorer 1Space rocket and the Saturn (rocket) at NASA.

We think of World War II as ending in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but in actuality it was the beginning of many other things, most importantly the Cold War. The United States and The Soviet Union, the former allies in the war against Hitler, became ideological enemies again. And as for the Nazis, far from many we t without justice obtained from them, as the US used their technical and intellectual expertise for their “national security” interests against the Soviet Union. This project was called Operation Paperclip. It extracted Nazi regime scientists to the United States to work on military projects, specifically missile technology. These programs led to the development of NASA and the nuclear tipped ICBM program. For the New Mexico connection, many of these scientists ended up at White Sands.

In September 1945 the first group of seven German rocket scientists arrived in the United States at Fort Strong, one of whom was Wernher von Braun. They were label “War Department Special employees.” In 1946 Von Braun and at least 100 other German scientists arrived in Fort Bliss and a smaller group went to White Sands. The program would include up to 500 scientists in the first wave. Most of them would work on guided missiles and ballistic missile technology, and would be assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas; Huntsville, Alabama; and White Sands Proving Grounds, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Many of the scientists worked on the V-2 rocket in Germany, and in the U.S. they would work on space rockets and ballistic missiles. Some of their work contributed to the Explorer and Saturn rockets. At White Sands the repatriated German scientists were generally well-treated, but were unable to leave the station without military escort.

White Sands was a vast desert of gypsum sand, lots of space for missile testing. Many of the V-2 rockets tested were crashed. The first crash happened on May 15, 1947. Another occurred two weeks later on May 29th. This one nearly caused an international incident. The rocket was supposed to fly north but instead turned south, arced over El Paso and landed in Juarez near a cemetery. The U.S. apologized and paid for damages. After the first crash a U.S. senator called for a halt to V-2 testing. The launches did resume after safety procedures were put in to prevent the rockets from endangering nearby civilian populations. But this has not always been a concern for the military.

The repatriation of Nazi scientists to White Sands to aid the U.S. military arms race. Just another part of New Mexico history of military colonization.








New Mexico Space Journal (No. 1, June 2001)

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Nukes in the Duke City: The Nuclear Weapons Bunker in Albuquerque


In 2017, with the era of Trump as US president, and increased military world tensions, there is growing fear of the possible use of nuclear weapons. One pariah state, North Korea, the DPRK, is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrence. With these nuclear tensions in the air, it is helpful to remember the role New Mexico plays in the nuclear weapons complex. New Mexico was where the nuclear age was birthed, and remains an important part of the American nuclear weapons infrastructure. Two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia, which operate as nuclear labs, are in the state, a legacy starting with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Another is the role of Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, which among other things houses a storage facility hosting over 2,000 nuclear weapons, the largest in the world.

I have written previously on Kirtland Air Force Base and the military research that goes on because of it. Covering almost 53,000 acres and employing over 20,000 people, Kirtland became a key air force base because of its nuclear and military research facilities such as the Air Force Research Laboratory. Kirtland is  also home to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. Another major part of the base is the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex (KUMMSC) that now stores about 2,000 nuclear warheads. Most are stored for decommissioning, to be transported to be dismantled at the nearby Pantex facility in Texas. But the ones still at Kirtland can still be activated again if ever ordered.

The official policy of the Air Force is to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of nuclear weapons at Kirtland (Air Force letter on nuclear weapons at Kirtland). But it is an open secret in Albuquerque and elsewhere about the weapons, discovered based on publicly available data. The Albuquerque Journal, official newspaper of Albuquerque, reported recently on the storage complex, which is operated by the 898th Munitions Squadron, which reports to Air Force Global Strike Command. (1) Watchdog groups and other media also confirm this. (2)

For those of us who are living in this city with the knowledge that there are thousands of weapons of mass destruction here, it is helpful to know the history of how this city is close to the site of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and how it is necessary to work to a transition away from this type of living off of war.

