LASG header
Follow TrishABQ on Twitter Follow us
 
"Forget the Rest" blog

Bulletin #92

November 17, 2008

-- We are requesting some financial support for our work
-- There are also other ways you can express your solidarity
-- Help halt efforts to build a new nuclear weapons factory in Albuquerque
-- Help stop the CMRR Nuclear Facility
-- It is time for a big push to cut nuclear weapons spending




Bulletin #91

November 7, 2008

Kansas City update; fall fundraising drive begins


Action Alert #90

August 25, 2008
 
NRDC and others seek to move nuclear weapons factories to NM: more details

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

Dear colleagues –

Action Alert #89 briefly introduced the actions being taken by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Nuclear Watch of New Mexico (NWNM), and a few other organizations to consolidate as much of the nuclear weapons complex as possible into a “Southwest Triangle,” with all nuclear weapons production to be located at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) (or, as more likely, elsewhere in the Albuquerque area), and at the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant near Amarillo, Texas.
 
We sent out that alert to warn New Mexicans and others about these actions and to provoke discussions about the significant political differences in what many people wrongly assume to be a single community of interests.

I have just learned of an error in that alert: NRDC had no involvement with Bill Richardson's energy book; we now understand the work was done by an NRDC staffer during a leave of absence.  I am sure other mistakes will come to light but so far we know of no other significant ones.  One of our main concerns has to do with the secretive nature of these developments; it has taken some time to even begin to understand these efforts and place them in their proper context.

The difference mentioned above are political differences.  They have very little to do with personalities.  These differences are the nearly-inevitable result of organizational and political choices being made outside the “target area.”  These choices, which include the decision to attempt to consolidate the nuclear weapons complex in New Mexico, are inherently divisive.  No one can expect to implement such a strategy without conflict.  There should be conflict.

That conflict is itself part of the disarmament process.  Disarmament, should it occur, will require political change in the United States.  A change in our national identity will be required.  Such changes inherently require extensive public debate.  They are not managerial decisions that can be made quietly by a just a few people acting in effective secrecy.

As long as the U.S. retains nuclear weapons somebody has to host the nuclear maquiladoras.  So there is a simple and direct answer to this problem, a win-win solution for everybody: nuclear disarmament.  Yes, it could be a winning solution for most of the contractors, employees, and communities too, if substantial alternative investments in energy and transportation infrastructure in these communities were made high national priorities.  They certainly must be made high priorities – immediately.  The predictable consequences of not doing so outweigh so-called “nuclear dangers” many-fold.

Complete nuclear disarmament is the only solution compatible with solving the complex management, environmental, economic, foreign policy, safety, and fiscal problems imposed by the nuclear weapons complex.  It is perfectly clear to us that all other solutions to the nuclear problem, many of them little more than temporizing, will fail to a greater or lesser degree by any and all of these criteria.

We believe that nuclear disarmament is the only nuclear policy compatible with the significant political changes needed to abandon U.S. imperial pretensions and restore democracy in this country.  The conflict at hand is part of that effort.

Too many of the prime movers in the U.S. nonprofit scene, including the large foundations which set the agenda for nearly all non-governmental activity in this field, do not want to see nuclear abolition any time soon.

Some progressive funders say they want nuclear abolition some day.  We know from personal experience that this is difficult to distinguish from an agenda that would retain a leaner, meaner nuclear weapons capability forever.

Many large funders do not want nuclear disarmament at all.  They, and most of the Democratic Party, just want a “smarter,” more effective empire.

Overall, there is not much civil society opposition to the government’s nuclear weapons agenda.  Minor reforms are generally the only ones pursued, often in a superficial manner that allows much of the underlying program in question to proceed, provided the program name, emphasis, or scale is changed.  These differences are often important, but one could get the impression that sometimes the goal is to stop the latest acronym.  Sometimes it is.

In such a paralyzed milieu, “consolidation of sites” can begin to seem pretty bold, perhaps even look like disarmament.  This is especially the case if some of the local details, like the need to build huge new factories at the receiver sites, can be glossed over with fallacious assumptions, as we believe is the case here.  We believe the idea that consolidation will contribute to disarmament is an illusion, a subject which we will take up next time.

Today’s alert provides just a few more details on a few of the issues involved.  Our suggestions for practical paths forward must wait until the next alert, along with discussions of other issues and positions.  One alert at a time.

NRDC’s overall consolidation strategy

This strategy was briefly described by Christopher Paine, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), at the Washington hearing regarding the Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (CTSPEIS) on March 25, 2008 in Washington, DC:

I think the Department needs to look at what I call the “Southwest Triangle” alternative of consolidating the bulk of the weapons complex into a triangle represented by Pantex, Sandia and Los Alamos.  And also look at the prospect of consolidating uranium processing and fabrication operations either at Pantex or Los Alamos leaving the civilian storage facility that's just been constructed at Y-12 in place to deal with surplus uranium has been transferred to the civil sector.

This testimony (pdf) expresses much more than an individual or organizational preference.  It is a political strategy that has been put in motion with legal, local, and congressional components, some of which have only come to our attention in the last couple of weeks.

The Kansas City nuclear weapons plant: chronology of recent events

The primary (though not the only) focus of this consolidation strategy so far has been the Kansas City Plant (KCP), as explained in Action Alert #89.  (KCP is located in Kansas City [KC], Missouri, not KC Kansas.)

Efforts by NRDC’s and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico’s (NWNM’s) efforts to bring KCP’s functions to Albuquerque are, according to NRDC’s August 4 Notice of Intent to sue (pdf), supported by a few other organizations, together comprising a “Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Network.”  This and many other indications of a national organizing effort to support consolidation of the nuclear weapons complex into fewer geographic locations, complementing a two-year organizing effort in the local KC area led by NWNM have definitely gotten our attention.  It is, we believe, a misguided effort.

A good place to start the story might be in April of 2006, when the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which funds and administers KCP, requested its Kansas City Site Office to begin planning for a smaller, "more responsive" KCP facility.

The account that follows will attempt to sketch in the basic timeline since then without delving much into the underlying issues.  That will have to wait.

On August 2, 2006 an interagency meeting was held to discuss the results of the requested planning.  At the meeting, a contractor to the General Services Administration (GSA, with which the NNSA operates the Bannister Road Complex in which KCP is located), presented four options for KCP.  Three involved using the existing facility and one involved moving KCP to a new “build-to-suit,” leased facility in the KC area.

This last option was called, at that time or later, KCRIMS, the “Kansas City Responsive Infrastructure Manufacturing & Sourcing” project.  In addition to the new (leased) building, KCRIMS also involves increasing the fraction of work outsourced to Honeywell’s subcontractors.

On May 1 of the following year (2007) GSA issued a Notice of Intent (pdf) (NOI) to write an Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding KCP options, including KCRIMS.

On May 21, 2007 NRDC and NWNM wrote a detailed letter to GSA, NNSA, and Congress claiming the two agencies were required to examine non-KC area locations for KCP functions in a) the Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (CTSPEIS) and b) a new KCP Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which would supplant the EA then in progress.

Re-opening the CTSPEIS would in principle allow other consolidation options, e.g. for the uranium processing and manufacturing currently assigned to the Y-12 facility near Oak Ridge, TN, to be studied for reassignment.  As we shall see, NRDC, NWNM, and their “consolidation network” colleagues are currently proposing to move these functions to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

On October 18, 2007 NNSA’s contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), completed a business case analysis of alternative KCP locations.  Of non-KC-area locations, only Albuquerque was found to merit serious consideration.  The Albuquerque option was found to be far more technically risky and more expensive than the preferred KC option (i.e. KCRIMS).

Reporter Todd Jacobsen, writing in the February 4, 2008 issue of the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor newsletter (“Industry Skeptical of Changes to Production Contract Strategy; Potential Merger of KC, Sandia Contracts Raises Questions”), summarized the study’s central conclusion:

According to an NNSA-sponsored study completed by Science Applications International Corporation and released in September, building the Kansas City Plant at the proposed site was the most cost effective option for the NNSA—over a proposed move to Albuquerque. The study examined moving the production facilities to each of the NNSA’s seven sites, and among the options, moving the facility to Albuquerque was the most palatable—though much of what makes that option more costly than keeping the facility in Kansas City is tied to delays that would occur while planning and design work for a facility at Sandia National Laboratories was completed. “The longer it takes to complete planning, construction, move and production restart, the more costly is a move to Albuquerque,” the study says. “When the additional risks and complexities of an alternate city move are factored into this business case, it leaves a distant location move with too many potential costs that are not offset by regional economic and collocation savings.”

On October 24, 2007 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) endorsed KCRIMS, pending environmental review.

On November 14, 2007 the draft EA was issued.  It did not contain the Albuquerque option.  Numerous commenters, centrally including NRDC and NWNM, requested formal reconsideration of the Albuquerque option.

Todd Jacobsen, in the January 14, 2008 issue of the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor (“At Kansas City, Activists Hold ‘Hearing’ To Oppose New Plant”), summarized some of the main points at issue:

NNSA officials expect the new site to help save $100 million a year in costs. Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director Jay Coghlan criticized the overall cost of the project, which includes $912 million in lease payments through 2030 according to a business case prepared by NNSA in October. “We’re starting to talk a billion and a half dollar plant with all associated costs, and for what?” said Coghlan, who favors moving NNSA’s non-nuclear production facilities to Sandia National Laboratories’ New Mexico site.

(We believe these same inflated costs would apply in Albuquerque, plus many other transition costs, if the same plant capacities and functions are compared in each location.)

On April 21, 2008 a final EA (pdf) was issued, along with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).  This final EA included options of moving KCP’s functions to Albuquerque, Livermore, and Los Alamos.  It is worth quoting the final EA at length on this point, for the history it contains: 

The draft environmental assessment (draft EA) released in December 2007 analyzed the potential environmental impacts of reasonable alternatives for the modernization and further consolidation of NNSA’s facilities for production and procurement of electrical and mechanical non-nuclear components. The alternatives evaluated in the draft EA were limited to ones in the Kansas City area. First, DOE had twice decided, after examining a number of alternatives outside of Kansas City in the 1993 EA and 1996 PEIS, to consolidate these activities for electrical and mechanical parts in Kansas City, and has been implementing these decisions for more than a decade. Second, as the 1996 record of decision concluded, the technical risk associated with relocating and requalifying these activities at one or more of NNSA’s other sites is great. This conclusion was confirmed by the Department’s experience in consolidating the manufacture of neutron generators at SNL/NM from Pinellas after the 1993 EA.  Third, studies conducted on NNSA’s behalf by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) indicated that moving these operations to a distant location would be prohibitively expensive (SAIC 2008 [sic: 2007]).

