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"Forget the Rest" blog

December 10, 2007

Action Alert #81

(To sign onto this list or to get off, click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.  Feel free to forward to interested parties.)

Solstice disarmament walk; breakfast seminars this week ; end-of-year fundraising drive

  1. Solstice walk for disarmament, December 21-24
  2. Breakfast seminars this week (Wednesday in Albuquerque; Thursday in Santa Fe): “Whither LANL?”
  3. Short video interview about current nuclear weapons issues
  4. Public discussion in Taos: Plutonium, profit, and pollution: privatized nuclear weapons manufacturing in northern New Mexico
  5. Fundraising drive (continued)

(Contribute by credit card or electronic check here.For more information about our programs write or call us at 505-265-1200.)

Next week: end-of-year congressional update

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. Solstice walk for disarmament, human security (December 21-24)

We hope you will join us for all or part of our upcoming Solstice Walk for Nuclear Disarmament, December 21-24.  It’s the turning of the year, when the sun begins its climb back toward the zenith, and some of us wanted to take a little extra time for reflection and fellowship.

As this particular new year begins, we know that the human family and most of the earth’s ecosystems face very serious and urgent challenges, which call for more trenchant responses from us.How will we respond?

Walking together is also a good way to visit with friends and make new ones, and an opportunity to slow down and move through the landscape in a different way, with a different purpose. 

The 71-mile walk will take place over four days, with daily distances from 12 to 23 miles.  There’ll be three overnights, two of which will be in churches.One will be outdoors.  Most of the time we will be walking on rural roads.We'll have a vehicle nearby if fatigue, blisters, or sudden inclement weather get the best of any of us, and it will carry most of our gear so we can travel light.  For much of the way we will follow the Rio Grande north, past four pueblos and into the volcanic highlands of Bandelier National Park and Los Alamos. 

If you want to walk just a mile with us, or a few miles, or a day, or all four days, that's fine.  If you aren't sure how far you can walk, don't worry!We'll have a vehicle nearby and there are important ways to help in the car and each night at our destinations too. 

If you want to help prepare for the walk, call us at 505-265-1200.

If you want to walk representing an organization, please do!  Your organization needs to have endorsed the Call for Nuclear Disarmament first -- call or write Trish to do so.  Feel free to solicit financial support for your organization's walkers (see next paragraph). 

If you don't want to walk but do want to support the Los Alamos Study Group (and your walking friends!) please consider being a sponsor of this walk.

Just let us (or your participating friend) know how much you would like to pledge per mile of walking.  Pledge at whatever rate per mile you wish (all contributions are tax-deductible). 

(As you think about your pledge, you may wish to consider the gravity and worldwide significance of the nuclear crossroads we face in New Mexico.  In 1945 this state left the "Main Highway" for the Jornada del Muerto.  That path hasn't worked out well -- not for us and not for anybody else either.Now we face a set of choices comparable or even greater in importance.)

How we handle meals on this walk will depend on how many people come.  For this and other reasons we need to know how many folks would like to join us.  If you want to trek please call Trish at 505-265-1200, or write

There will be some nominal cost to cover expenses, again depending on how many participate.

December 21 - 24, 2007
Albuquerque to Los Alamos, NM
Itinerary

Fri, Dec 21
7:00 am Send off from Los Alamos Study Group headquarters, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque, NM
3:00 pm -- arrive in Bernalillo, NM (approx. 18 miles)

Sat, Dec 22 (Winter Solstice)
7:00 am -- Leave Bernalillo
    4:00 pm -- Arrive in Pena Blanca, NM (approx. 23 miles)

Sun, Dec 23
    7:00 am -- Leave Pena Blanca
    4:00 pm – Arrive Bandelier National Park campsite (approx. 18 miles)

Mon, Dec 24, Christmas Eve
    7:00 am – Leave Bandelier

1:00 pm -- Arrive Los Alamos National Laboratory (approx. 12 miles)
        Welcome and invocation by Gilbert Sanchez, San Ildefonso Pueblo


Transportation to Albuquerque and Santa Fe will be provided as needed.  There'll be three meals provided each day, toward which participants will be asked to contribute.Call for more details or to register!

2. Breakfast seminars this week (Wednesday in Albuquerque; Thursday in Santa Fe): “Whither LANL?”

Our breakfast seminar and discussion groups have been lively and are generally going well, especially in Albuquerque.If you are interested please join us!

This week we will talk about realistic prospects for new missions at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).Can and should LANL’s mission be changed, expanded, or contracted, and if so how would such changes take place?

Meetings begin at 7:25 am and end at 8:45 am, more or less.Santa Fe meetings are at the United Church of Santa Fe (1804 Arroyo Chamiso), and Albuquerque meetings are at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church (1300 Girard NE).The overall theme of the series, which will continue until early April, is “Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Responses and Renewal.”

3. Short YouTube interviews about current nuclear weapons issues

One of our board members recently made two short videos for YouTube, here and here.They’re stilted and slow (not the fault of the editor).They may be useful.

“We are going to have to reach deeper – reach out to each other and strengthen bonds with each other.Look at where we are spending our money; look at where we are spending our hours.It’s going to take full-time people.It’s going to take confrontation. It’s going to take firmness.”

These first efforts are just that; we hope to post short conversations on selected nuclear weapons topics before too long.

4. Public discussion in Taos: Plutonium, profit, and pollution: privatized nuclear weapons manufacturing in northern New Mexico

The Study Group is holding a public meeting on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2:00 pm in the Kit Carson Electric Coop Board Room (118 Cruz Alta Road) on the above topic.  For more info call the office at 505-265-1200 or Erich Kuerschner at 505-770-3338.

5. Fundraising drive (continued)

(You can contribute by credit card or electronic check here.  If you would like more information about us or our programs write or call us at 505-265-1200.)

On the whole, it is difficult for Americans to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We prefer to invest in our private lives, and indeed our families do deserve most of our attention. But if too much energy, intelligence, moral passion, and resources are removed from the public sphere for the sake of even the best private pursuits, the public sphere will collapse – or rather it will be crushed by those who profit by doing so and who are very well organized to do it.

