Billboard Opposing Nuclear Bomb Factory Installed near Santa Fe

March 17th, 2021 - by Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group

Group demands investment in our communities; useful work for the many — not overpaid, irresponsible jobs for a few

Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (March 15, 2021) —This past Friday a second billboard was erected on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe alerting motorists to the proposed plutonium warhead core (“pit”) factory at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) northwest of Santa Fe. Two boys on bikes, with a community solar project in the background in a green field, are contrasted with Edvard Munch’s iconic “Scream.” 

This is the second billboard recently installed on that highway (first billboard, including simple background on pits; for more see also this press release) by the Los Alamos Study Group, a “green” think-tank and advocacy group. 

A third billboard in San Jon, NM questions whether New Mexico’s service to the nuclear bomb industry has contributed to the state’s economic and social decline (“Billboard aimed at traffic entering NM raises question: is New Mexico a “failed state,” and are nuclear weapons partly responsible?,” Jan 30, 2020; February 2021 update).

Further advertising is planned; the Study Group urges individuals wanting to contribute to the campaign to visit the group’s web site

Study Group director Greg Mello: 

“The new billboard depicts two worlds — two visions of the present and future, two tracks for policy and investment and where they lead. 

“If we do not take immediate, focused actions that directly benefit our communities and the environment we will find ourselves in a nightmare beyond anything we can imagine. We need grounded, green social investments that reduce inequality in our state, and personal choices that benefit our towns and rural areas. We need them right now

“It is late afternoon for humanity. Night is coming, and if we choose wrongly there will be no tomorrow for our grandchildren. And we are choosing wrongly. Our congressional delegation and our Governor are doing nothing to mitigate the climate crisis bearing down on us, even as they support making New Mexico far and away the world’s leader in spending on weapons of mass destruction. 

“In fact the Governor is insisting on increasing New Mexico’s contribution to the climate crisis, by demanding that oil and gas production continue unabated. For this action alone, Governor Grisham should resign. 

“Most of the world rightly abhors these weapons. The leaders of Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and Espanola seem to love them. They just want the money; they don’t care about anything else. Ethical considerations are passe in our greed-oriented, fast-money society. The failure of nuclear weapons to bring economic and social development doesn’t interest them in the slightest. These leaders don’t seem to realize or care that the US military empire costs some $7,300 per US household, year in and year out. To hear them, you’d think all that plutonium-laced money was just a wonderful gift, manna from federal heaven. 

“Some of these leaders fancy themselves “progressive,” but they haven’t put two and two together: support for a gigantic military is never compatible with any kind of real social contract, or with democracy. 

“Military installations and nuclear laboratories are constantly bragging about how many “jobs” they create. That is how LANL is selling the new pit mission, which will bring about 2,000 new jobs. We need 10 times that many new jobs right now. There are about 50,000 people living in poverty in LANL’s shadow. LANL, and plutonium, will do nothing to help them. Quite the reverse. Plutonium and the twisted loyalties, identities, and reputation it brings will destroy Santa Fe. This is not inevitable. New Mexicans have stopped plutonium factories before and we can do it again. 

“LANL provides only a few thousand jobs, usually at salaries much higher than comparable work elsewhere, absorbing the very talent most needed to build our communities. Most LANL jobs add to the dangers we collectively face by our communities, however much they pay. They do not bring security to the nation or economic development to this state, as history and a glance around LANL’s environment shows. LANL produces essentially no useful good and services, which is perhaps the biggest reason it is so economically sterile. 

“In New Mexico, the ugly shadow of our nuclear labs corrupt our political life, deadening our imaginations just when we most need to free ourselves to build strong, resilient communities. We face converging crises that include not just a renewed nuclear arms race but also a combined economic, environmental, and social crisis that threaten the very existence of humanity. In other words we face an emergency, but there is nothing in our public life that reflects this, whether at the local, state, or federal level. Our opinion leaders and politicians are ignorant — or worse. We still “drift,”* as Einstein said in 1946. (*’The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.’) 

Billboard Raises Questions: Is New Mexico a “Failed State”? Are Nuclear Weapons Partly Responsible?

Los Alamos Study Group
• Will current policies improve New Mexico’s “dead-last” standing in child well-being? 
• Is our decades-long devotion to nuclear weapons and militarism a major part of the problem? 
• Given our perennially low- or last-place standing in social development indices among US states, has New Mexico became a kind of “failed state?” 
• Green ‘think-tank’ calls for a unifying social, environmental commitment to address the ongoing, deepening crisis 

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (January 30, 2021) — If it “takes a village” to raise a child, what will it take for New Mexico to raise the state’s dead-last rank in child well-being? For that is the place we earned in the most recent “Kids Count” databook, produced by the widely-respected Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Los Alamos Study Group, a green ‘think tank’ with offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, answers: much more than our state’s leaders propose.