A number of comments received on the draft EA stated that the federal agencies should evaluate alternatives at locations outside of Kansas City. Many of these comments suggested that NNSA should evaluate moving its KCP operations to SNL/NM in Albuquerque
, New Mexico. Although NNSA believes that alternatives involving long distance relocations of production and procurement activities for these two types of nonnuclear components remain unreasonable, it decided to analyze several such alternatives in response to these comments. The action alternatives analyzed in this EA include those analyzed in the draft EA, as well as alternatives that would require relocation beyond the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The alternative sites outside of the Kansas City metropolitan area that have been added in this EA are the same as those analyzed in the 1996 PEIS: SNL/NM, LANL, and LLNL.  This EA analyzes alternatives to construct a modern facility as contemplated in the preferred alternative, at each laboratory.  This EA also evaluated two other alternatives: (1) using existing space at LANL for some KCP activities and building a smaller modern facility for the KCP activities that cannot be accommodated in LANL’s existing space; and (2) using existing space at SNL/NM and constructing a smaller modern facility for those activities that do not fit in that existing space. LLNL does not have sufficient existing space to allow for such a “hybrid” alternative, so the only alternative for LLNL consists of building a new facility there that could accommodate all of
KCP’s activities. The federal agencies considered, but did not further analyze, an alternative that would have dispersed KCP’s activities between existing facilities at SNL/NM, LANL, and LLNL without constructing a new facility at any site.

(Environmental Assessment for the Modernization of Facilities and Infrastructure for the Non-Nuclear Production Activities Conducted at the Kansas City Plant [pdf], pp. 6-8.)

Todd Jacobsen, writing in the May 5, 2008 Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, (“Final Environmental Assessment Gives Green Light to New KC Plant; Move to Kansas City Site Cheaper Than Move to Sandia, Study Says,”), quotes NWNM on the GSA/NNSA KCP choice:

Jay Coghlan, the executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said there was a “strong possibility” that his group, or others, could fight the ruling [NNSA’s choice of its preferred Kansas City option and associated FONSI] in court… Coghlan and others have pushed for a more rigorous study of relocation options, most notably a move to Sandia, where some non-nuclear production work is already done.

Reporter Kevin Collison of the Kansas City Star interviewed the director of a national organization, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), on the issue on May 9, 2008 (“Critics question timing of new Honeywell plant”):

Susan Gordon, director of the Washington-based Alliance for Nuclear Accountability [ANA], said “We think the Kansas City plant is the key component for the transformation of the nuclear weapons complex because 85 percent of the parts are manufactured there,” she said. “To leave it out of [the complex transformation programmatic] environmental impact statement is just crazy.  We don’t think that’s an issue that will stand up legally in court.”

While Gordon said her organization does not plan to file a federal lawsuit, GSA officials anticipate a potential legal challenge.

Ms. Gordon had already put ANA on the record (pdf) requesting a re-scoping of the CTSPEIS to include options not yet considered for KCP at the March 2008 Washington, DC CTSPEIS hearing and in prior KCP EA comments.

A central and very important issue that touches all discussions regarding the future of KCP is the extensive subsurface contamination at the Bannister Road Complex.  Reporter Karen Dillon reviewed some of the key issues in a June 7, 2008 Kansas City Star article (“Pollution clouds future for huge south KC plant,” article mirrored here).  According to Dillon, in 1989 full site cleanup was estimated to cost $460 million, which is at least $816 million in today’s dollars.  More information on site contamination can be found in KCP briefings, available from NWNM.

On July 7, 2008, the state-chartered Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA) voted unanimously to endorse the KCRIMS proposal (Kevin Collison, “State agency votes to replace Bannister’s Honeywell Plant,” Kansas City Star, July 11, 2008).  The views offered by local peace activists (and the GSA response) are instructive:

It [the KCRIMS proposal] was opposed by several speakers who criticized using local tax incentives to help build a nuclear weapons plant when U.S. policy on the future of such armaments is uncertain. The Honeywell facility makes about 85 percent of the components used in a nuclear bomb, all of them non-nuclear parts.

“We know a new administration will come into office with a new assessment of weapons policy,” said Henry M. Stoever. “It would be folly for us to start a plant that may come to a halt.”

Ann Suellentrop of Peace Works and Physicians for Social Responsibility referred to a section of a development study commissioned by the PIEA that described the Honeywell plan as promoting, among other things, the health, safety and morals of the community.

“How is a nuclear weapons plant good for our morals and health?” she asked. “Is this not madness? It’s important we think of more than just money.”

Stoever said the landowner’s poor stewardship had allowed the open dumping and erosion that contributed to the property being designated as blighted. He and others said it would cost substantial amounts to clean up the existing Bannister complex should Honeywell leave the site.

Brad Scott, GSA regional administrator, said federal and state environmental agencies as well as the local congressional delegation would not allow the Bannister property to be left polluted.

“Absolutely, without qualification, we’ll clean up that site,” he said.

He added if Kansas City does not move forward with a plan to replace the Honeywell facility, the jobs and operation would likely be transferred to another nuclear weapons facility in New Mexico.

“This project will not affect the world of nuclear weapons,” Scott said. “The only certain thing that would happen is we’d lose 2,100 jobs.

In late July Kevin Collison reported that GSA had recently halted the KCRIMS bid process because no developer was willing to build the plant for the price GSA (and OMB) offered (“’Bid bust’ threatens progress at nuclear parts plant,” Kansas City Star, July 21, 2008).  Rapid construction cost inflation (8-9% annually instead of the prior 3-4%) and tightening of the credit market were the culprits – or angels, depending on your point of view – in the situation.

(One of the several significant policy issues in this or any leased-facility plan is the ultimate total cost of private credit and the profit required to motivate a private developer, which are very appreciable.  One of the central ideas in the KCRIMS plan, as well as in the Albuquerque option, is to spread these discounted development and construction costs over the next 20 years rather than have them appear in the short run as line-item expenses in NNSA’s construction budget.)

In that article Collison notes that 

The [KCP] replacement project had been on a fast track to improve its prospects of remaining in Kansas City.  There have been repeated efforts [by activists, not NNSA] to consolidate its operations at another nuclear weapons facility in New Mexico…At a meeting two weeks ago of the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, Scott told board members the plant and its operations would likely be transferred to New Mexico if the replacement project fell through.

On July 22, GSA issued a new solicitation, via the Federal Business Opportunities web site (solicitation 7MO2054-2), which attempts to “sweeten the pot” for developers by loosening some building specifications, directly buying some of the new facility’s special equipment, and opening new funding options for two new highway interchanges.  (Rob Roberts, “Nuclear agency OKs new bids for KC weapons parts plant,” Kansas City Business Journal, August 20, 2008).

On August 1, 2008, Chris Paine of NRDC, speaking on behalf the “Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Network” in addition to his own organization, reiterated the overall consolidation strategy to the staff of the congressionally-mandated Strategic Posture Review Commission.  In addition to the KCP consolidation discussed above, he suggests that NNSA

[U]pgrade existing secondary manufacturing capabilities at LANL to meet this [NRDC-proposed small production] requirement and transition all support for secondaries from Y-12 to LANL, including capabilities for surveillance, evaluation, testing, maintenance, and limited manufacturing of secondaries, as well as manufacture of materials and components for secondaries.

Once capability has been transferred to LANL, Y-12 will no longer have any role in support of nuclear weapons.

This Y-12 consolidation to LANL is also mentioned in the January 2008 weapons complex plan (pdf; see table, p. 9) proposed by the 20/20 Vision organization and posted on the ANA web site.

On August 4, 2008, as mentioned above and in Action Alert #89, NRDC filed a notice of intent (pdf) to sue GSA and NNSA in 30 days, i.e. on or after September 4, citing support for lawsuit from the “Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Network.”
           
We will take up the story again in the next action alert.

Sincerely,

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. If you received this message directly from gmello@lasg.org, you are already subscribed to that list. To join the Study Group’s New Mexico listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


Action Alert #89

August 17, 2008

NRDC, a New Mexico nonprofit, and others seek to move nuclear factory to NM 

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

Dear colleagues – 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a few other organizations (principally Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, NWNM), seek to transfer the functions of the Kansas City nuclear weapons plant (KCP) to Albuquerque. 

KCP, currently funded at $408 million (M) annually, makes most (about 90%) of the components of U.S. nuclear weapons -- about 40 product families and 50,000 unique parts.  The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which administers the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, estimates the plant size needed at 0.9 to 1.4 million sq. ft., approximately the size of Cottonwood Mall (1.1 million sq. ft.)  The new plant would employ 2,000 people, about 60% of Intel’s 3,300 current Rio Rancho employees.  The new plant would handle significant amounts of hazardous materials, create hazardous and other wastes, use considerable resources, and have other environmental impacts. 

Most of KCP’s current functions are necessary to maintain existing nuclear weapons as well as to make new ones, so realistically KCP is not going away any time soon.  KCP will however decrease in size under all realistic policy scenarios, even NNSA’s.  The scale and complexity of the KCP missions are dependent on stockpile size, the nature and frequency of nuclear weapons maintenance and upgrades, and on whether or not novel warheads enter production.  Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) in Albuquerque, which designs most of the parts made at KCP and its suppliers, also has large non-nuclear military and intelligence components.  At present SNL has essentially no production line capability.  

To our knowledge there is no facility or combination of existing facilities at SNL which could provide enough modern manufacturing and clean-room space for KCP’s missions, even if those missions were substantially reduced.  Substantial new construction would be needed. 