Albuquerque, City of Secrets

The Manhattan Project involved many different sites in the state, from Los Alamos to the Trinity Site in Alamogordo. But lesser known is the place in between, Albuquerque, which played a major role because of its housing of Kirtland Air Force Base. Founded in 1941 as an Army air field, it became a key transportation facility in the Manhattan Project, as Los Alamos was just two hours away. The atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki were developed in Los Alamos and transported from Kirtland to ships waiting in San Francisco. Kirtland also housed what would become Sandia National Laboratories, a key research facility for science and technology but also a key designer of nuclear and other advanced weapons. Starting as a branch of Los Alamos national labs, Sandia became independent in 1949, and after World War II was used for engineering that could not be done at Los Alamos. Sandia became one of three nuclear weapons laboratories in the country, and also expanded to several other areas of research, military and civilian, but ultimately with a concentration on nuclear and weapons research . The post-war growth of Kirtland also drove the growth of Albuquerque where it was based.

Of all the military occupation that occurs in New Mexico, Albuquerque has been greatly shaped by it. Many other researchers have documented the military influence of the city. In the book Trinity’s Children, where they also called Albuquerque the City of Secrets, it described Albuquerque as:

“…a giant shallow bowl, fenced in by mountains to the east and a high mesa to the west.

…It is a city that is driven by defense dollars, one where the military, and military weapons provide more employment in the city than any other industry. It is a city that, like so many of us, grew up with the Bomb.” (3)

The growth of Albuquerque in the post war era was linked to the growth of the base and the labs. As housing of lab employees was moved off base to make room for more air force troops, the demand for housing created a housing boom (which also led to the sprawl that affects it up to today, along with the class stratification here). (4) It also shaped its culture. Working Women magazine in 1997 said that the dependence of employment from Sandia Labs, Kirtland, and the University of New Mexico made Albuquerque suited for the “easy, bureaucratic life.” (5)

For the constant reminder of the military presence here, Kirtland shares a runway with Albuquerque International Airport, one of the only civilian airports to do so. These runways are also where those  nuclear weapons are transported to and from.

During the Manhattan Project, Kirtland built a storage complex for atomic bombs developed in Los Alamos. The storage facility was known as the Manzano Weapons Storage Area, also known as Manzano Base. Located near the Four Hills neighborhood in Albuquerque, it was one of six original National Stockpile Sites (NSS). Nuclear weapons were stored in deep tunnels drilled into the Manzano Mountains for that purpose. After the Pantex plant was built in Texas to manufacture nuclear weapons, Kirtland remained a transport hub for these weapons, for storage and distribution to other U.S. military bases around the world.

An interview with a Sandia Labs veteran said that the mountain bunker was assembled in the 1940’s and 1950’s when Sandia was the only warhead assembly site in the country. The cover story was that the construction was for the digging of a water supply for Sandia, and the work was titled “Project Water Supply.” Another report said that Manzano Base had become “the largest priority weapons storage area in the free world.” (6) Manzano Base kept the nuclear arsenal stockpiled throughout the Cold War.

With the end of the Cold War, and the era of disarmament that started shortly before it, the nuclear weapons storage project in Kirtland became ever more important. Starting with disarmament treaties in the 1980’s and up to the arms control initiatives of President George H.W. Bush, short-range nuclear weapons were being withdrew from bases in Europe and returned to the mainland U.S. These nuclear warheads were being decommissioned, and both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (later just Russia), reduced the number of nuclear weapons held. The total number of warheads held by the U.S. went from a high of 24,000 in the 1980’s to 12,500 in 1997. Ironically this decommissioning of nuclear weapons increased the role of the Kirtland base as a nuclear storage area.

In a 1985 book “Nuclear Battlefields” it estimated that Kirtland stored up to 400 nuclear weapons. Reports in 1992 based on public data estimated 2,092 warheads stored in the Manzano mountains on the base. (7) A year before, they started construction of a new $43 million storage facility, and Manzano Base was replaced by the Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex (KUMSC). It covered 56 acres and was built for its changing mission. Back in 1992, the U.S. had 34 nuclear stockpile sites, 16 of them overseas. That year Kirtland was the second largest of those facilities, surpassed by one in Charleston, SC, storing 2,250 warheads. But the nearby Pantex plant in Texas became a major dismantlement site, dismantling 2,000 warheads per year, or an average of seven per day. Since Kirtland was so close and already had a storage site, it became more important in those roles and expanded them.   