The result of our national disinvestment, in which citizens become mere consumers and democracy is relegated to voting and what pertains to it, could well be a new dark age, as writers like Jane Jacobs have warned.

Surely most of the resources we might be able to direct beyond our families must go to directly help those most in need.Most of the rest should properly go into what Gandhi called “the constructive program,” helping build the society and environment we need.Yet all this will not avail much if the “masters of war” have their way. This cannot be allowed to happen.Investments in war, especially nuclear war, are politically, culturally, and fiscally incompatible with investments in justice and environmental sustainability. It is irresponsible to countenance any significant further investment in nuclear weapons, as many “practical” people unfortunately still do.Especially in New Mexico, we have to change direction or we will arrive where we are headed.

The Los Alamos Study Group has been working effectively to educate policymakers and the public since 1992. We have been especially effective this year despite many obstacles. Much hangs in the balance right now and we don’t know what will happen next.With your help we will together stop a new generation of nuclear weapons in this country.

Best wishes to all,

Greg, Trish, and the gang
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November 26, 2007

Action Alert #80

(To sign onto this list or to get off, click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.  Please forward to interested parties. We inadvertently dropped a few people from this list for a few months; apologies!)

End-of-year fundraising drive; congressional update; upcoming events

1. Study Group end-of-year fundraising drive begins; brief congressional update

You can contribute by credit card or electronic check here.  If you would like more information write us or call the office at 505-265-1200.

2. Weekly breakfast meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque – come, and bring a friend!

Plus, if you want a speaker for your church, synagogue or organization write us or call!

3. Other upcoming events: DNFSB hearing in Los Alamos; disarmament hike-or-bike

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. Study Group end-of-year fundraising drive begins; brief congressional update

In the month or so since our last action alert we’ve been quite engaged, both in New Mexico and in Washington, DC.  That work is bearing fruit; we seem to have more traction than ever.  As far as this country’s investments in nuclear weapons go, there is even reason for cautious optimism.  Potentially-positive outcomes are hanging by the thinnest of threads, however.

To help these outcomes along we’ve made six week-long trips to DC over the past year, written background analyses and correspondence and met dozens of times with senior staff in Congress, the Executive, and allied agencies.  We’ve been blessed with warm and thoughtful welcomes almost everywhere on both sides of the aisle and I for one have really enjoyed those in-depth conversations.

We are pausing this weekend to ask for your help.  It takes some money – not a lot, but some – to engage meaningfully with government at this level and keep at it, in our case to keep at it for a decade and a half. 

Our views and experience are now in demand at relatively high levels of government.  Because resources are scarce, we have to triage between golden opportunities open to us in Washington, working with citizens and journalists here in New Mexico, and raising money to support it all.  It is this support we are asking from you and from those you know who might want to help or who might be interested in learning more about our work. 

Here are five ways to contribute:

  • Make a donation now.  You can donate on-line, by mail (to Los Alamos Study Group, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106), or by a gift of stock or other property (which may have tax advantages, depending upon your situation).  No contribution is too small or too large.

  • Become a monthly sustaining donor at any level (write us or call Trish at 505-265-1200 ).

  • Recruit other financial supporters.  The best approaches rely on your own social networks.  Call us if you would like some simple suggestions.  The Study Group aside, in the present global crisis nearly all of us would benefit from friendships anchored more deeply in common efforts to prevent catastrophe or mitigate its effects.

  • All of the above.  You can make a donation now to help us press on without distraction and at the same time you can get more involved in other ways, perhaps joining a breakfast seminar, volunteering, and providing further financial support if you can and you like what you see in our work.

  • Remember us in your will.  We are all in this for the long haul. 

The Study Group is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations are tax-deductible under IRS rules. 

Here in New Mexico, our political sensibilities are especially vulnerable to what might be called a subtle lack of self-respect.  It’s a complex phenomenon – our tendency to have low political aspirations and low standards in our public life.  We like our incumbents, whoever they are, and we don’t like to make waves.  We value humility (of a colonial sort) over justice and sound public policy.  We tend to unconsciously harbor subtle forms of cynicism and complacency and spread them around, stifling energy and commitment.  All this keeps us politically tractable and makes us easy pickings for carpetbaggers of every sort, neoliberal or “neonuclear.” 

Given, then, what I take to be a widespread tendency to devalue nearly all things New Mexican, I’ll risk immodesty and offer two or three endorsements of our work.  Since we are asking for your support, you should know what some of the people with whom we work have said about that work.

  • Frank von Hippel, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University: “The Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) plays a unique role in the nuclear-weapons-policy debate.  Its Director, Greg Mello, understands more deeply than any other independent expert the plans and policy initiatives of the nation’s nuclear-weapon laboratories as they try to construct a future of planned obsolescence and continual renewal for the U.S. nuclear-weapon arsenal.  He is a precious early-warning system and strategic advisor for those of us who propose, in contrast, a future in which the U.S. nuclear stockpile is steadily reduced and increasingly marginalized in U.S. security policy considerations.”

  • Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight: “The Los Alamos Study Group consistently produces serious, solid analysis that we can count on.  Their work has been instrumental in our understanding the on-the-ground impact of Los Alamos operations.”

  • Roger Snodgrass, Assistant Editor, Los Alamos Monitor: “I am very appreciative of my relationship with the Los Alamos Study Group.  Greg’s articulate insight and historical perspective is invaluable for any attempt at balanced coverage of powerful and inherently secret organizations like the nuclear weapons laboratories.  The Study Group does a public service, tirelessly analyzing obfuscatory documents and opaque policies, digging for truth and providing an independent view representing the public in so many arenas where the public might otherwise not be represented at all.” 

I would also like to share with you a little more of what we’ve been doing in Washington, leaving our New Mexico work to another time. 

Earlier this year the House of Representatives approved by a wide margin a nuclear spending plan that rejects construction of a new plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production factory at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  That same bill cut pit production operating funds in half.  In both outcomes our analyses, hand-delivered and discussed in dozens of visits on Capitol Hill and with key executive branch decisionmakers, played a significant role. 