A subsidiary of Honeywell currently operates KCP for NNSA.  The plant has had a relatively stellar management record as NNSA plants and labs go.  Honeywell, NNSA, and the General Services Administration (GSA) want KCP to move 8 miles south of its present location in the Kansas City (KC) suburbs to a new, privately-developed, leased facility.  NNSA claims the new privately-owned facility, combined with a more aggressive outsourcing program, will be cheaper and better in all respects than remaining in its current location or building a new federally-owned facility.  The current location has extensive underground contamination from decades of nuclear weapons manufacture and WWII aircraft engine manufacturing.  NNSA believes moving KCP’s functions to Albuquerque will be a) much more expensive and b) far more technically risky than keeping these operations in the Kansas City area. 

NRDC has told us its goal is to move as much of the nuclear weapons complex to New Mexico and the Southwest as possible and has testified to that effect.  Apparently to that end, NRDC, with the assistance of NWNM, has quietly formed a “Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Network” consisting of those two organizations, Tri-Valley CAREs of Livermore, CA, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and the Kansas City Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  We now know that NRDC and NWNM have been working to bring KCP to Albuquerque for about two years, although it appears that very few in New Mexico knew this outside the secretive, pro-nuclear-weapons-lab “New Mexican for Sustainable Energy and Effective Stewardship”  (NMSEES) network. 

NMSEES is a fund coordinated by NWNM’s fiscal sponsor the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) as part of the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF).  NMSEES’ funding sources are not publicly disclosed.  NMCF is supported by a wide range of donors including Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the “Consortium of Major LANL Subcontractors.”  NMCF, NRDC, and NWNM also have very close political, organizational, and/or financial ties to Governor Richardson and his appointees.  Just to take one example, NRDC paid a ghostwriter to “assist” with Richardson’s recent book on energy; Richardson, a former Energy Secretary, recently served on the NRDC board. 

Neither NRDC nor NWNM have endorsed halting the production of plutonium warhead cores (“pits”) at LANL or the associated unpermitted disposal of nuclear waste in unlined trenches, although hundreds of organizations in New Mexico and elsewhere have done so.  In 2003 NWNM promoted the strategy of consolidating pit production at LANL in Washington, DC and elsewhere, advising dozens of organizations that the "LANL's pit production capability could and should be mentioned as a crucial piece of the argument why the MPF [Modern Pit Facility] is not needed...LANL's pit production capability should be front and center...LANL's possible future "stockpile" production capabilities should also defintely [sic] be pointed to."  To this day many organizations, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the Arms Control Association (ACA), NRDC, as well as others have told us they support pit production.  It is, as one group said to us, “the compromise we have made.”  Despite this “compromise” the House cut pit production funding dramatically last year, and this year the House Appropriations Committee voted to halt pit production altogether, with only one dissenting vote – Tom Udall.  The House has been trying to kill the $2.6 billion new pit factory at LANL for 5 years, with no help – and possibly hindrance – from the arms control community.  The Study Group vociferously opposed NWNM’s position condoning pit production in 2003 and we oppose it now.  

In the present instance, NWNM is again condoning major new nuclear weapons construction for the sake of bringing nuclear weapons work to New Mexico. 

On August 4 NRDC filed a notice of intent to sue under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to undercut NNSA’s KCP plans, with the clear intent of bringing KCP to Albuquerque.  In NRDC and NWNM submittals to NNSA and GSA neither any of the possible New Mexico impacts nor any facts or inquiries related to the possibility of remaining in the existing plant appear.  If this suit goes forward, we do not know with whom NRDC will associate as plaintiffs.  Individuals in KC, and possibly PeaceWorks (a local Peace Action affiliate), may become plaintiffs, as well as other organizations.  For a successful suit as well as to provide political cover in Missouri, local KC plaintiffs are needed.  Considerable resources have been provided to NWNM for the purpose of cultivating that support. 

All of us on the board and staff of the Study Group, from New Mexico to California to New Jersey, oppose building new nuclear weapons factories.  We do so for a variety of reasons.  It is also our judgment that opposition to these new factories is the most practical political course of action for all parties – from disarmament advocates like us, to arms control organizations, to NNSA.  We think this course of action is the best fiscally and environmentally as well.  We are not and have never been a NIMBY group.  Building new nuclear weapons factories anywhere is diametrically opposed to our organization’s four overarching goals: nuclear disarmament, environmental protection, social justice, and economic sustainability.  

What can you do?  In the first place, you can start asking questions.  In the second place, if you don’t want to support nuclear weapons production, don’t support organizations which do.  Friends don’t let friends support nuclear weapons. 

Further details will have to wait until another time.  

Sincerely,

Greg Mello

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. If you received this message directly from gmello@lasg.org, you are already subscribed to that list. To join the Study Group’s New Mexico listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


 

Action Alert #88

June 24, 2008

 

House Committee considers halting LANL pit production tomorrow --what will Udall do?

Also: International status of nuclear weapons: UNM talk tomorrow


1. House Appropriations Committee will consider halting Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) plutonium pit production and LANL's proposed new pit factory annex tomorrowWhat will Udall do?  To find out, watch the committee webcast here at 8:00 am (New Mexico time) tomorrow.  Further information and action items to follow tomorrow. 

2. New Study Group resources on pit production and related issues are now available at www.lasg.org

3. Public talks in June conclude on a high note tomorrow, June 25, with an authoritative round-up of international nuclear weapons diplomatic developments by visiting scholar-activists, 11:45 am, UNM Law School, Room 3402.

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

Dear colleagues --

1. House Appropriations Committee will consider halting LANL pit production and new pit factory tomorrowWhat will Udall do?  To find out, watch the committee webcast here at 8:00 am (New Mexico time) tomorrow.   Further information and action items to follow, probably also tomorrow. 


Tomorrow at 10:00 am Eastern time the House Appropriations Committee will consider the markup of Department of Energy (DOE) and other energy and water programs, including the nuclear "Weapons Activities" budget proposed by its Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.  This hearing will be webcast

Representative Tom Udall has so far refused to answer questions from the Los Alamos Study Group and his other constituents about his support, or lack of support, for plutonium pit production and the controversial Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility, a $2.6+ billion addition to LANL's pit factory complex.  Tomorrow he will be forced to vote publicly, or abstain, on these and other highly consequential nuclear weapons questions.  In the event of a voice vote, he may make a statement. 

Important background on these issues can be found in this Study Group June 20 press backgrounder.  Many more details are available via the hyperlinks in that document, including discussion of Mr. Udall's attempt last year to restore nuclear weapons funding in the House. 

We are not yet at liberty to discuss the details of this markup.  We are generally very pleased with it.  More details will be available tomorrow. 

Watch this space, most likely tomorrow, for a subsequent action alert involving for important actions interested New Mexicans can take as regards these issues and Mr. Udall's role in them. 

2. New (and nearly new) Study Group resources on pit production and related issues are now available at www.lasg.org:

3.   Public talks in June continue tomorrow, June 25, with an authoritative round-up of international nuclear weapons diplomatic developments by visiting scholar-activists, 11:45 am, UNM Law School, Room 3402.  Bring a bag lunch!  (Talks will start promptly and seating could be limited so we recommend coming a few minutes early.)


The University of New Mexico Law School is located on Stanford Dr. NE near Tucker Ave., just south of the UNM North Golf Course and north of the UNM Hospital.  Room 3402 is on the second floor in the location shown on this map.  Parking can be limited and it's always a good idea to check parking signs carefully anywhere at the UNM main campus if you park on campus property. 

Tomorrow's talk is entitled "All Quiet on the Diplomatic Front?  Recent international developments in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation."  Our speakers are Ray Acheson, Director of Reaching Critical Will, a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and Michael Spies, now Editor of the Arms Control Reporter.  Michael also happens to be a 2003 honors UNM graduate in both political science and psychology and is a former Study Group intern and contractor. 

This talk will attempt to update the disarmament activist community on recent developments in the international pursuit of nuclear disarmament and the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The speakers will give a brief but comprehensive overview of the current status of the main fora for the international discussion and negotiation of nuclear disarmament and related issues, describing recent outcomes, current proposals, and future prospects, as well as assessing the role "civil society" has played in these processes.  I think this will be a very authoritative and useful talk. 

We hope you will come, and recruit your friends to come! 

This talk is the third and concluding one in our June series.  Previous talks have been on “Opportunities, priorities, and pitfalls in addressing linked energy, climate, and economic crises” (Greg Mello), and “Nuclear power: ‘too cheap to meter’ or too costly to matter?” (Peter Neils).  

If you or your organization would like to host a meeting on nuclear weapons, nuclear power, or on energy or climate issues, please contact Trish at twm@lasg.org.  We will try to help in whatever way we can, time permitting. 

Best wishes to all,
Greg Mello

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. If you received this message directly from gmello@lasg.org, you are already subscribed to that list as well as to the Study Group's larger and more frequently-used main listserve. To join the latter (you don’t need to do so if you got this email directly), send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


 

Action Alert #87

June 17, 2008

June public discussions continue

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

1.Public lectures, discussions: June 18 and 25, 11:45 am - 1:15 pm, UNM Law School, Room 3402.  Bring a bag lunch!  (Talks will start promptly so please be on time.)

The University of New Mexico Law School is located on Stanford Dr. NE near Tucker Ave., just south of the UNM North Golf Course and north of the UNM Hospital.  Room 3402 is on the second floor in the location shown in the attached map.  We hope you will come tomorrow and next Wednesday!  Recruit your friends to come!

  • Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 18: “Nuclear power: ‘too cheap to meter’ or too costly to matter?” (Peter Neils, Los Alamos Study Group)

  • Wednesday, June 25: "All Quiet on the Diplomatic Front?  Recent international developments in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation" Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will and Michael Spies, Arms Control Reporter.  From the speakers: "This lecture seeks to update the disarmament activist community on recent developments in the international pursuit of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The speakers will give a brief, but comprehensive, overview of the current status of the main fora for the international discussion and negotiation of nuclear disarmament and related issues, describing recent outcomes, current proposals, and future prospects, as well as assessing the role "civil society" has played in these processes."

If you or your organization would like to host a meeting on nuclear issues, or on energy and climate issues, please contact Trish at twm@lasg.org.  We will try to help in whatever way we can, time permitting.