There were several public sources that pointed to the new facility. A 1995 report from the Russian Defense Ministry said the U.S. had plans to store 150 nuclear bombs at the facility. A 1996 FOIA request by the Albuquerque Journal stated that the underground facility “was constructed for the storage of U.S. nuclear weapons.” A DOE report listed Kirtland as a possible storage site for weapons going to Pantex. By 1997 other storage sites reduced their number of warheads, and even were shut down themselves, as by that year there were 26 locations in 15 states and seven foreign countries. In 1997 Kirtland became the top storage area in the country for nuclear weapons, storing 2,850 warheads. (8) It has remained the top storage area ever since.

The War on Terror era

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, Kirtland as a whole became more restricted for civilians. In 2002 Senator Bingaman pushed for $11 million in funding for the KUMMSC, ON TOP OF $89 million for other projects at Kirtland. Right after the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the storage complex got a $10 million upgrade in security. This brought new fencing, perimeter lighting, upgraded power systems and a reinforced concrete crust. The improvements were decided upon following the 9/11 attacks, with the report issued specifically mentioning the need to deter a terrorist attack, and the need of a concrete barrier to prevent a hijacked airliner from crashing through it. This would not detonate any nuclear weapons but could create a dirty bomb scenario, another big fear in that time. But it was emphasized that the Kirtland complex, one of the government’s two nuclear storage depots, had the best security possible.(9)

In the lead up to the Iraq War Kirtland and its nuclear storage became the site of anti-war and anti-nuclear demonstrations from local activists. After a story in the Albuquerque Journal about exercises around dirty bomb scenarios by federal management teams (10), William Clark of the New Mexico Solidarity Network (a precursor to Stop the War Machine) wrote a letter to the editor three days later about the danger from a terrorist attack from the Kirtland weapons depot. The nuclear weapons depot became a focus of a campaign by the Stop the War Machine activist group (press release). They used public protests to bring attention to the nuclear weapons in Kirtland, using many non-violent means to do that (petition). They were able to have it addressed by the Albuquerque City Council, where in 2004 one councilor publicly called for the Air Force to address the security concerns. (11)

The argument for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq, possessed weapons of mass destruction. Another big buzzword in those days. Yet here we were in Albuquerque with one of the largest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. They said that if New Mexico became an independent nation while keeping Kirtland intact, it would be the third largest nuclear power in the world. What international bodies are calling for inspections of this facility?

In 2017 the Kirtland nuclear depot is still operating here. The number of nuclear weapons has been reduced since then, but as mentioned the ones existing can be re commissioned. This facility is just another example of the military presence in New Mexico as a whole. There are shadows of it in every part of the state. Others have pointed out how it exists in a state that is number one in so many negative social indicators, poverty a major one. So many resources going into war instead of human needs that are desperately needed in this state. Putting light onto shadows is the first way of dealing with it, and we must keep bringing these to light.


1.  Reed Jr., Ollie. “KAFB home to massive nuclear storage complex.” Albuquerque Journal. April 9, 2016. https://www.abqjournal.com/756336/kafb-home-to-massive-nuclear-storage-complex.html

2. https://nukewatch.org/Kirtland.html; Helms, Harry. Top Secret Tourism. Feral House. 2007 Los Angeles. (p. 182)

3. Bartimus, Tad and Scott McCartney. Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. Albuquerque, NM. UNM Press. 1991. (Chapter 3: City of Secrets.)

4. Domrzalski, Dennis. “Big military science project shaped modern New Mexico.” New Mexico Business Weekly. February 3, 2012. https://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/print-edition/2012/02/03/big-military-science-project-shaped.html (referenced in El Lobo Rojo)

5. ”Silicon Mesa.” Working Woman. March 1997. Pg. 9-10.

6. Fleck, John. “Nukes From Europe Fill Kirtland, Analysts Say.” Albuquerque Journal. July 22, 1992. p. A1, A8;

Fleck, John. “Bombs Away.” Albuquerque Journal. August 3, 1992. Pp. A1, A6.