With other parties we argued for ending work on a new family of warheads (the “Reliable Replacement Warhead,” or RRW).  The House voted to end funding for that too.  We argued for a significant decrease in nuclear weapons spending; the House bill includes that.  We argued that LANL should be significantly downsized.  The House would do that as well, and even the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) now kind of agrees (in its own upside-down way).  We argued for more dismantlement of nuclear weapons.  That’s what the House wanted anyway – and it too is in the bill.

All this is far from the last word this year, however.  The Senate Appropriations Committee, at least so far, officially wants more or less the opposite.  (That’s just this committee; the whole Senate has not acted.)  The differences between the House and Senate are not resolved, and there’s a lot of urgent work to be done in the next two or three weeks.  The Armed Services committees have their own compromises worked out; it remains to be seen what role their approaches may play. 

So we don’t know exactly what will happen or when.  Will the U.S. rush into construction of a new pit production facility, or continue the crazy crash program to “demonstrate” pit production before resolving literally hundreds of criticality uncertainties and other safety problems?   These and other key decisions are up in the air. 

The Senate nuclear spending markup, heavily reflecting Senator Domenici’s wishes up to this point, would spend much more money overall than would the House.  On this point, setting other details aside, the Senate plan is more problematic to the White House than is the House’s.  A three-way compromise must now be worked out to avoid a presidential veto.  This exerts downward pressure on nuclear weapons spending, a good thing, and it’s even possible (though unlikely) that the final warhead spending level will be below the House level.  The war in Iraq is burning a lot of money.  

So while the newspapers say NNSA has tentatively picked LANL for its pit production site, which is true as far as it goes, LANL is a long way from making more than a handful of pits.  NNSA’s draft plan (not released yet) has not been finalized (slated for November 2008), let alone authorized and funded by Congress (late 2009 if at all), still less built and operated successfully (2015 or later). 

Meanwhile right now many of LANL’s fissile material operations – including pit production, necessary to produce brand-new warheads at Pantex – have been substantially shut down since late September and are expected to more or less stay that way until early next year as mentioned in October. 

Income and wealth are getting less evenly distributed all the time.  If you care about our work but are strapped for resources, a very small donation conveys that support.  Others can give more. 

No matter what our financial situation may be, all of us need to consider how we can apply more resources – time and money, as much as we can – into protecting this planet and the people and vulnerable ecosystems in it.  Moving time and money out of the general economy – an economy built to a great extent on waste, exploitation, and war – and into such life-preserving activity is now an absolute necessity.  That movement of resources is personal, social, and political change itself.

2. Weekly breakfast meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque – come, and bring a friend!

The Study Group has begun a series of weekly, public breakfast seminar and discussion meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  The next meetings will be this coming Wednesday (11/28/07) in Albuquerque and this coming Thursday (11/29/07) in Santa Fe.  Meetings start at 7:25 am and end about 8:45 am.  Coffee, tea, and a light breakfast will be provided, for which donations are requested. 

Albuquerque meetings are on Wednesdays at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church, 1300 Girard NE.  Santa Fe meetings are on Thursdays at the United Church of Santa Fe, 1804 Arroyo Chamiso. 

This week’s meetings will focus on near-term fossil fuel production and prospects.  Selected references will be provided. 

Synopsis: High oil prices are not going away. In fact the energy situation will become significantly worse in the next few years, with serious economic repercussions.  We will review and supply open-source references on the fossil fuel component of this problem.  

To alleviate the worst effects of this crisis in the U.S., major public and private initiatives that invest in “green-collar” jobs are urgently needed.  We must move wealth and initiative downward, and protect vulnerable people and ecosystems.  The linked energy/climate crisis provides many opportunities to press for just and humane alternatives.  “Full-spectrum dominance” is destroying us; “full-spectrum responsibility” and “full-spectrum sustainability” can save us.  Already political pressure for energy development and flood control (in part to protect from extreme weather events, less rare now) exerts downward pressure on nuclear weapons spending.  We’re now in an inescapable and existential struggle between bogus “national security” and human/environmental security.  Political possibilities could open that closed at the advent of the national security state.  Or with the wrong national responses, the sun could set on our democracy altogether – and much worse.

The following week (on December 5 and 6) we will continue this discussion, focusing on civil society responses – “What can we do?”  The overall theme of the series, which will continue until early April, is “Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Responses and Renewal.” 

There will be no meetings during Christmas week. 

Also, if you would like someone from the Study Group to speak to your church, peace group, college class, or organization please call 505-265-1200 or write.
 

3. Other upcoming events: DNFSB hearing in Los Alamos; disarmament hike or bike

There will be a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) public hearing and meeting in Los Alamos on Dec 5th at 6 pm at the Duane Smith Auditorium at Los Alamos High School, 1400 Diamond Drive.  The public is invited to present comments at approximately 8 pm.  To speak call Brian Grosner at the DNFSB at 1-800-788-4016 before 12/4/07 or call the Study Group office at 505-265-1200 and we will relay your request. 

LANL has the worst safety compliance problems in the nuclear weapons complex, and pit production is now shut down because of them.  Such problems are what finally shuttered Rocky Flats, as most of you know.  Better to end the fiasco before it starts.  Show that you care by being there, even if you don’t speak.  Please come!!

On Friday morning December 21st, the solstice, some of us will set out on a “Nuclear Disarmament” hike (for some, bike) from Albuquerque to Los Alamos.  We’re doing this to raise awareness, to have fun and build community, to provide time for reflection, and, last but not least, to raise money.  We’ll arrive in Los Alamos on Christmas Eve.  If you’d like to take part in and help plan this event, contact us!  We’re looking for “trekkers” and “pledgers.”  Mark your calendars, and give us a call if you want to help.  Watch this space for more information.

Best wishes to all,

Greg Mello
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October 29, 2007

Action Alert #79

(Subscription information is at the bottom.  Please forward to others if you wish.)

1. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in a world of hurt
2. Weekly seminar series in Santa Fe and Albuquerque announced
3. Please consider renewing your financial support of the Los Alamos Study Group
(You can contribute by credit card or electronic check here.)