Best wishes to all,
Greg Mello

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. If you received this message directly from gmello@lasg.org, you are already subscribed to that list as well as to the Study Group's larger and more frequently-used main listserve. To join the latter (you don’t need to do so if you got this email directly), send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


Action Alert #86

June 9, 2008

June public lectures, discussions; internships; more

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

1. Public lectures, discussions: June 11, 18, and 25, 11:45 am - 1:15 pm, UNM Law School, Room 3402. Bring a bag lunch! (Talks will start promptly so please be on time.)

a. June 11: “Opportunities, priorities, and pitfalls in addressing the linked energy, climate, and economic crises” (Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group)

b. June 18: “Nuclear power: ‘too cheap to meter’ or too costly to matter?” (Peter Neils, Los Alamos Study Group)

c. June 25: “Overview of recent international developments in nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament” (approximate title; Michael Spies, Arms Control Reporter and Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy)

2. Internship opportunities

Please forward this alert to your friends!

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. Public lectures, discussions

We very much enjoyed our 6-month series of weekly breakfast discussions in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which ended in April. After a two-month break for more intensive involvement in Washington, DC and in other projects we are re-starting a short series of public meetings, this time just in Albuquerque.

The dates, time, place, topics, and speakers are shown above. The University of New Mexico Law School is located on Stanford Dr. NE near Tucker Ave., just south of the UNM North Golf Course and north of the UNM Hospital. We hope you will come!

We anticipate holding more such talks and discussions in August (not July) and into the fall, depending on the interest and depth of engagement we find.

If you or your organization would like to host a meeting on nuclear issues, or on energy and climate issues, please contact Trish at twm@lasg.org. We will try to help in whatever way we can, time permitting.

2. Internship opportunities

These exist. If you think you might be interested, and if we do not already know you well, please send a resume to Trish. College juniors, seniors, and graduates may apply; applicable experience can substitute for (and enhances) academic background. Commitment and skills are both necessary as our work is demanding – and rewarding. Small team applications might work.


There is a great deal more to say about current nuclear and related affairs, but this alert will be delayed if I include them.

Best wishes to all,
Greg Mello

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. If you received this message directly from gmello@lasg.org, you are already subscribed to that list as well as to the Study Group's larger and more frequently-used main listserve. To join the latter (you don’t need to do so if you got this email directly), send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


ACTION ALERT #85

April 16, 2008

LANL Nuclear Disposal Public Relations Event "Pre-Mortem"(?)

   
To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

Dear New Mexico colleagues and others on this list --

Some of you may want to know about a public relations event today from 4 to 9 pm in Santa Fe regarding choices for cleanup remedies for Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL's) Material Disposal Area (MDA) G -- "Area G" for short.  Some may object that characterization ("public relations event") but I am trying to be as informative and accurate as possible in a few words. 

The meeting has been put together by the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Northern New Mexico Citizens' Advisory Board (NNMCAB).  It is being held in the Jemez Rooms of the Santa Fe Community College and begins with a poster session from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, followed by government presentations (DOE, LANL, New Mexico Environment Department [NMED], Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], San Ildefonso Pueblo were invited) from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, and then by a question and answer period from 7:45 to 9:00 pm. 

Of the government entities attending, all with the possible exception of EPA are funded by DOE for their involvement with these issues. 

I am sorry I did not send this notice out earlier.  Not only have we been short-handed here and I out of town in Washington, but I was (and remain) quite ambivalent about the value of this event.  It has been carefully staged by an organization set up, funded, and controlled by DOE to marginalize independent citizen groups like ours, one that has completely excluded our professional input.  Most of you are very busy and we at the Study Group do not suggest you attend events that will be a waste of your time.  I will go; your time is probably better spent elsewhere. 

I don't mean to offend anyone by these characterizations but usually the simplest and most accurate descriptions are best. 

Reflecting on the matter this morning, we realized there may be value in giving all of you a "pre-mortem" about this event.  (I hope we are wrong about the meeting -- we hope that, contrary to expectations and past history, it turns out to be a very valuable way for citizens to have input.  If so please accept our apologies.)

Area G is a very important subject for northern New Mexicans.  It is an unlicensed and unregulated nuclear disposal site located in an utterly inappropriate geological, topographical, and cultural setting.  Disposal began in 1957 and continues to the present day in the same unlined shallow trenches and shafts dug into the heavily-fractured tuff.  Wastes are covered thus far with about one meter of crushed tuff, or in the case of the shafts, with a concrete plug.  In one large area, an infiltration-enhancing thick cobble mulch was added (go figure!).  Infiltration does occur, and to great depths.  DOE's own required hydrological and environmental analysis of these and other issues has been "missing in action" for years.  Senior management of the facility has been taken away from LANL environmental scientists -- apparently they are too factually-based to suit the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DOE's nuclear weapons administrators who largely fund and run LANL -- and given to the plutonium warhead core ("pit") production manager. 

The total waste volume buried already at Area G greatly exceeds the ultimate disposal capacity at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  Area G contains the same kind of transuranic waste as WIPP, along with spent reactor fuel, a hundred tons or so of uranium, a large variety and volume of toxic chemicals, millions of cubic feet of low-level nuclear waste of all kinds, and an unknown amount of plutonium but very likely enough for many nuclear weapons.  Because of these wastes, the site may well be a very attractive nuisance after closure.  Water- and vapor-borne contamination of various kinds has been found hundreds of feet below the surface at the site.  Area G directly adjoins the San Ildefonso Pueblo Sacred Area.  A reliable witness tells us that the old Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) once studied the intentional contamination of this area in order to seize it for LANL use. 

The Study Group has been intensely involved with Area G issues since our formal inception in 1992; I personally have been involved with Area G issues since my first trip to the shockingly-poor site in 1984.  That trip resulted in notices of criminal violations of hazardous waste law for the LANL Director and the DOE Area Manager.  A great deal of background material about the site and related issues can be found on the Study Group web site (see for example http://www.lasg.org/waste/lanl-waste-index.htm). 

While tonight's meeting will focus on the remedy(ies) to be applied to the existing Area G, the equally important issue of current -- that is, ongoing -- disposal of nuclear waste on the same mesa will not be on the table.  It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that "cleanup" is underway but the fact is that the net amount of waste interred at LANL is increasing, not decreasing.  Much of this waste, and most of the newly-generated waste (that waste which is not just being moved from place to place at LANL), comes from the plutonium warhead core ("pit") production mission at LANL.  I won't weary us with reciting the latest figures for how much waste this is now and is expected to be; the numbers given by DOE are not reliable and they have constantly changed through the years, often greatly.  The key thing to know about the total waste to be generated is that it is very large.  The last time I looked, and assuming any DOE projections are to be believed, there is to be no diminution in the historic rate of waste generation at LANL since the "bad old days."  With all that is going on at LANL now and expected to go on soon, these really are the "bad old days." 

I was professionally involved in devising and supervising environmental cleanup for a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s here and in California, and worked as a regulatory and enforcement official before that.  I led the first enforcement action at LANL, 24 years ago.  Thirty-seven years ago, as a young intern, I worked on research and monitoring policy for the newly-formed EPA.  I have been involved with LANL environmental compliance issues off and on since 1992.  On the basis of this experience -- limited, but not trivial -- I would like to say for the record that I do not see any real or lasting improvement whatsoever in the overall environmental performance of LANL.  Yes, there are areas of improvement (most of which LANL has resisted every step of the way).  But they are more often paperwork and investigatory accomplishments than they are genuine environmental remediation and firm protection against possible future insults, and they are balanced by other factors such as the scale of operations (larger), LANL's ability to overcome, co-opt, and distract local political opposition (greater), its internal overhead (greater) and so on, factors which may yet strongly dominate if plutonium pit production takes off and cleanup funds prove insufficient, as they appear at present to be.  And if the order came to increase production quickly in response to "changing geopolitical threats," as NNSA says it may, any and all environmental laws that are in the way may be thrown out the window as fast as you can say, "border fence."  To repeat, LANL is still polluting much faster than it is cleaning up, and there are no real plans to change this situation, consent order or not. 

Many of you know that the original NNMCAB, which to be perfectly blunt was organized like the rest of the CABs around the country to be an official, safe political surrogate and substitute for independent citizen groups under the "Keystone" model of diffusing environmental conflict, was disbanded entirely when the original hand-picked membership was found to include a few stubborn individuals who did not "get with the program."  These individuals insisted in particular on examining the issue of present generation and on-site disposal of radioactive waste, not just investigation and possible "cleanup" of old waste sites.  After a time a new NNMCAB was formed with a new set of hand-picked members.  A lawsuit under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) was filed by some of the previous members but failed.  For a long time the NNMCAB was relatively quiescent as far as Area G was concerned, but in 2005 it passed a resolution (pdf) urging in effect a cessation of disposal at LANL, for quite cogent reasons.  Under subsequent DOE pressure the NNMCAB publicly backed away from that resolution.  During this period the Study Group attempted to work closely with the NNMCAB; we were soon taken off all email lists announcing subcommittee meetings.  It became very apparent to us that the Board was still very tightly controlled and not really capable of coloring outside the narrow lines provided by DOE and NNSA in significant matters of policy -- which are the only matters most of us can afford to care about.  To our knowledge, and with the exception noted, those narrow lines have not included the application of science and sound engineering practices to continued waste disposal at LANL. 

Best wishes to all,
Greg Mello

******************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  If you received this message directly, you are already subscribed.

To subscribe to the Study Group's larger and more frequently-used main listserve (if you got this message directly you are already on that list), send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


Action Alert #84b

March 10, 2008

Complex  Transformation “hearings:” schedule
        To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

Dear colleagues and friends –

I sent out the last action alert without the schedule of New Mexico hearings.  Here it is:

  • March 10, Monday (TODAY), 6 pm - 10 pm: Socorro: Macey Center (at New Mexico Tech), 801 Leroy Place;
  • March 11, Tuesday, 11 am - 3 pm and 6 pm - 10 pm: Albuquerque: Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd Street NW;
  • March 12, Wednesday, 6 pm - 10 pm: Los Alamos: Hilltop House, 400 Trinity Drive at Central;
  • March 13, Thursday, Los Alamos, 11 am - 3 pm: Hilltop House; and
  • March 13, Thursday, Santa Fe, 6 pm - 10 pm: Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road.