7. Spohn, Lawrence. “New Arsenal is Home to Awesome Nukes.” Albuquerque Tribune. July 21, 1992.

This is from public research done by William Arkin, then of Greenpeace, and Stan Norris of the National Resources Defense Council. They did an analysis of unclassified data to determine that Albuquerque was a destination for decommissioned warheads. Said Norris: “Those warheads have to be going somewhere and everything points to Albuquerque.” – Spohn, Lawrence. “Kirtland Base At Heart Of Disarmament.” Albuquerque Tribune. July 23, 1992.

8. “September/October 1997 Nuclear Notebook: Where the Bombs Are, 1997.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/nukenotes/soo997nukenote.html (accessed 08/31/2003). Also, there were changes in recent reports on what qualified as a nuclear weapon. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty did not count actual warheads but just the means to launch them. The U.S. and Russia preserve many warheads after the delivery devices are destroyed. Some can be reactivated. – Roberts, Chris. “NM Tops in Nuke Cache.” Albuquerque Journal. August 27, 1997. p. A1, A10.

9. Navrot, Miguel. “Tighter Nuclear Security Sought.” Albuquerque Journal. March 29, 2002. p. A1.; Navrot, Miguel. Kirtland to Shore up Nuke Security. Albuquerque Journal. June 18, 2003. pp. A1-A2

10. Fleck, John. “Feds Plan Dirty Bomb Exercise.” Albuquerque Journal. July 20, 2002.

11.Ludwick, Jim. “Councilor Wants Better Nuke Plan.” Albuquerque Journal. September 21, 2004.

Posted in Air Force, Albuquerque, Homeland Security, Kirtland Air Force Base, Nuclear | Leave a comment

When an H-Bomb Dropped near Albuquerque

Albuquerque has long had a nuclear legacy. One part of it was the time when a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in Albuquerque. It is no surprise since Kirtland Air Force Base hosted the world’s first assembly plant for the hydrogen bomb. Another nuclear legacy of New Mexico. 

On May 22, 1957, a B-36 bomber was flying from Biggs Air Force Base in Texas to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, carrying a Mark 17 hydrogen bomb. The plane flew into turbulent air at 1,700 feet as it was. To steady himself, the navigator grabbed a lever on the plane, the lever that released the twenty-one ton bomb. It crashed through its bay doors and landed four and a half miles south of the control tower. The plane, losing twenty-one tons, lurched over a thousand feet in the air. The shocked pilots announced to the control tower that they dropped a nuclear bomb.


The drop caused conventional explosives in the bomb to detonate on impact in an uninhabited area. The weapon parts were not in place so there was, thankfully, no nuclear explosion. It created a crater 12 feet deep and 25 feet wide and killed a cow, but no human fatalities. There was minor radioactive contamination.

The Mark 17 was the first thermonuclear weapon to be carried aboard a plane. It was 24.5 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. It had an estimated yield of 10 megatons, 600 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. It was then the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal.

This story was not known until the Albuquerque Journal did a story on it in 1986 after a Freedom of Information Act request. The old military documents it received mentioned this drop. Some of the details still remain classified, but with the documents and interviews with some of the participants, it recounted both the horror and humor of this moment.


To just think that in my hometown, a hometown for now millions of people, a thermonuclear bomb was literally dropped on it. Kirtland served as the manufacturing site for the first hydrogen weapons, until it was replaced by the Pantex nuclear weapons manufacturing plant in nearby Texas. New Mexico itself has a long military and nuclear legacy, and it still lingers in it. The state is the site of the development of the first nuclear weapon, the first test of this new weapon, and the subsequent development of them in the two nuclear laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. It also has its aftereffects. The contamination of Navajo lands and water from uranium mining. Even in Albuquerque there is slight plutonium contamination of the soil from these early nuclear development projects from Kirtland. One major place it still hold this legacy is the storage at Kirtland of thousands of nuclear warheads, which I will explore further.


Bartimus, Tad and Scott McCartney.  Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. Albuquerque, NM. UNM Press. 1991. (Chapter 3: City of Secrets.)

Helms, Harry. “Top Secret Tourism.” 2007. Feral House. Los Angeles. (p. 182). 

Posted in Air Force, Albuquerque, Kirtland Air Force Base, Los Alamos, Nuclear, Sandia National Laboratories | 1 Comment