This week: "Los Alamos in Crisis -- The Decline and Fall of a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory?"

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. LANL is in a world of hurt.

Questions of policy aside, right now I would like to alert you to just two of the latest ways LANL is hurting.  There are obviously more; for an overview of the current crisis at LANL please consider coming to the public discussions to be held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, about which more below. 

First, today the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General (IG) released a blockbuster report detailing widespread overcharging by LANL's principal subcontractor KSL, partnership of former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), the Shaw Group, and Los Alamos Technical Associates (LATA).  (KBR became independent of Halliburton in April of this year.)  The dollar amounts being questioned by the IG are in the tens of millions of dollars annually.  Clearly many people at KSL and LANL have been involved, including managers.  The overcharging has been going on a long time and both the University of California (UC) and Los Alamos National Security (LANS) have known about it.  The problems -- not all of which are in the IG report -- are not yet corrected.

Second, most fissile material operations at the plutonium facility in TA-55, including pit production, have been suspended since late September pending further reviews of criticality safety.  Some of the pertinent details and history are available at the Study Group web site, here.  Congressional staff have been briefed since then, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating the situation further.  The production shut-down may extend until January 2008, combined with a two-month outage previously planned, or else there may be a brief operational restart this fall, depending on resolution of some of the issues involved. 

More broadly, LANS has now admitted that LANL's TA-55 nuclear facility has been operating outside accepted nuclear industry safety standards.  In our view the nuclear safety situation at LANL is not improving and may be getting worse. 

These two issues, both of which have deep roots, comprise just a fraction of the serious management and policy issues LANL is now facing. 

2. Public meetings announced

The Study Group is beginning a series of weekly public breakfast seminar and discussion meetings in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  There will be 21 meetings at each location over the coming six-month period.  We’ll start this week and end the first week in April, plotting our direction for future meetings from there.  We won’t have meetings during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

The overall theme of these seminars will be “Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Responses and Renewal.” 

Of course we will emphasize nuclear policy, New Mexico, and we ourselves as actors and participants.  As mentioned above, this week's topic will be "Los Alamos in Crisis --  The Decline and Fall of a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory?"

We hope to alternate each week between factual aspects of the unfolding crisis (which is a crisis for New Mexico in particular) on the one hand, and our political response to it on the other. 

Everybody is invited.  We expect these discussions to be informative, lively, and inspiring, despite the hour.  If you aren't awake when you arrive I trust you will be an hour and a half later.  Topics will be announced beforehand.  Besides core Study Group personnel there will be occasional guest speakers.

The Albuquerque meetings will be held every Wednesday morning at the Mennonite Church, 1300 Girard NE.  The first meeting will be October 31.   There will be no meetings on November 21 or December 26.

The Santa Fe meetings will be held every Thursday morning at the United Church of Santa Fe, 1804 Arroyo Chamiso. The first meeting will be November 1.  There will be no meetings on November 22 or December 27.

Meetings will begin at 7:25 am and end at 8:45 am (please be prompt!)

Coffee, tea, and a light breakfast will be provided.  There is no cost – provided there are enough donations to cover the modest expenses.  We’ll pass the hat.

(In addition to these meetings, if you would like someone from the Study Group to speak to your church, peace group, college class, or organization, please call or write.  We have a small speakers’ bureau and in all likelihood we can probably respond favorably.)

3. Please consider renewing your financial support of the Los Alamos Study Group

You can contribute by credit card or electronic check here.

The Study Group is largely supported by a network of individual donors.  If you are among them my message to you is simple: together we are making a difference.  Most of the cuts in nuclear weapons programs now being contemplated in Congress weren't requested by other organizations but were requested by us.  We supported those requests with analysis Congress could use, and did.  Thank you.  We hope to be even more effective in the months to come, but influence in matters of this sort is never a linear, predictable process.  We shall see.  Fortunately, many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle suspect billions of dollars are poised to be wasted in the nuclear weapons program and precious opportunities to reduce the nuclear danger squandered.  There is a ready audience.  Necessity, opportunity, and capability coincide.

Wealth is not evenly distributed in society; because of this factor alone some of you reading this are in a position to have, not just some influence, but a great deal of influence, on nuclear weapons issues, which are at a crossroads in the U.S. and worldwide.

We hope that whatever your financial situation, you will consider becoming a sustaining donor of the Los Alamos Study Group.  Sustaining donors make a monthly contribution.  It may be "only" $5, but we cherish those small donations, not just because they add up but also because of the moral support they embody, which is precious to us.  Others can afford $100 or $200 a month.  Nuclear weapons aren't pretty or pleasant and it is the support of friends, expressed as it is in so many generous ways (not just financial), that makes us most grateful to be able to represent New Mexicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.  To become a sustaining donor, call Trish at 505-265-1200 or email her at twm@lasg.org.

Thank you for your attention, and best wishes to all,

Greg Mello

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September 20, 2007 

Important opportunity tomorrow, at noon in Santa Fe to oppose expansion of pit production at LANL (Action Alert #78)

(Subscription information is at the bottom.  Please forward to others.) 

Dear colleagues and friends –

Tomorrow at noon at the State Capitol in Santa Fe there will be a rally in favor of “jobs” at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) organized by two Republican leaders from Los Alamos County.  For details see “‘Save Our Science’ rally set for Friday,” Carol Clark, Los Alamos Monitor, 9/19/07.

The “jobs” in question are jobs that could be lost due to possible budget cuts at LANL.  These cuts are primarily if not exclusively due to possible declines in the (nuclear) “Weapons Activities” budget line for fiscal year 2008, which begins October 1.

Unless the internal congressional debate has moved far from the House and Senate appropriations markups, most of the jobs in question are plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production-related jobs.

Thus in practical terms tomorrow’s “pro-jobs” rally is really a pro-pit rally.