An additional hearing has been scheduled as a result of requests apparently spearheaded by the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group:

  • March 27, Thursday, Espanola, 6 pm - 10 pm: Española Misión y Convento, 1 Calle de las Españolas.  

(The schedule of “hearings,” minus this addition, is here [pdf]).  

Looking forward to seeing many of you there! 

We urge everyone to join us in doing everything we personally can do to gain public commitments from elected officials and candidates to prevent all (not some) plutonium warhead core ("pit") production at LANL and to prevent the construction of a new plutonium pit factory complex.  Communicate, publicly if possible, directly with the individuals involved and with their staffs, who may attend.  Go to their donors and get commitments there.  Go to the news media and editors.  We urge all parties to do we can do to make sure there is a steep political price to be paid for the silence and enabling behavior we have seen up to now. 

We are now seeing signs of desperation from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) about the fate of these projects, and for good reason.  It is therefore very important in the present critical context to firmly communicate with our elected officials and candidates and make their actions and inactions the central theme of all of our various forms of involvement. 

What LANL wants to do is illegal, immoral, grossly uneconomic, militarily ridiculous, and has already begun to appear in the world press, further harming the reputation of the U.S. and no doubt stimulating nuclear weapons programs elsewhere.  Not to put too fine a point on the matter, corporate and employee self-interest are the primary forces moving these projects forward.  We have succeeded multiple times in stopping these plans before and we can do so again if we are firm.  We urge you not to waste your testimony by counting on anyone or anything else but the New Mexico congressional delegation to make your hopes into realities.  Let's help them do so, as concretely as we can. 

Greg Mello

************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  If you received this message directly, you are already subscribed.  To subscribe to the Study Group's regional listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


ACTION ALERT #84

Upcoming NNSA Complex Transformation “hearings:”
diversion, spectacle, or opportunity

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

March 7, 2008

Dear colleagues and friends –

Most of you are aware of the upcoming New Mexico (NM) nuclear weapons complex transformation “hearings.”

We hope everyone who can will come to these events and speak up, but beware: the default nature of these hearings is that of a spectacle – or worse, a diversion.  The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has not organized these events for the sake of any substantive public input outside extremely narrow and agency-serving boundaries.  That is not NNSA’s mandate.  So NNSA is by no means the most important audience for citizen views, both at these “hearings” and at other times.

All available evidence suggests that public “participation” in this process, required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), neither has nor will change agency actions. 


The effectiveness of citizen participation – not just in these particular “hearings” but really in all venues – largely depends on how well citizens succeed in making the actions and inactions of our congressional delegation the focus of thoughtful attention on the part of the public, news media, and political donors. 


The biggest danger embodied in these hearings is that they could distract citizen attention away from representative democracy and toward its tawdry imitation – that they could direct the deep hopes and longings of citizens toward bureaucrats who cannot, by the nature of their legal responsibilities and job limitations, fulfill those hopes.  Such misdirection would serve well the interests of the nuclear establishment.


Betrayal of the public interest as regards nuclear weapons by New Mexico’s congressional delegation has been almost comprehensive.  Senator Domenici is of course the leader, but even the most liberal member of the NM delegation, Rep. Tom Udall, led an ultimately successful effort in the House of Representatives to restore funds the House had cut from nuclear weapons, plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production, and the proposed pit factory complex at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 


Senator Domenici leads Congress in nuclear promotion, much of it untethered from reality and guided by an obsession for pork.  Yet he has little or no opposition from our state’s Democrats.  The single most important proposal at these hearings – the proposed pit complex at LANL – would not even be on the table today if Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman had exhibited resistance to pit production rather than promotion.  Theirs is the greatest betrayal, and unless ways are found to awaken them more fully to their true responsibilities, most of what is said at the upcoming hearings will be in vain.


I would like to say a good deal more about the details of NNSA’s proposals but those details are not strictly relevant at this time and they would strain most readers’ attention span.  The hearings are a great opportunity, just not an opportunity to advise NNSA.


Greg Mello, for the Study Group

 

A new background paper is available regarding the proposed new plutonium warhead core (“pit”) factory annex at Los Alamos is available:

Build Warhead Factories Now, Worry about Weapons Policy Later -- Will Congress Take Back the Reins?

 
Overview

  • NNSA “Complex Transformation” NEPA “hearings” in NM are basically about new factories for the production of new kinds of nuclear weapons.

  • The threshold ability and rate-limiting production capacity of the nation’s weapons complex for new nuclear weapons is determined by its capacity to produce pits.

  • The most nationally-significant new factory proposed is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility at LANL, consisting of two buildings (one under construction, a much more expensive one in design) which together form the core of a proposed $3+ billion investment package in LANL pit production capacity, already significant.  For more information, see the paper above (pdf).

  • The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), another proposed $3 billion factory, is also important though not as pivotal as the CMRR.

  • NNSA’s proposal contains many other features and details, but the big factories are the “main course.”

  • Public “participation” in this NEPA process so far has had no discernible effect on agency decisions, which largely proceed on a separate track.  Public comment is unlikely to have any direct effect in the future on this process, no matter how many people “participate” and regardless of what people say or do at these “hearings” or in comments afterwards.

  • If NM citizens are to effectively participate in democratic decision-making regarding nuclear weapons and related policy issues, citizens must find ways to convince our elected representatives to take effective action based on citizen views.  Neither NNSA (which has a rather narrow legal mandate) nor an atomized, largely disenfranchised –and, in the final analysis, hypothetical – “public” will change these policies.

  • The four people who definitely will make a difference (for good or ill) on these issues in NM this year are Rep. Heather Wilson, Rep. Tom Udall, Senator Pete Domenici and Senator Jeff Bingaman.  We believe these four people and those who influence their actions are the best ultimate audience before, during, and after these NEPA “hearings,” if effective participation is the goal.

  • New Mexico’s congressional delegation has uniformly supported maximal levels of nuclear weapons funding – including funding for current and expanded pit production at LANL.  Congressman Tom Udall, now running for Senate, worked hard last year to restore funding for current and expanded pit production at LANL, despite manifest public concern (including concern expressed at NEPA hearings).

  • No member of the NM delegation has called for any halt to unregulated large-scale disposal of nuclear waste at LANL in its unsuitable geologic setting.  None have called for removal of the nuclear and chemical waste buried so far.  None have called for compliance with Department of Energy (DOE) safety rules, which LANL routinely violates.  All content themselves with tepid support for an environmental “cleanup” program at LANL that squanders much of its money on fairly meaningless investigations and monitoring at top-dollar cost.  The betrayal of public interest in these areas, particularly by our two Democrats who seemingly should know better, has been pretty much comprehensive.

  • These leadership failures are primary enabling factors driving LANL toward “dirty,” dangerous, and polluting work, and if continued they are likely to further damage the identity, reputation, environment, and economy of NM.

  • In the default case, NEPA “hearings” play a perverse role in shifting attention away from elected officials, who hold determinative sway over these policies and projects and toward agency bureaucrats and contractors who have no power to make the decisions that citizens want.  In our experience most citizens who “participate” in DOE or NNSA NEPA hearings are not interested in minor program tune-ups.  They do not “participate” in order to provide peer review for weapons of mass destruction, or to help these agencies write better environmental impact statements.  They are interested in profound policy change.  Only elected officials can make those changes.  The NEPA process cannot encompass such change.

  • In the politics of nuclear weapons, there is a telling difference between opposing “expanded” pit production and opposing pit production altogether.  Opposing “expanded” pit production tacitly condones some pit production, likely condoning some torture.  There is a universally-acknowledged, large surfeit of warheads (and hence pits) for every missile and for every type of bomb, so condoning even “low” levels of pit production goes beyond condoning existing arsenals to the implicit approval of new types of weapons.  New kinds of nuclear weapons require a) very large appropriations or b) nuclear testing or c) both to certify as reliable, and that’s just the beginning of the problems they cause.  For these reasons and more, tacit approval of nuclear weapons production is a very dangerous message.  (For more details see these pit production talking points, now being updated.)

  • Again, there’s little point saying “No nuclear production!” or “No pit production!” to the wind at these hearings.  To be effective, citizens must get our congressional delegation to oppose all nuclear weapons production and the means by which it could take place.  These hearings are a good place to begin.  Elected officials may be there.  If they aren’t, why aren’t they?  If staff members are present, press them for public commitments.  They are in very close communication with their bosses.

  • Don’t fall for euphemisms like “capacity” – having the “capacity” to make nuclear weapons, “just in case.”  NNSA has already spent tens of billions of dollars to eliminate “just in case” reliability surprises; the “just in case” here, setting euphemisms aside, is preparation for nuclear war.  There is no “capacity” in a multi-billion-dollar factory complex that employs hundreds of production workers unless there is actual production.

  • If you publicly demand that our congressional delegation oppose all pit production you will not be alone.  More than a hundred New Mexico nonprofits, more than a hundred national and international NGOs, and some 28 local and national religious organizations (including coalitions like the New Mexico Conference of Churches) and more than 300 New Mexico businesses have already endorsed zero pit production.  Rep. Udall’s wife Jill has joined this campaign opposing all pit production, though she may not remember doing so.  Those who oppose “expanded” pit production can with confidence take another step and oppose all pit production.

  • The NM congressional Democrats have gotten a “free ride” on nuclear issues as well as many other crucial issues facing our state for many years.  They are enabled or insulated in their mediocrity by most donors, journalists, nonprofit organizations, and foundations, which may depend on these political leaders for prestige, information, or patronage.  All too often, one hand washes the other.  Without holding our actual representatives accountable, no amount of public “testimony” at “hearings” like these will ever bear significant fruit.

  • We have not yet discovered any sound reasons to make a single plutonium pit from any perspective, including the military perspective, provided the real goal is not making new kinds of nuclear weapons.  According to White House documents and conversations with senior officials, it appears there were as yet no orders, as of late 2007, to make any pits from any executive authority outside the NNSA.  As far as we can tell, the NNSA pit production “mandate” is self-generated, not only as to quantities but also as to its very existence.  This and many other NNSA “requirements” are generated and maintained entirely within what senior Administration officials describe as a “nuclear weapons echo chamber.”

  • Given the manifest softness or lack of support in the Pentagon, White House, and Congress for nuclear weapons, the role of pork-barrel interests, especially on the part of the NM delegation, looms large in appropriations and hence policy outcomes.