In the absence of a profound, society-wide reorientation of values, commitments, and investments, New Mexico will continue to fail, the Study Group asserts. In the absence of a society-wide social and environment commitment, no amount of money will suffice to turn the state around. 

The “Kids Count” ranking is a composite of 16 quality-of-life indicators for children, families, and learning conditions, grouped under the overall topics of economic well-being, education, family and community, and health. 

To complement this single authority, a long list of last-place and near-last-place social and economic indicators could be gathered for New Mexico, as a whole and for specific regions within it — including the immediate hinterland of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

These low rankings are not a recent phenomenon. For at least the last 8 years the Annie E. Casey Foundation has ranked New Mexico 49th or 50th in child well-being. Already by 1998, “Kids Count” rated New Mexico as “the worst state to raise children,” having fallen from 36th place in 1996 (“New Mexico rated as worst state to raise children,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 7/29/98). For 22 years the state has been “bottom-bouncing” in overall child well-being. 

This, the Study Group believes, constitutes a much deeper crisis, and will take much more change — revolutionary change — than currently imagined to address. As if to underscore this concern, the Santa Fe New Mexican noted this week that results from the current “surge” in educational investments could be “decades away” (“Education results? Policymakers say they’re decades away,” Dillon Mullan, Jan 26, 2020). 

In response to these facts, tomorrow the Los Alamos Study Group will place a new billboard on I-40 near San Jon, NM aimed at the 64,000 vehicles entering the state each week from Texas. The billboard asks bluntly whether, given our perennially low- or last-place standing in social development indices among all US states, has New Mexico became a kind of “failed state?” 

A further question is implied: will, or can, current policies improve New Mexico’s “dead-last” standing in child well-being, or in the state’s human development performance overall? Again we note that the policies pursued over recent decades by both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to do so. 

The billboard also asks: is our decades-long devotion to nuclear weapons and militarism a major part of the problem? 

The Study Group has asked these and related questions in previous billboards — for example, whether New Mexico is “America’s nuclear weapons colony” (1998), or whether the fact that New Mexico was #1 in poverty, as well as nuclear weapons, was a “coincidence” (2000). About that earlier campaign one observer wrote, in words still applicable today:

In the domestic realm of US politics, the nuclear weapons complex has always maintained two extreme attributes: phenomenal cost and social invisibility. While seemingly opposed, these aspects are actually reinforcing, a structural effect of compartmentalized secrecy, patronage networks, and an implicit nuclear security consensus among policy makers….

Beginning in 1998, visitors to New Mexico could encounter one of the most direct and imaginative efforts to engage New Mexico’s nuclear economy simply by driving out of the Albuquerque International Airport. Positioned on the main exit route from the airport, a large billboard confronted motorists with an image of a rainbow-enhanced desert and the words: “Welcome to New Mexico: America’s Nuclear Weapons Colony.”

Seeking to defamiliarize the desert landscape through shock, the billboard both evokes and inverts the familiar portrait of New Mexico as the “Land of Enchantment,” a zone of pristine nature and exotic culture. A Web site address on the billboard — — serves as both a signature and an invitation for viewers to learn more about the scale of the US nuclear project in New Mexico (which includes two of the three national weapons laboratories, the largest missile testing range in the continental United States, the largest arsenal of US nuclear weapons, and the most active US nuclear waste dumps).

By recontextualizing a centrally located commercial space, the billboard challenges residents and visitors alike to recognize an invisible presence in New Mexico, one that colonizes the austere beauty of the landscape with the nuclear science, toxicity, and militarism of a global superpower. (“The Billboard Campaign: The Los Alamos Study Group and the Nuclear Public Sphere,” Joseph Masco, Public Culture, Vol 17, Number 3, Fall 2005.)

In the 20 years since our last billboard on this topic, approximately $100 billion has been spent by the two New Mexico nuclear weapons labs, LANL and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). This vast federal investment, plus 20 years of spending at the state’s military bases, plus all other federal spending in New Mexico, has not “moved the needle” relative to other states in either child well-being or in social development overall. 

Oddly enough, historical data shows that as nuclear lab spending has dramatically increased, New Mexico’s personal income rank fell (“Does Los Alamos National Lab Help or Hurt the New Mexico Economy? working paper, July 2006, p. 4). We discussed more reasons why a year later: “Weapons Labs and the Future of New Mexico: Problems, Prospects, Messages,” May 15, 2007,” and we have touched upon these themes from time to time since then (see for example this 2018 rebuttal of a TV ad by Senator Heinrich promoting New Mexico’s nuclear laboratories and military bases), in guest editorials, and in letters to public officials. 

Our most recent op-ed on this topic, ‘Aura of apartheid’ at LANL offers false hope,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Nov. 30, 2019) listed a few of the many reasons why LANL in particular, which has spent $130 billion dollars in northern New Mexico over 75 years, a vast sum, has failed to produce any real economic and social development.