If you don’t want Los Alamos to host a growing plutonium pit factory, PLEASE JOIN US TOMORROW at NOON at THE STATE CAPITOL, where we will host a rally against restarting nuclear weapons production by the United States and against converting much of LANL into a new “responsive” pit factory, like Rocky Flats only smaller.  BRING SIGNS IF YOU LIKE.

Some suggestions for signs are provided below but I am sure many better ideas will quickly come to you.  We here in the office are looking forward to the event and hope you are too.

Pits, by the way, are not far from the size and shape of toilet bowl floats.  Surely there are unusually fertile dance and mime possibilities inherent in such convenient objects, although preparation time is very limited.

In the regional press most of us have seen quite a few articles bemoaning a loss of “jobs,” which are automatically considered “good” no matter how destructive they may be.  In this case, committing the County, the region, and the state to a new Rocky Flats-like plant, when no such plant is needed anywhere, even to maintain a huge nuclear arsenal for many decades, is a dramatic policy choice with profoundly negative regional, national, and international implications of all kinds.

Make no mistake: ramping up pit production at such enormous cost in the absence of even an “ordinary” (for the nuclear weapons industry) “mission need” has nothing to do with maintaining a nuclear deterrent as usually conceived within the industry.  It has everything to do with projecting our national readiness to inflict maximum violence.  It’s about neoconservative notions of geopolitical leverage in an all-out competition for resources, markets, and power in a world.  And it’s about money, of course, from the huge corporate profits to the 30 pieces of silver being offered to workers.  It’s about terror – the root word in “deterrence,” and the feeling we are all supposed to have to keep us in line.

A few more details about the budget process:

The appropriations process is not an orderly one this year, since the Senate has not passed a appropriations bill for nuclear weapons and the White House threatens to veto appropriations bills with spending levels greater than the President’s request, which is true for both the House and Senate markups.

I calculate the portion of the difference between the House and Senate markup for LANL due entirely to policy differences concerning pit production as $251.4 M.  This is composed of a $106.3 M difference in pit manufacturing and certification operating funds at LANL, a $95.6 M difference in CMRR (Chemistry and Metallurgy Research and Replacement) funds, and a $49.5 M difference in NMSSUP (Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrades Project) funds.  I do not believe there is any justification for these capital projects apart from pit production mission and indeed apart from the RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead) program, which would design the pits to be made at TA-55.

Thus it appears that more than half the difference between the House bill as passed and the proposed (but not yet passed) Senate bill can be attributed to the House's efforts to keep LANL from rushing into becoming this nation's new "right-sized" Rocky Flats.  This is obviously much more than a “jobs” issue.

There are many ironies about tomorrow’s rally.  The first is that Ron Dolin, a co-organizer of the rally, spoke out against pit production during his campaign:

Ron Dolin, a New Mexico congressional candidate who works at LANL, expressed his concern with the situation in a news release this morning...  "...unfortunately [the announced LANL contractor layoff] represents just the first of many shoes to drop."

Dolin said an equally large issue looming on the horizon is whether or not Los Alamos will remain a research institute or become a Rocky Flats-like bomb factory.

"This issue has implications not only to residents of Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Santa Fe Counties, but to all of New Mexico," he said. "The reason our government runs enormous deficits and unimaginable national debt is the same reason Los Alamos is now in crisis. Will Los Alamos continue to be the world's premier research institute or will it become a bomb-making factory on a slow march toward closure? Will we retain and recruit top scientist and engineers, or will we diminish in stature?" 

("Reactions to LANS' projected belt-tightening roll in," Carol Clark, Los Alamos Monitor, 9/28/06)

So most of the LANL jobs Dolin says he wants to save are part of a mission he previously said he does not support.

The second irony is that this is a Republican-led initiative.  The only congressperson in the House that concretely tried to restore funding for those jobs was Tom Udall, Dolin's Democratic primary opponent.

The third irony is that nothing creates overhead like plutonium, with its intense security, safety, waste management, and management superstructure, and overhead is crushing science at LANL.

What’s more, $145.1 M of these plutonium-related jobs are in construction projects.   This is not science, and neither is the $106.3 M in plutonium operations jobs.  These priorities will destroy science jobs, not make them.

After 2008 these plutonium-related construction projects would continue and grow, when they are to be joined by other big plutonium-related construction projects.  The CMRR and NMSSUP will together cost about $2 billion – as of past May, the cost of the CMRR nuclear facility had already doubled over the February 2007 estimate.  The TA-55 Reinvestment Project will also be very expensive; add to that the pit radiography facility, the various waste management capital projects (in part driven by the pit mission), and the pervasive overhead it all requires and it adds up to a lot of money.  These gigabuck projects will eat into science, not add onto it. 

The final irony is that this is a rally to continue the preferments of a very well-off group of people.  “More hand-outs, please!”  This is a kind of “socialism” that the conservative Mr. Dolin would rather not talk about.  David Hobson (R-OH), ranking member of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, has said:

I spent much of my time…traveling to many DOE facilities…I saw hundreds of staff dedicating their professional lives to our national defense…I also saw a weapons complex that could be viewed as a jobs program for Ph.Ds – the ultimate in white-collar welfare…where business practices were two decades behind the times (April 11, 2004).

Best wishes to all,

Greg Mello

A few random ideas for rally signs (there are more here…)

Los Alamos millionaires unite!  We need more money! 

$$$$ We’re #1!  $$$$ Keep us there!

Pete Domenici, patriot: “Give me plutonium or give me death!”

Dignity, not destruction

Schools, not warheads

Treaty, Smeaty.  Give me the money. 

My soul for a job making nuclear weapons?  What’s the catch? 

Arbeit Macht Nukes!

Welcome to Stalag Los Alamos!  Where the knowledge to destroy is secure (we hope) and the knowledge to create is leaving!

America when will we end the human war?  (Allen Ginsberg)

(Hiroshima image) Remember the past.  Imagine the future.

“It glows as it grows” (parody of state motto)

[Edvard Muench “Scream”] with text like “The average American household gave $8,000 to the military last year.”

CMRR – it’s the pits.

“Power over life and death – don’t be proud of it.  Whatever they fear from you, you’ll be threatened with.”  (Seneca)

Don’t tread on New Mexico!