  • Laboratory and contractor employees, often “loaned” to agencies and congressional offices, frequently dominate decision-making and may be the primary or even sometimes the only individuals present in meetings.  NNSA is more than 96% privatized (452 KB pdf) and is working hard to give even more power to fewer, bigger contractors – a subtext of this very same NEPA process.

  • From a hawkish point of view, the Bush Administration’s stockpile plan, as best as can be discerned, will maintain a total quantity of “reserve” nuclear weapons, “hedge” nuclear weapons, and fully-certified surplus pits from dismantlements equal to about 250% of the deployed stockpile (about 2,600 weapons).  This superabundance of extra pits and weapons does not include the current inventory of about 15,000 extra pits, of which about 5,000 have been designed as a “strategic reserve.”

  • Stated differently, there is now an average of at least 2.5 extra nuclear weapons or pits under the Bush stockpile plan, without any new production.  There would be even greater redundancy if deeper reductions were ordered.  “Making” pits through dismantlement is being done right now at a rate of roughly 200 per year.  High levels of stockpile redundancy could thus be achieved at the stroke of a pen, without new construction, new nuclear waste, new costs, new risks, delay, management uncertainties, and with great positive, not negative, diplomatic impacts.

  • All these pits will last a century or so – essentially forever for planning purposes today.

  • Thus U.S. stockpile managers could acquire whatever degree of pit redundancy they might want, at no cost, without any LANL production and without new facilities.  The “needs” for any pit production and any new facilities to maintain a nuclear “deterrent” are entirely specious.

  • The lies and intentional obfuscations that are an integral part of this process, as well as the proposals themselves, are the products of thinking and institutions that are at best obsolete. These institutions cannot be reformed, converted, or with minor exceptions “diversified” in any way that serves the public interest.  That’s a very dangerous fantasy that would if pursued deepen and prolong our nuclear nightmare, strengthen the forces of militarism, and waylay our responses to the converging crises we face.  For more on this see here (4.2 M pdf).

  • The economic, environmental, and social well-being of our region, of the country as a whole, and of the world now requires an emergency recommitment of massive resources in a completely different direction.  Nuclear weapons and the institutions which serve them stand in the way of these changes – as ideology, business enterprise, as political reality, and as a federal spending “roach motel” (truckloads of money and attention go in, no security comes out).  To survive in this century, let alone thrive, we need to withdraw investments from technologies of destruction and invest instead in our communities, which have become the real laboratories of change.

  • To survive as a society, polity, economy, and civilization, we now need to commit trillions of dollars to energy conservation and renewable energy infrastructure, essentially remaking our society in all its aspects.  If we do not do so ourselves, democratically, our society will be remade for us in far more painful ways.  A long-term energy crisis has already begun that will, without question, prevent economic recovery in the absence of dramatically-changed values, investments, and mores, here in New Mexico and elsewhere.

  • This energy crisis is coincident with a global climate crisis of potentially apocalyptic dimensions.  We face key thresholds of climate change now, not later.  We must address both these crises now or, again, their full force will fall on us in every dimension – material, social, ecological, political, and mental.  Even in the best case these two crises and the economic and political restructuring that have already begun will shake our country to the core.  They threaten the survival of everyone's children, at a minimum.  This is no time to indulge in micro-managing a nuclear weapons enterprise that is fundamentally opposed to the changes we need.  Simply put, nuclear weapons are a vice we can no longer afford.

  • National security is now coincident with household security, climate security, and above all with protection of vulnerable people, communities, and ecosystems.  In a dark and confusing time, protection of the vulnerable is an unerring policy, managerial, and moral compass.  This could be done for a fraction of what we spend on the military today.  War under any pretense is the farthest thing from any answer.  Nuclear deterrence has no more credibility and practicality today than it has morality – and these three failures are all just faces of the same inherent failure.  For nuclear contractors, the fundamental failure of nuclear deterrence is a reason for endless appropriations.  For many NM politicians, these same nuclear failures are a seemingly-bottomless source of campaign contributions.

  • We need to disinvest from mass destruction and start building -- communities, infrastructure, relationships, churches, civic organizations, and state and local government.  NNSA cannot help with this change, so we needn’t bother telling them.  New Mexico's leaders must be guided, and in no uncertain terms, to rapidly liberate the creativity and productivity of our people as a whole, and not focus on our laboratories and military, which have done essentially nothing of value for NM.  We need an energy “New Deal” that will open doors for everybody, place an energy safety net in place for the poor, and create a practical, positive vision for our youth or they will turn from us in despair and anger.  For the endangered species and ecosystems around us we must act promptly and with truly parental concern.

  • With exceptions, new technologies are not very relevant.  We have all the technologies we need and again with small exceptions we have all the technologies which are going to be relevant during the critical years immediately ahead.  There is a grave danger that our society's response to the energy and climate crisis will be diverted in unproductive directions lucrative to investors but with little genuine benefit.  We need to build a “green-collar” economy now, turning from the bloody fantasy of “full-spectrum dominance” and the emptiness of the consumerism it aims to defend to the life-affirming possibility of “full-spectrum sustainability.” 

************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  If you received this message directly, you are already subscribed.  To subscribe to the Study Group's regional listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


February 5, 2008

Action Alert #83: Bush nuclear weapons budget seeks end-run

Subscription information at bottom of message

Dear colleagues --

Only a few of you saw yesterday's press release from us regarding the Department of Energy's (DOE's) nuclear weapons budget request.  As the budget was released mid-day, this press release was rushed but it still may be helpful.  Further analysis of specific issues will follow in subsequent alerts. 

Best to all, Greg Mello


Preliminary partial response for immediate release 2/4/08.  Please call for further details if desired.

Last Bush nuclear weapons budget seeks end-run on weapons programs, ignores congressional direction

Estimated cost of Los Alamos plutonium “pit” factory has more than quadrupled to over $2 billion; total not even estimated

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200, 505-577-8563 cell

Albuquerque – Today the Bush Administration Energy Department released its proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2009.  Among other noteworthy aspects, this budget, in our view:

  • Continues design and construction of a modern plutonium warhead core (“pit”) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  This factory complex is the flagship of the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) proposed "Complex Transformation" plan, not yet fully vetted in the environmental impact statement process.  The complex is to be composed of the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility (there are two buildings in this project), four other new construction projects at LANL, and extensive upgrades of the existing LANL plutonium facility.  The CMRR “radiological laboratory, utility, and office building” (estimated at $164 million) is currently under construction; the CMRR Nuclear Facility (NF), which “initial estimates” say will cost “above $2,000,000,000,” is still in preliminary design.  The project was initially sold to Congress at a cost of $500 million for both CMRR buildings, less than one-fourth of the current estimate for the CMRR NF alone. [1] Total estimated cost of major LANL plutonium-related construction projects now approach $3 billion.  The House of Representatives has zeroed funding for the CMRR project three times and heavily cut funding twice.  Horse-trading late last year in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill funded the project at about 86% of the request.

     
  • Cobbles together some $40 M in funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and closely allied design and “advanced certification” projects, despite congressional direction to end the RRW project 7 weeks ago.  Congress can be faulted for providing vague direction and creating a redundant, if not illogical budget line for FY2008 (“Advanced Certification”), but once again the NNSA has exploited such an opening for its own purposes.  NNSA, which administers the nation’s nuclear weapons program, indicated a few weeks ago it would attempt to continue the RRW despite congressional direction, and today the agency has made good on that promise.  NNSA is also proceeding with manufacturing capacity for RRW components in other program and construction budget lines.

  • Essentially ignores congressional direction to lay a foundation of a new nuclear policy and strategic posture prior to proceeding with significant new infrastructure and programmatic commitments.

    Reveals, in a number of subtle ways, NNSA’s current commitment to innovation in the nuclear stockpile.  For example, for the first time NNSA says it may in the future change pits as it services and upgrades weapons in its “Life Extension Programs” (see p. 94, op. cit.).

  • By essentially re-submitting last year’s budget, at approximately the same overall spending level updated with new tweaks, the DOE may be seeking further compromises from Congress, both within NNSA Weapons Activities and between Weapons Activities and other major DOE programs.  We are hearing rumors from generally reliable sources that DOE was able to parlay its RRW program into nuclear power loan guarantees in negotiations in late 2007; we are not sure if this occurred but we find it highly plausible. 

***ENDS, FOR NOW***

[1] See: Department of Energy (DOE) Congressional Budget Request for FY2009, Volume 1 (NNSA), pp. 298 ff, at http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/09budget/Start.htm#Detailed%20Budget%20Justifications.  *****************
To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  If you received this message directly, you are already subscribed.  To subscribe to the Study Group's regional listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


January 7, 2008

Action Alert #82:

Congressional actions, late 2007; meetings this week; disarmament walk report, more

To sign onto this list (or to get off) click on the appropriate link at the end of this message.

1. Thanks to all for a wonderful year!

2. End-of-year congressional update, 2007

a. Overall: nuclear weapons industry wins some, loses some
     
b. Domenici effective as ever, seems to be aiming for a permanent legacy of uncontrollable proliferation and teradollar waste

c. Udall talks “diversification” but works to maintain weapons funding; Bingaman does nothing we know of

3. Breakfast discussions recommence THIS WEEK (Tomorrow, January 9 & Thursday, January 10)

4. Solstice disarmament walk (Dec. 21-24): report and plans for June

5. NNSA releases latest new plan for the warhead complex

6. Rep. Tauscher (D-CA) introduces bill calling for test ban ratification


Dear colleagues and friends –


1. Thanks to all for a wonderful year!

This past year was challenging and rewarding for us here at the Study Group.  Especially, it has been a pleasure to talk, plan, and work (and walk!) with many of you.  Thank you. 

On the issues: we won some and lost some this year, and (which may be more important in the long run) I think we helped advance the debate.  Policy “victories” and “defeats” are however never quite what they seem at first to be.  Also, circumstances (and hence policies) always change.  The best short interpretation may be: “stay tuned.

”Equally important, the Study Group put down new roots and made new friends.  We are better connected internally.  Our tiny staff was augmented by our active board of directors and the many volunteers who came forward mightily at key times.  Thank you!  It is certainly humbling, inspiring, and empowering to be supported in so many ways by the community. 

