Feds Investigate Los Alamos Over More Safety Concerns, NM Gov Studies Impact Of Health Overhaul

Jun 23, 2017

Feds Investigate After Lab Improperly Ships Nuclear MaterialThe Associated Press

Federal regulators are launching an investigation into the improper shipment of nuclear material from Los Alamos National Laboratory to other federal labs last week.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said Friday it was informed by the lab that procedures weren't followed when shipping what was only described as "special nuclear material" to facilities in California and South Carolina.

The material had been packaged for ground transport. But instead it was shipped aboard an air cargo service, which isn't allowed by federal regulations.

Officials say that once the investigation is complete, any responsible parties will be held accountable.

This marks just the latest gaffe by Los Alamos, the lab that created the atomic bomb. Criticism has been intensifying over the lab's history of safety lapses as work ramps up to produce key components for the nation's nuclear weapons cache.

New Mexico Governor Studies Impact Of Health OverhaulAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says she will look closely at whether vulnerable New Mexico residents are protected under a Senate Republican plan to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Martinez spokesman Joseph Cueto said Thursday the GOP governor did not yet have a chance to review the proposal for rolling back Barack Obama's health care law.

Martinez has voiced support for overturning the Affordable Care Act while saying little about a House-approved bill that reduces generous federal funding for expanded Medicaid insurance for low-income adults.

The Senate plan lengthens the phase-out period for Medicaid expansion funding in states such as New Mexico. Both plans are likely to provide fewer people with insurance and reduce federal spending.

Democratic New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich oppose the health care overhaul.

Governor Appoints Alex Romero To UNM Board Of RegentsThe Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has appointed Alex Romero to the University of New Mexico's Board of Regents.

The appointment announced this week by the university follows a legislative impasse earlier this year that prevented Romero's initial nomination from being confirmed by the state Senate.

Many of the Republican governor's nominations were never scheduled for hearings by the Democrat-led chamber during the 60-day session that ended in March.

Romero, who recently retired after serving 12 years as president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, will replace Jack Fortner, who recently resigned.

The university says Romero is considered a recess appointee. He can serve with full voting privileges but his term will expire at adjournment of the next regular legislative session if his appointment is not confirmed.

Under Scrutiny, New Mexico Opioid Prescriptions Taper OffAssociated Press

The number of people receiving opioid pain medication prescriptions or risky duplicate prescriptions is showing a precipitous decline in New Mexico since the state ordered doctors to check a database that flags patients who get narcotics from multiple sources.

New Mexico State Epidemiologist Michael Landen tracks opioid prescription patterns in the state with the highest drug overdose death rate west of the Mississippi River.

He said Thursday the number of people receiving opioid prescriptions fell 5 percent for the first three months of the year versus the same 2016 period. The number of opioid prescriptions that overlap by at least 10 days fell by 13 percent.

On Jan. 1, New Mexico strengthened its prescription monitoring program to require that health care providers screen opioid prescriptions against a statewide electronic database.

Education Chief: New Mexico Schools Need Modern SolutionsAssociated Press

New Mexico is seeing higher graduation rates and more students are reading at grade level, but a top state education official says the demands of public education are evolving and schools need to be prepared.

Christopher Ruszkowski took over as acting secretary of the Public Education Department this week.

The 36-year-old former middle school teacher worked for several years as an administrator with the Delaware Department of Education before being named in 2016 as a deputy secretary for policy and programs in New Mexico.

Ruszkowski says there's growing recognition nationwide that schools can no longer keep applying 20th-century thinking to address the needs of students who have to compete globally in the 21st century.

He says one of his priorities will be reforming and improving teacher preparation.

Attendance At International Balloon Museum Tops 1 MillionAssociated Press

Visits made to the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum since it first opened in 2005 now total more than 1 million.

Officials say the attendance milestone was surpassed during an annual folk festival that was held at the museum in early June.

The adjacent balloon park also is home to an annual international balloon fiesta that draws hundreds of pilots and tens of thousands of spectators to Albuquerque each October for the lifting off of hot air and gas balloons.

Museum officials say annual attendance is currently on par with last year's record-setting total attendance of 133,748. They say that in the last several years, the museum's annual attendance has jumped by nearly 50 percent.

GOP New Mexico Lawmaker Wants To Shrink National MonumentAssociated Press

Members of New Mexico's delegation to Capitol Hill are at odds over whether to reduce the size of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument under a review by the administration of President Donald Trump.

At a congressional hearing, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce on Thursday urged the secretary of the interior to reduce the land area of the monument on the outskirts of Las Cruces to about one-tenth of its current size.

Pearce submitted a list of 800 businesses and individuals who he says support scaling back the 775 square mile (2010 square kilometer) monument designated by President Barack Obama in 2014.

New Mexico's four Democratic U.S. lawmakers are urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to leave intact both the Organ monument and the Rio Grande del Norte monument near Taos.

400 More Homes Evacuated As Utah Wildfire GrowsAssociated Press

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says a wildfire near a southwestern Utah ski town has forced the evacuations of 400 more homes after the fire doubled in size overnight amid high winds.

Herbert said Thursday in a news conference on KUED-TV that the additional homes are east of the fire's epicenter in Brian Head. More than 700 people have been out of their homes since Saturday when the fire was started by someone using a torch to burn weeds.

Erin Darboven of the Bureau of Land Management says the fire has spread to 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) and is heading toward the Panguitch Lake.

Darboven says the stretch of Highway 143 that is closed has been extended to nearly 48 miles (77 kilometers) from Parowan to Panguitch. Previously, a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch was closed.

New Mexico Forest Imposes More Stringent Fire RestrictionsAssociated Press

Persistent hot, dry conditions have prompted forest officials in central New Mexico to impose more stringent fire restrictions.

The Cibola National Forest says the restrictions apply to the Sandia and Mountainair ranger districts. The Mt. Taylor district in western New Mexico will enter stage-two restrictions later this week, which prohibit campfires and wood, coal and charcoal stoves.

The district that covers the Datil, San Mateo and Magdalena mountains entered stage-one restrictions Wednesday.

Officials say the restrictions are aimed at minimizing the possibility of human-caused fires as the fire danger increases due to weather conditions.

Fireworks are also banned and smoking is allowed only in a vehicle or building or areas such as parking lots where there's no vegetation.

There are fires burning in New Mexico but none are threatening any structures.

Officials ID Remains Of Airman Who Vanished In MontanaAssociated Press

Air Force investigators have identified the remains of a New Mexico-based airman who vanished in the mountains of Montana in June 1974.

The Independent Record reports the family of Rudy Redd Victor in Littleton, Colorado, recently received word from the Air Force that investigators believed Victor died not long after he fled from a car between Helena and Great Falls during a fight with his girlfriend.

A brand inspector found the skull in 1982. Tests at the time were unable to identify the person and the remains were cataloged and shelved.

Last year, an Air Force cold case unit reviewed the file and dental records concluded the skull belonged to Victor. The coroner's office determined he likely died the day he leapt from the car, or soon after.


This story has been corrected to show that dental records were used to identify the remains.