Remember your humanity, and forget the rest!  (Einstein-Russell manifesto)

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is strength

Los Alamos is science

Eisenhower farewell address

Is this science?  (image of mushroom cloud, or waste drum, or….)

Visit scenic Los Alamos!  Largest nuclear dump in New Mexico, bigger every day!

Visit imaginative Los Alamos, where civic leaders actually choose to build nuclear dumps in their own back yard!

[Pit held to sky] Matter glorified – as Darkness!

Land of the labs, home of the waste

Enchantment – or entombment? 

Enchanted yet?

[Image of nuclear dump] “Slightly used mesa in secure, gated community, glowing legacy for family.”

I know – let’s take from the poor and give to war

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June 9, 2007

Udall aids Bush nuclear agenda; what you can do about it (Action Alert #77)

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Dear colleagues and friends –

If you live in New Mexico, we urgently need your help.  

We were taken aback this week when Tom Udall spoke in the U.S. House of Representatives and in subsequent press interviews opposing cuts to the most aggressive parts of Bush’s nuclear weapons agenda.  These proposed cuts are very good news indeed, and in a subsequent alert we will tell you more about them.  Unfortunately, Mr. Udall is trying to stop them rather than protect and extend them. 

Oddly, Udall has joined Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici in what might otherwise be a highly-partisan Republican protest against reform.  (Senator Bingaman has also grumbled publicly but has issued no formal statement so far.  This action alert focuses on Congressman Udall, whose opposition has been more vocal so far.)  Calling for more nuclear weapons spending, which Mr. Udall in effect is doing, means more spending in the worst and most controversial programs, since these are the only ones for which cuts are proposed.  This resistance to reform not only hurts the country but also holds back change at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which Udall says he wants.  

The package of cuts would halt a new generation of nuclear weapons and some of the factories to make them.  They would halt construction, immediately, of new plutonium warhead core (“pit”) factory buildings at LANL.  They would stop the rush to turn LANL into a pit factory.  They would slow, or as is more likely, halt pit production itself.  Udall is opposing all this.  Up to now, the only member of Congress strongly supporting construction of new pit factories at LANL has been Pete Domenici. 

Mr. Udall’s protest and his promised “nay” vote on the funding bill are couched as a plea to hold off on cuts until big new renewable energy missions materialize at LANL.  There is no realistic hope of this happening.  Neither Mr. Udall nor anyone else in Congress has ever offered any realistic plan to accomplish it.  Even if there were such a transformation, it would start with precisely the cuts Mr. Udall says he does not support.  

Udall’s statements in favor of big new energy missions at LANL mean very little, amounting to just a fantasy.  In the present context, it’s just an excuse.  By contrast, his opposition to cuts in the Bush nuclear agenda is an appalling fact.  Mr. Udall may believe he can get pigs to fly at LANL, but neither he nor we can afford to wait until they do to stop Bush’s dangerous, wasteful nuclear agenda. 

Meanwhile, the approach of this administration to building plutonium factories at LANL is to get concrete in the ground as fast as possible, before even completing building design, so there’s less exposure to external review.  It’s an approach that has wasted billions of dollars.  Does Tom Udall care?  Not visibly.  Doesn’t he understand that if LANL becomes a pit factory, which his own actions are furthering, it will never be the sparkling green renewable energy lab he says he wants?  

More background information can be found below. 

What you can do

Whatever you do, please do it soon – this week if possible, or NOW.  Longer-term actions will be the subject of another alert.  

It’s probably not worth calling or writing Mr. Udall’s staff as an individual, unless you have an especially close relationship with his office.  Literally thousands of people have already sent postcards, written letters, signed petitions, called his office, or met with his staff over the past few years.  Hundreds have testified at hearings when his staff members have been present. 

There seems to be some sort of conceptual breakdown in his office which translates opposition to nuclear weapons and pit production into the idea that a few vague words supportive of renewable energy will somehow “greenwash” Mr. Udall’s generally tacit – and in this case very active – support for nuclear weapons.  

Instead we suggest:

1. Tell your friends.  If you know supporters of, or donors to, Tom Udall, so much the better.  Forward this email to them.  Tell them Tom’s support of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, and that LANL’s aggressive new nuclear weapons programs must be cut.  Not at some hypothetical future time, say when hell freezes over, but now, while the subject is before Congress.     

2. Write a letter to the editor, 150 words or less.  Do it now.  

3. Endorse the Call for Nuclear Disarmament if your organization or business hasn’t yet done so. 

Recruit other organizations or businesses.  Get your organization to write, call, or (best) meet with Tom Udall.  

4. Talk or write to local political leaders, such as city councilors, state legislators, and Democratic Party leaders.  Get them to contact Udall directly, and ask them for other leaders to contact. 

5. Get together with your friends and learn more about the issues.  You can read up on the issues at www.lasg.org; that’s why those materials are there.  The act of getting together is a real political act.  Brainstorm among yourselves as to what you can do.  Cut through isolation.  Connect and take some action, however small, with mutual support.  

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

More background:

1. House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Visclosky’s statement (pdf) about the proposed nuclear weapons cuts and related energy and water actions, and a brief summary (pdf) of them.  Markup details will be available soon at the Committee’s web site and in the meantime is available for inspection at the Study Group office. 

2. Tom Udall’s official statement on why he is not supporting these proposed cuts. 

3. Domenici Says House FY08 Plan to Underfund N.M. Labs "Stunningly Punitive"

4. Wilson & Pearce Letter: Deep Cuts Would Do `Irreparable Damage` to National Security

5. Diana del Mauro, “Funding shifts could slice LANL budget,” June 6, 2007, New Mexican

6. Roger Snodgrass, “Lab budget sees cuts,” June 7, 2007 Los Alamos Monitor

7. Jeff Jones, Cuts Loom for LANL, Sandia, June 8, 2007, Albuquerque Journal

8. June 6, 2007 memorandum from David Culp and Devin Helfrich of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), Washington DC office.