This coming year promises to be one in which more Americans realize we must run, not walk, toward sustainable security (which, to be sustainable, must also be just) and away from mass terror, as in nuclear deterrence. 

Looking back over the past year, all four of our highest legislative priorities (see below) more-or-less passed the House of Representatives by wide margins, amply proving their political practicality.  However only one – halting the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) – made it through final budget negotiations last month. 

It may be more accurate to say the RRW acronym was halted (for now).   Large investments are now promised for a new pit production facility, however, the purpose of which is to make something like the RRW if not the RRW itself. 

And only most of the RRW program was halted.  From the ashes of RRW, an ominous $15 M study of “advanced certification” (AC) was funded, including a study of new strategic systems –a project beyond the scope of the RRW effort.  Rumors of RRW’s demise have been, as Mark Twain said, exaggerated. 

It is especially an exaggeration to call such an outcome a “victory.”  Or if one does, it seems important to say all that was given or allowed to slip away to get it.  I just can’t see how cutting only 1% of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, when the House had already done that AND ANOTHER 5% in important, bellwether program cuts, is a “victory.”  It looks like a defeat, snatched from victory’s jaws.  With victories like that the world’s nonproliferation regime will die.

As noted, far more progressive positions were passed by the House by a wide margin, but the House committee leaders who did this – Visclosky and Hobson – were not, as far as we can tell, actively supported in these additional cuts by the arms control community.  In the end, the nuclear establishment lost only a 3-letter acronym (only 2 letters net, actually, since RRW, the successor to the Advanced Concepts Initiative, ACI, was replaced by the $15 million “Advanced Certification,” AC).  It’s not clear that a lot was gained in return for the deep compromises that were made. 

Again, caution is required in interpretation.  On the one hand the managers of the weapons complex gained incremental funding for a new plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production complex at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  On the other hand, they now see fit to call for downsizing the complex.  Unfortunately, the proposal offered is not functional downsizing – indeed it is functional expansion.  At least the spin given the plan by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) acknowledges the direction nuclear investments must go: down.  NNSA and its Pentagon clients need further encouragement along these lines. 

The incremental (one year) investments in pit production provided in December for the current fiscal year may prove difficult to convert into long-term nuclear advantages, especially if principled opposition continues and grows.  Not to put too fine a point on it, neither money nor the furtive endorsement of paid-off politicians can buy legitimacy for weapons of mass incineration.  They just amount to another maintenance payment on the deteriorating deterrence façade. 

Month by month, nuclear policy issues are increasingly tied to the larger question of what actually constitutes national security, including its environmental, human, and of course economic components.  All these are rising fast in perceived importance, as they must. 

Soon it will be difficult to ignore the towering fact that “business as usual” is no longer a viable option for the American society, economy, and defense establishment.  Humanity faces rapidly maturing, converging crises greater than any in its history. 

These crises existentially challenge all cultures as they do civilization as a whole.  For many people – ultimately, billions – they will challenge basic survival.  Nuclear weapons have contributed mightily to this deadly situation and continue to do so today.  These crises change political relationships and make new and very fruitful alliances possible, as we found this year both in Washington and New Mexico. 

Let us raise our glasses, then, to the deepest things we know and share, to the human conscience in so many words, and toast to articulating those values, successfully, in the halls of power and in our communities in 2008. 

2. End-of-year congressional update

a.       Overall: nuclear weapons industry wins some, loses some

Nuclear weapons policy was largely determined through the appropriations process this year, as it has been for the last few years.  We went to Congress and the Executive branch with a number of concerns and proposals; of these we thought that halting funding for the following projects and programs were the most important nuclear weapons policy goals nationwide (in declining order of importance): 

  • The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) construction project at LANL, with its essential security component the Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrade Project (NMSSUP), and
  • The RRW program.

Following these, the next two objectives were of more or less equal priority to us:

  • Cutting pit production operating funds (deep cuts were needed; the House passed cuts of about half), and
  • Cutting nuclear weapons activities funding overall (we proposed cuts in the 15% range; the House passed a 6% cut from FY07 funding). 

We cared about and worked on a couple of dozen other issues, mostly related to these, but these four were the most important.

We think it was, and still is, more important to stop the CMRR/NMSSUP project than the RRW for a number of reasons.  The CMRR project complex (the two projects mentioned are only part of what is involved) creates realities on the ground, while the RRW – a name for something which does not exist and could never exist without the CMRR/NMSSUP – does not.  The RRW per se was also a relatively small program, though of high symbolic importance. 

The CMRR/NMSSUP transcends the RRW.  Its purpose was and is to build new weapons, whether the “RRW” or some other “acronym-of-the-year.” 

Therefore if the CMRR/NMSSUP were funded (and it was; the combined projects were finally funded for FY08 at 86% of the President’s request, after being zeroed by the House), the RRW would not in any concrete sense be stopped. 

From this perspective, the total “RRW” effort now continues under these other names.  Since weapons program acronyms are lightning rods for opposition, the best course for NNSA would be just to build the factories and dispense with the named weapons programs. 

It is the CMRR, not the RRW design effort per se, that establishes the timetable for new weapons.  Trident replacement warheads were already largely designed by 2000 in a prior program, the Submarine Warhead Protection Program (pdf).  (See also this 2/6/06 press release.) 

Neither does the RRW program establish the maximum rate at which it could be produced, or the flexibility with which new designs in general could be built, quite likely with more than one such design in parallel.  The CMRR/NMSSUP does that.  It is the actual facilities and trained staff available which limit the process and which establish production capability and capacity.  These in turn take many years and billions of dollars to procure. 

The provision of new warhead factories (at LANL and at the Y-12 site in Tennessee) was to our knowledge not opposed by the arms control community this year.  As one honest arms control lobbyist explained that allowing pit production at LANL is “the compromise we have made.” 

It is worthwhile pointing out that the deep cuts proposed for LANL by the House were mostly the result of cutting pit production.  LANL got most of its money, but pit production now threatens to become LANL’s primary identity and mission.  (The difference between the House and Senate markup for LANL due entirely to policy differences concerning pit production was some $251 M, composed of a $106 M difference in pit manufacturing and certification, a $96 M difference in CMRR, and a $50 M difference in NMSSUP. 

Thus more than half the difference between the House funding bill as passed and the proposed (but never passed) Senate bill can be attributed to the House's efforts to keep LANL from rushing to be this nation's new "right-sized" Rocky Flats and to keep the nation as a whole from rushing into building such a thing. 

It was a given that there would be no funds provided for a larger pit factory facility.  Both the House as a whole and the Senate Appropriations Committee opposed that portion of the President’s request.  The quickest way to see the details in the nuclear weapons budget that finally resulted is to look at this report (budget tables included): http://www.rules.house.gov/110/text/omni/jes/jesdivc.pdf.

So as we enter 2008 all the major nuclear weapons policy issues are still “on the table.”  In addition, though the federal government drives the policy bus, it does not make the road.  “Facts on the ground” will have their say, convenient or not.  Facts not yet taken into account within the “nuclear weapons echo chamber” come in all shapes and sizes, from local issues to global ones, and they run the gamut from fiscal and infrastructure realities to sociological and moral ones.  It is not clear, for example, that it is possible to make plutonium pits without resorting to a “heroic” production mode that denies particular dangers and risks.  It is not clear that it is possible to build a “high-reliability” nuclear production culture in northern New Mexico in the absence of shared social purpose. 

Perhaps you will join us in the coming year in articulating the increasing number of reasons it is a very bad idea to resume warhead production. 

It is only fitting that Senator Domenici should have the last word.  He seems to have had the last word in this year’s budget negotiations, as usual.  In an article by John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal (“Bill Takes Smaller Bite of Labs,” December 17, 2007, probably behind a paywall), we find

…Mello noted the budget includes a $75 million down payment on a new plutonium lab at Los Alamos that could ultimately cost more than a billion dollars [actually, more than $2 billion] and that could serve a central role in future nuclear weapons manufacturing at the New Mexico lab.

That sets the stage for the new warhead design effort to be revived in some new form, Mello said.

Domenici agreed, saying he expected the Reliable Replacement Warhead or something like it to re-emerge "sooner rather than later." (emphasis added)

b.  Domenici as effective as ever, seems to be aiming for a permanent legacy of uncontrollable proliferation and teradollar waste

We usually find ourselves in agreement with Senator Domenici regarding what matters in the weapons policy business, as in the example above, though we nearly always disagree on what should be done. 

There’s no need to belabor the Senator’s role in promoting nuclear weapons and nuclear power. 

What is easily forgotten, however, is the extent to which this is not a feature of Mr. Domenici personally but rather a structural aspect of the situation in New Mexico.  Senator Domenici’s predecessor Clinton Anderson, a Democrat, played a major role in nuclear policy as Chair of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in the 84th and 86th congresses; the Price-Anderson Act bears his name.  Domenici’s successor, Republican or Democrat, is likely to be a strong booster of the nuclear weapons laboratories.  These labs are sure to try to use the new senator’s office and its occupant to the maximum extent they can to further their corporate and ideological interests. 

It’s very far beyond the scope of this note (and our current efforts) to describe Senator Domenici’s efforts on behalf of nuclear power (including the most speculative and destructive forms).  Domenici’s nuclear efforts have been nothing short of Herculean, although it is not yet clear if the federal government will throw enough money at the nuclear industry to overcome a variety of powerful physical, economic, and political realities. 

Make no mistake: these are not energy programs in the usual sense of the term.  The scale is too large, the many commitments too great.  They would, if realized, reconstruct much of American society and its economy, as well as much of its foreign relations, in the nuclear image.  That, not energy, sustainability, or quality of life, is the whole point of the exercise.  Such a path has virtually unlimited advantages for the corporations involved. 

If embraced on a sufficient scale to make a difference, Domenici’s nuclear plans would spend, very inefficiently and with multi-decade time lags, essentially all the capital we would need to cope successfully with global warming or the energy crisis now dawning upon us.  Again, this is not a problem, because acquiring that capital is the goal of the institutions involved. 