Most importantly, LANL suborns the attention and loyalty of our political and civic leadership, providing false answers to the economic, environmental and social problems we face. Instead of coming together to truly grapple with these problems as if our children’s lives depended on us — which they do — we talk about LANL “jobs,” a narrative that centers our attention on LANL, not where it belongs — on our communities.

With these facts and analysis at hand, the burden of proof has shifted to the nuclear-military complex. What was a question in 1990 (“coincidence?”) now has no question mark. It is now up to the nuclear weapons industry to prove that it is not a deadly upas tree, a major cause of social, political, and economic underdevelopment in New Mexico. 

Some will say that because the nuclear weapons labs spend a lot of money — currently about $6 billion per year — economic development occurs! Note to non-economists: spending money is not economic development, let alone social or political development, all of which must go hand-in-hand to change these rankings.

Providing a few jobs is not economic or social development. If we define “spending money” as economic, social, and political development we reduce the entire challenge of political economy, democracy, culture, and civilization to cash, the “almighty dollar,” a drastic and violent reduction that is the intellectual and moral counterpart to physical conquest. 

Dollars are not life. We cannot drop dollars, even billions of dollars, into a few pockets and expect society as a whole, and our children, to flourish. 

The situation is made infinitely worse by the purpose of these laboratories. We recently ran across a 2004 interview we did with Mayor Bob Harvey of Weitakiri, NZ, then a medium-sized city of a couple of hundred thousand persons.

In Harvey’s view, the key to economic development in New Mexico is first to make a commitment to get rid of nuclear weapons. We can’t, in his words, keep investing in “blood and a nightmare” and expect to have positive economic and social development. Very logical, we think. 

Speaking from Weitakiri’s experience, making that switch would set in motion a number of things, changing the attitude of the young people to one of hope and faith in the future, making them more willing to invest in themselves and believe in the society around them. It would attract true “cultural creatives” — as Weitakiri found — and investment cash.

In Weitakiri, he said, they’ve made their city an “eco-city,” with peace and sustainability as key goals, and were working on reversing sprawl with new urban villages linked with better transport, etc. The key, he stressed, is the “turning about,” the conversion, which replaces a deranged set of values with a human one. 

We agree. 

We cannot fix our child well-being until our young people join us in working, with mutual respect, for our own survival and the survival of the species around us. Everyone — everyone — has a role to play. It needs to be, as Edmund Burke said, a “partnership of the generations.” We don’t have decades to turn our situation around, and deciding to work with and for our children would not take decades. We can and must do it now, but that means making human well-being and a living landscape our twin foci and responsibilities. It will take money, a lot of money, but that money has got to come from a greatly strengthened social contract, not from climate destruction and what Mayor Harvey called “blood and a nightmare.” 

To get there we will need new forms of public dialogue, a new acceptance of mutual responsibility and opportunity, and an openness to change that we do not generally see in New Mexico’s current leadership. Electing different people to do the same things, within the same overall policy narratives, will not help. 

Former Air Force and Pentagon economist William Weida once remarked to us that New Mexico would be forever held back, economically and socially, until the state realized that “The Bomb” was a mistake. That is what we see and that, together with our overall failures to fulfill some of the fundamental purposes of government, is what this billboard is about. 


  1. New Mexico’s median family income is below the national average, with the state unemployment rate at 4.7 percent — higher than the December 2019 national average of 3.5 percent (,870,573,869,36,868,867,133/any/8390).
  2. In 2018, 37 percent of New Mexico’s children were in families receiving public assistance (,871,870,573,869,36,133,35,16/any/17739,17740).
  3. In 2017, 27 percent of New Mexico’s children ages 0-17 lived in poverty (,870,573,869,36,868,867,133/any/18233,8250), with the national average at 17.5 percent. ( 
  4. In 2016-2018, 56 percent of Nex Mexico’s 3-4 year olds were not in a pre-K program (,1652,1564,1491,1443,1218,1049,995,932,757/any/17975,17976).
  5. Unenrolled and non-graduating New Mexican 16-19 year olds amount to 7 percent in 2018 (,871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38/any/380,381).
  6. New Mexico’s youth suicide rate is fifth highest in the US– double the national average (
  7. New Mexico’s 2017 teen birth rate is 28 percent compared to the national percentage of 19 ( The state’s rate of births to unmarried mothers is 52 percent compared with 40 percent nationally (
  8. For a sense of children’s living conditions, the state’s firearms, homicide, and drug overdose deaths are all higher than the national percentage (
  9. Youth of color are represented in equivalent or higher numbers in most categories listed here.

Los Alamos Study Group, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106: 505-265-1200 office; 505-577-8563 cell