Rep. Tom Udall (NM) Upset with Los Alamos Laboratory Funding Cuts

Today we watched the House Appropriations Committee complete its work on the energy and water appropriations bill that funds nuclear weapons activities.  Included in this bill is money for the national weapons laboratories.

Rep. Tom Udall (NM), a member of the committee, made clear his opposition to the cuts in the nuclear weapons program.  His district includes the Los Alamos Laboratory, and he was not happy to hear that the committee had cut $632 million dollars from the president's request for nuclear weapons activities.  Most of this money was shifted to energy research and nuclear nonproliferation.

The Los Alamos Laboratory receives a significant portion of this bill's nuclear weapons funding, and the committee's cut will mean less money for nuclear weapons activities at the laboratory.  In one high-profile cut, the House committee gave no money for a proposed new nuclear warhead, the "Reliable Replacement Warhead."

Because of this bill's impact on Los Alamos, Rep. Udall stated his intention to vote against the bill when it reaches the House floor next Wednesday, June 13.

Rep. Udall said he wants to see a plan for how the laboratory could get new work and restored funding that it may be losing from shrinking nuclear weapons accounts.

"This is going to have an impact on these laboratories," he said.  "When this bill passes today, there will be headlines about job losses."

The chair and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee that had the most control over writing this bill have said that they need to see a comprehensive new long-term nuclear weapons strategic plan before more money was spent on a Cold War-era configuration of nuclear weapons activities.

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June 3, 2007

Update (Action Alert #76)

(Subscription information is at the bottom; please forward this to others if you like)

Contents at a glance:

1. What we’ve been up to
2. Quick congressional update
3. Performance of the NM delegation
4. Can LANL be converted to civilian missions?
5. Warhead policy at the crossroads: more resources

Next time: What you can do, in more detail

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. What we’ve been up to

It’s been almost six months since the Study Group has sent out an action alert and update to the 2,200 or so people on this list.  How time flies!  A great deal has happened on the nuclear front – and on other closely-related fronts.

We’ve been terribly busy, as many of you know.  Working closely with the new Congress has been front and center.

You might wonder why we haven’t written, asking you to write your congressperson.  If we had thought that would make a difference we would have asked.  In New Mexico at least, those days are largely behind us for now, if indeed we were ever in them.  Writing elected representatives in New Mexico is now mostly a “feel-good” activity, something we do for ourselves rather than to have an impact on the issues.

It is very valuable, however, to write our representatives publicly, in the newspaper for example, or to take other creative public actions.Many people see that message and are educated.  Our elected representatives know this.  Publicity means witnesses, and strictly speaking without them there is no politics, just private supplication of a ruler.

Without publicity, the specific request you make – whether it is in writing, in person, or at a public hearing – is mentally and physically processed according to somebody’s idea of how to win an election.  The clarity and permanence which would seem to be aspects of the written word are lost.  In such a case, your carefully chosen words just disappear as if they were never written.

We learned late last year that hundreds of people testifying against pit production at “Complex 2030” hearings, and hearings about the future of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), with Congressman Udall’s representatives present, were construed by his office as not really being against pit production at all.  That, and dozens of people meeting with his staff, hundreds of businesses and organizations petitioning him, a postcard campaign, and much more were all construed by Udall’s staff as not bearing on the pit production issue!  Think about it.

In English common law, “silence gives consent.”  So we must speak up and speak up loudly – which experience shows means publicly – and as precisely as possible if we are to take away the perennial excuse that “we haven’t heard from anyone on this.”

You can find some ideas of how to do this below.  But don’t expect “cookie-cutter” solutions to work.  You won’t find them here.  They’ve never worked.

So far this year I (Greg Mello) have been in Washington, DC three times, for a week each time.  On each trip I brought various analyses of nuclear issues currently under discussion (and some that should be under discussion!).  I met with key congressional staff, administration officials, and as many of our NGO allies as possible.  Peter Neils, our president, was with me on one trip.  It’s been a team effort: Trish Williams-Mello, Astrid Webster, and Leslie Clark set up dozens of these DC meetings over the past several months.

These trips were far more productive and inexpensive than they could have otherwise been thanks to certain old friends with whom we’ve stayed – thank you from all of us!

So what’s been the upshot?  I can report to you that our work has been very warmly received in Congress and its research agencies, as well as in a few key spots in the executive branch.  To the extent there have been “victories” in recent weeks (and perhaps most of the “victory” reports we have been seeing are somewhat exaggerated – see below), we have been intimately involved with those victories.

On a more personal note, it has been heartwarming to see colleagues with whom I’ve worked for many years, as well as to begin new friendships.  These friendships really are the very flesh and bones of disarmament efforts, and our greatest sustenance.  They are especially important now, as it is a time of great opportunity in certain ways.  None of us, however, should kid ourselves about the condition of our country and our world, which call for our utmost exertions.

Over these last few months we’ve also been fortifying and broadening the internal structure of the Study Group, about which more below also.

This update will be rather short, though there is a great deal to say and several useful resources to offer.  These more detailed materials are referenced by hyperlink.  We will also follow up with another alert later this week.

Please contact us if you want to talk about, or learn more about, joining the Study Group’s work.  We have a pretty good core team of 25 associates and board members, some in New Mexico and some far away, who comprise the brains, heart, and brawn of our operation.  If you have time and attention we can sure use the help.  There are many opportunities now in the struggle against nuclear militarism and for civilized, sustainable security, but we have to seize them or they will pass by.

As some of you know we’ve been short on cash this year, requiring us to triage between these opportunities.  Funds remain scarce.  If you can help in this way, or know others who can, this too could make a very big difference.  There are many ways to contribute (write or call us); here is our secure donation portal.

We recently sent out two issue updates by regular mail (May 1 and May 29, both in pdf).  Together these contain more information than we have room for here and I invite you to peruse them.

Some of you may be interested in a letter sent last December (by easily-missed hyperlink only), “We have the freedom to prevent catastrophe, if we accept it.”

In the same vein, and on the perennially-important subject of “What can we do?” the micro-essay Connect! (pdf) is, we think, useful.  It contains a solid list of “things you can do” which will not waste your time.  The next action alert will be substantially devoted to this question; so stay tuned.