Returning to nuclear weapons issues, Senator Domenici seems at the end to have given up RRW, which he supported, in favor of retaining the CMRR/NMSSUP project.  We agree with him: the CMRR and related projects are indeed more important – to halt, not to fund.


c. Udall talks “diversification” but works to maintain weapons funding; Bingaman does nothing we know of

Congressman Tom Udall and Senator Jeff Bingaman were two of the biggest disappointments this year.  Peter Neils summarized Congressman Udall’s actions this summer, for which he was unfairly criticized from the political right, in this op-ed. 

The simple story is this: neither Udall nor Bingaman did anything this year, or last year, or any year in the past decade, to prevent a pit factory from being built at LANL. 

Once the Senator did request a summary of findings on pit longevity, but that study had in effect been underway for years, with a well-known and widely-awaited data delivery schedule. 

This year, as in that prior case, the Senator waited to see which way the wind was blowing before injecting himself into the process, if he ever did.  His office consistently refused to help on any of our legislative issues. 

In the final appropriations negotiations, certainly Udall and probably Bingaman must have been involved.  The House Appropriations Committee, on which Udall sits, would not have finalized the fate of a $2 billion facility in any congressperson’s district without careful consideration of that person’s wishes.  Chairman Obey, or staff, would have spoken with Congressman Udall or his staff. 

In short, Udall, under attack for being “soft” on lab funding from the right and running for the Senate, must have given a pass to pit production at LANL, just as Domenici wanted.  It is difficult to believe that Bingaman, for whom LANL employees comprise his largest career source of donations, was not also involved. 

At present, Udall is running ahead of Rep. Wilson, Domenici’s protégé, for senate.  By not opposing pit production appropriations, Udall could avoid being tarred as weak on defense or insufficiently supportive of the labs.  It is quite possible that he was not asked by too many to stop pit production because of the risk it could pose to gaining another seat for Democrats in the Senate. 


3. Breakfast discussions recommence THIS WEEK (Jan. 9 & 10)

Regular weekly breakfast discussion meetings, open to the public, are recommencing this week.  They run from 7:25 am to 8:45 am or a little longer; a light breakfast is provided (donation requested).

We’ll meet TOMORROW, Wednesday, January 9th at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church, 1300 Girard NE, and THURSDAY, January 10th in Santa Fe at the United Church of Santa Fe, 1804 Arroyo Chamiso.

At this week’s discussions we will provide detailed handouts about what is popularly called “peak oil” and related issues concerning natural gas, which centrally affects nuclear decisions of all kinds.

At the following week’s meetings (the week of January 14th) we will provide some background and useful references about the unfolding financial crisis, which is already affecting everything we do (though to us it is as clear as mud).


4. Solstice disarmament walk (Dec. 21-24): report and plans for June

We had a wonderful time, blisters and all.  A report, with a few photos, is posted here.  We hope to do this again in June, at the other (warmer) solstice.  All parameters of that June walk (route, dates, logistics, activities) are TBD.  If you think you might be interested let us know!  You will be hearing more about this in the coming months.


5. NNSA releases latest new plan for the warhead complex

It can be found at http://www.nnsa.doe.gov/complextransformation.htm.  We haven’t absorbed all the details yet; there will be plenty of time for that in the coming weeks.  As noted above, this plan entails a functional expansion within a slightly smaller physical footprint and, it is alleged, a slightly smaller budget.  The expected rate of staff decline (about 2% per year) lies within normal attrition rates. 

Despite its “small is beautiful” exterior, NNSA’s plan embodies a policy vision that assumes significant production of new kinds of nuclear warheads in new, flexible production facilities.  It assumes that the U.S. will retain a large arsenal of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. 

For these reasons the plan is not yet compatible with U.S. nonproliferation goals and with U.S. treaty obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), as adjudicated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and as almost universally interpreted in NPT forums.  Neither is it yet easily reconciled with popular American opinion, common morality, or a clear-eyed vision of what national security actually requires at the present historical moment. 

Decisions made in DC don't stay in DC; while it may be possible to convince a compliant and complicit Congress whose policy vision is impaired by a lust for pork-barrel spending that this plan is treaty- and non-proliferation friendly, it will not be possible to convince most of the countries in the world that this plan is a step toward ending nuclear apartheid. 

This is less our opinion than an intractable reality from outside the nuclear weapons bubble that nuclear planners must take into account lest, in their zeal, they undermine U.S. national security.

NNSA's successive visions for a renewed warhead complex, starting with one issued in December of 1988 (even before Rocky Flats closed), have never been fully realized.  Cost escalation, cancellations, and changes of direction have been the norm.   Any foreseeable U.S. stockpile, even a large one (if for some deluded reason that was desired), could be safely and reliably maintained in its entirety for several decades to come with a much smaller investment, supporting a workforce of about 50%, not 75%, of today's.  New factories are not needed.

At the three laboratories and Nevada Test Site (NTS) especially, deeper cuts are called for.  LANL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) could easily perform all their necessary nuclear weapons missions if each had about one-third of their existing nuclear weapons workforces.  There would be little pedagogical value (domestic or international) in achieving these lower employment levels by mere attrition.

On February 8, 1992, House Science Committee Chairman George Brown (D-Riverside, CA) wrote Secretary of Energy James Watkins regarding the future of the DOE nuclear weapons laboratories.  The problem, as he saw it, was that …the end of the Cold War has left the DOE weapons labs scrambling to define new missions for themselves, yet they are all reaching for the same new missions….With the end of the Cold War, do we still need three nuclear weapons labs, each funded at approximately one billion dollars per year and each with employment of about 8,000 people?

His answer was no.  Among other measures, Brown advocated shrinking budgets. 

Reduce the DOE nuclear weapons research, development, and testing budget by 20 percent per year over the next four years…the annual nuclear weapons RDT&E budget of nearly two billion per year could be cut in half.

Brown’s “one billion” 1992 dollars, inflated to 2007 dollars, is about $1.5 B.  That is also the average DOE funding for these same labs today.  (Overall budgets for the three labs are about one-third greater than this, falling in the $2 B range, on the average).  His employment estimate roughly holds if subcontractors are excluded. 

Brown's bolder vision of deeper cuts at the labs should be incorporated in the plan unveiled today, which is better on the subject of the production plants than it is for the labs.

Beyond all this, this plan assumes that the United States wishes to be the world's sole hyperpower, capable of extending its will across land, sea, sky, space, and information indefinitely, and that the DOE's three nuclear laboratories can continue to participate to varying degrees in fostering the delusion of that "full-spectrum dominance" across all conflict scales and forms.  Nuclear weapons are declining in importance somewhat in this vision of universal compellance, but this plan does assume that these three labs, historically self-identified as core founts of U.S. national power, will remain that, albeit through a changing mix of technologies.  For this reason as well as for the contingent design and certification of novel nuclear explosives and their weaponization packages, hugely excessive nuclear design and simulation capabilities are to be maintained in all three locations.

What national security requires today is that we run, not walk, away from what theologian Walter Wink called the "myth of redemptive violence," as Santa Fe activist John Otter has pointed out, and toward what LASG board member Astrid Webster calls "full spectrum sustainability."  To truly insure the safety of its population, the U.S. must now invest literally trillions of dollars and millions of full-time labor equivalents in sustainable infrastructure, and do so very soon, or all the nuclear weapons and global terror wars in the world will not prevent us from collapsing into a centrally-controlled, penurious, national security state with few genuine freedoms.  I am afraid that is the real, hidden denouement of NNSA's plan if implemented in a context of “business as usual” elsewhere.  Not that anyone intends such a thing, of course.  But that is now the natural outcome of our long fascination with mass destruction.  Eventually you get what you pay for, though perhaps not in the exact way expected.  NNSA has a specific responsibility; they have tried to fulfill it, but there is a locomotive coming and they would have us build new playgrounds for the military savants right on its track. 

Clearly, the pinnacle of American political and military power was in the past.  This nuclear plan fails to acknowledge current as well as perennial realities and to downsize accordingly with all due speed.  We need to quickly shift our emphasis to better security investments, those which emphasize shared human, economic, and environmental security worldwide, and do so in a way that clearly signals a different direction in U.S. foreign policy to all parties.

6. Rep. Tauscher (D-CA) introduces bill calling for test ban ratification

On December 17 Representative Ellen Tauscher introduced a resolution (H. Res. 882) calling on the Senate to “initiate a bipartisan process to give its advice and consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT].  Apparently the idea is to get this issue put high on a new president's “wish list” and early in the new Senate's calendar. 

It is important to ratify the CTBT, but perhaps not at any cost.  If we are not wary, the ratification process could be used by the nuclear weapons labs as a vehicle to gain the consent of a Democratic Administration to new militaristic funding streams, with results that would need to be weighed, to the extent possible, against the benefits of ratification at this time.  Obviously one of these labs (Lawrence Livermore) is in Ms. Tauscher’s district, so this may be one motivation for her action. 

If additional surrogate design and testing capabilities were provided to mollify CTBT “doubters,” the nonproliferation value of the CTBT would decline, probably very far, because the CTBT would be seen by many key states as deeply hypocritical, a feature of a global system of “nuclear apartheid” rather than as part of the cure for it.  In this regard recall it is not the nuclear explosive package which is the primary locus of innovation in nuclear weapons systems, but rather the non-nuclear components overall, including arming, firing, and fuzing, terminal guidance, guidance overall, targeting, command, control, and intelligence, integration with other STRATCOM capabilities in Prompt Global Strike, and so on.  Mere nuclear maintenance allows militarily- and policy-significant innovation in all these areas for rich, technologically-advanced states.  In many ways the CTBT is an anachronism – a highly-symbolic anachronism which also does have practical value – provided it does not degrade mutual nuclear security by being twisted into yet another tool of attempted U.S. and G8 domination, or by means of ill-considered concessions to the nuclear labs before and during the ratification process.

Best wishes to all in the new year!

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

*******************

To subscribe to this listserve, send a blank email to lasg-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  If you received this message directly, you are already subscribed.  To subscribe to the Study Group's regional listserve, send a blank email to lasgnewmex-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.  To unsubscribe send a blank email to lasg-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net or lasgnewmex-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net as appropriate.

[back to top]


^ back to top

2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

home page calendar contact contribute