Can anyone doubt this is a pivotal moment for humanity?  The Greek word for such a moment is kairos.  Christian tradition sometimes defines kairos as “the time when God acts,” the intersection of time and timelessness.  Bill Moyers recently quoted Euripides, who described kairos as the moment when "the one who seizes the helm of fate, forces fortune."  In this, each of us can inspire the other.

2. Quick congressional update

So far, three subcommittees (and one whole committee, House Armed Services) have failed to approve some of the Administration’s most grandiose nuclear weapons proposals in their entirety.  A big victory?  I am guessing the Democratically-led Congress will ultimately approve at least 97% of the Administration’s warhead request, in both dollar and program terms.

As of this writing the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development (SEWD) Subcommittee and the full Senate Appropriations (SA) Committee have yet to act.

Some of the good news so far, sparing most details:

  • The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is wounded.  Its proposed budget has been cut by two subcommittees (and one whole committee) and zeroed out by a third subcommittee.


  • There is likely to be an amendment proposed by Senator Feinstein in the SA, but House Appropriations is likely to confirm its Energy and Water Subcommittee’s markup, which zeroed out the RRW.  Negotiation within the SEWD, within the SA as a whole, and between the SA and the House will define the RRW budget for FY 2008.

  • At Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the larger of two new plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production buildings has suffered delays, cost inflation, and cuts in at least two key committees.  This is the so-called Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) “nuclear facility” (NF).

  • A Department of Defense (DoD) program to field a dramatically more accurate Trident nuclear missile (with a conventional warhead, for now) has been downsized and delayed.

Some of the bad news:

  • Congressional debate about nuclear weapons issues is sorely limited.  The programs actively being questioned by most parties, including most NGOs, are just a small part of the overall nuclear weapons effort, i.e. about 2% of Department of Energy (DOE) programs or less than 1% if DoD programs are included.  The rest pretty much sails on unimpeded.

  • Construction of the other pit production-related building at LANL (the CMRR “rad lab”) continues “full steam ahead,” plus several expensive related projects also designed to facilitate increased pit production.

  • Pit production, halted since 1989 in the U.S., could start up at any time (and possibly this year) at LANL.

  • Democrats have not acted decisively at all to change the Administration’s aggressive nuclear policies.  Those few nuclear programs not fully authorized and funded are likely to be “kicked down the road,” ostensibly until a new administration takes over in 2008 but more likely just in order to avoid the tough decisions, period.

We know a great deal more about current decision-making process than this short summary, but we wanted to get you this much at least.  The details change quickly.  If this is interesting to you it may be a sign that you would enjoy being more involved!

3. Performance of the NM delegation

  • Pete Domenici is the leading congressional proponent of new nuclear weapons (i.e. of the RRW program), of new plutonium pit factories at LANL, and of pretty much everything else nuclear.  One high-ranking civil servant with whom we met said, before Peter (Neils) and I even sat down, “Why come to see me?  The problem is in your state and his name is Pete Domenici.”

  • Jeff Bingaman appears to be keeping up with nuclear weapons issues intellectually but is largely waiting until he can see which way the wind is blowing before committing himself.  To be blunt, he is silent and largely “missing in action” on nuclear weapons issues, with few exceptions.

As regards pit production in particular Bingaman could make a decisive impact if he were to introduce an amendment to halt or delay pit production pending the outcome of studies designed to answer some obvious questions.  (Take a look, for example, at the questions posed in these pit production talking points.)  He could also halt construction of the new pit factories (plural) at LANL, a separate but related issue, in a similar way, just by repeating out loud – say, to an investigatory agency – the questions we and House appropriators are asking.  The deference of NM Democrats to the senior senator is shocking and a very serious problem for this state.

  • Tom Udall is likewise utterly silent and passive, even though he has “traded up” his committee assignments for a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.  He does not appear to keep up with nuclear weapons issues at all, strongly suggesting he doesn’t care about them.  (The proper standard, of course is actually doing something about problems, not just “caring” about them.  Spare us the politics of empathy.)  This critique is the consensus view of many people who have interacted with the Congressman and his staff over a number of years.  Unless he can awaken soon to his leadership responsibilities, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that New Mexico could do much better in this critical district.
  • Heather Wilson is keeping a low profile on nuclear weapons.  She has taken herself off the House Armed Services Committee and joined the Energy and Commerce Committee.  In sharp contrast to Mr. Udall, who generally refuses meetings, she met with us for an intelligent (if very hawkish) and substantive conversation after just a single request.

4. Can LANL be converted to civilian missions?

If you are interested in this subject, or in learning more about why LANL never seems to improve the economy of northern New Mexico, you may want to check out the brief outline of issues in the May 15 briefing, “Weapons Labs and the Future of New Mexico: Problems, Prospects, Messages.” 

You may also be interested in the somewhat more detailed working paper, “Does Los Alamos National Lab Help or Hurt the New Mexico Economy?

5. “Warhead policy at the crossroads,” and more resources

A recent overview of current nuclear weapons issues for general audiences can be found under that title here.

A prior sketch from April 2007, “Break the silence!”, takes a somewhat different cut across the issues. 

A concise list of reasons “Why it is critical to stop warhead core (“pit”) production, and [why] we can” is available on the web site as well. 

Most of our more detailed technical work is not on our web site.  But if you are following the RRW issue very closely, you will want to look at this summary table, “The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program Can't Meet Congressional Objectives” (pdf).  The more Congress learns about the RRW program, the more fog that is lifted, and the less Congress likes the program.  No wonder.  In this and so many ways we are now in a race between education and catastrophe, exactly as H.G. Wells said. 

A guest column in the Los Alamos Monitor earlier this month, “It's time to talk seriously about downsizing the nuclear warhead complex,” is a popular piece for the Los Alamos community which sets the stage for more detailed discussion of what a downsized nuclear warhead complex would look like.  Stay tuned – or much better yet, help out!        

That’s it for now.  Look for more on what you can do later this week.

In trenchant solidarity,

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

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