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August 31, 2014

Bulletin #194: Plutonium is not your friend

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  1. Zombie apocalypse: NNSA’s latest plutonium plan for New Mexico, & more
  2. How to help and work us, if you wish
  3. Converging crises, integral responses: our public meetings this fall

Dear friends –

  1. Zombie apocalypse: NNSA’s latest plutonium plan for New Mexico, & more

For this update, start with our press release (already sent to this list): $4.3 Billion in Additional Construction, Equipment Proposed for Los Alamos Plutonium Factory, August 28.  (Articles are coming based on this press release; stay tuned.)  The news that triggered this press release was reported here: “Estimate for First Phase of New LANL Pu Strategy Set at $2 Billion,” Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Aug 29, 2014.

A few days earlier, before this news, Jon Medalia of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) completed another report on pit production (“Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach for Congress, CRS, August 15.)  We participated heavily in that study and were thanked accordingly.

Brett Kniss, Drew Kornreich, and Craig Leasure, all of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Greg Mello of Los Alamos Study Group, and Don Cook and Michael Thompson, both of NNSA, were consulted in the preparation of this report.

The New Mexican captured some (but by no means all) of the drama: “Feds’ plan to make more nuke triggers at LANL raises questions,Santa Fe New Mexican, August 23. The Los Alamos Monitor also had a story: “New nuke pit report released,Los Alamos Monitor, August 23.

The trade press were as usual a little quicker off the mark: “CRS Report Raises Questions about LANL Plutonium Strategy,Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, August 22.

Before that we had this little bit of bad news: Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) Formally Commits to LANL Modular Pu Strategy, Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Aug 1, 2014 (Source: Letter from NWC to Senate.)

Meanwhile, in a letter to arriving NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) saw fit to give pride of place to the problems at LANL’s plutonium facility.  See this Study Group press release, “DNFSB Letter Highlights Continuing Dangers at Nation’s Nuclear Weapons Facilities,” August 11.

Greg will be going to Washington in a few days to discuss these issues on the Hill and in the executive branch.

Meanwhile, as if bombs weren’t enough, we have bugs: “Feds blast plans for biodefense labs at LANL  Santa Fe New Mexican, August 11. See also: “DOE IG questions possible biosafety labs at LANL,Los Alamos Monitor, August 19.  The source of these articles is: Audit Report: DOE/IG-0917, “Management of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Biosafety Laboratories,” August 6.

You may also be interested in these guest editorials, discussing economic development issues and the horrible priorities of our senior senator, which embrace these (and all) nuclear weapons plans.

We’ve been active on the WIPP issue with Congress, the DNFSB, and investigative agencies, but we haven’t posted all our work.  In the meantime, WIPP buffs may find the following Energy Daily articles, normally behind a paywall but republished here with permission, of interest: “DOE signals broader safety concerns on Los Alamos, WIPP waste drums, August 28, and before that, “Los Alamos admits ‘potential’ permit violations on WIPP waste drums,” July 22.  The penny of consequences has yet to drop on LANS.  It may, or it may not.  Are the warhead labs too powerful for penalties? Stay tuned.

Finally, a few of you may be interested in this Hiroshima Day interview with Chinese TV: Los Alamos still active 69 years after dropping of atomic bombs, CCTV, August 6.

  1. How to help and work with us, if you wish

Try these on for size:

  • Become a donor or sustaining donor.  We need you. Most foundation philanthropy falls in the wrong side of the issues.  Effective organizations are generally starved for funds.   Of course, money alone is not enough.  It does take a village of some sort to do about anything.  But without money nothing else works.

  • Become a serious volunteer and/or recruit volunteers for us.  Mature individuals with skills can help in many ways and can help train younger people, some of whom want to work but may lack adequate background or skills.  Call us at 505-265-1200.  You don’t necessarily need to live near our office.  Serious volunteerism leverages your skills and your accomplishments of many years.  It brings benefits, power, and political freedom to a degree and in dimensions unavailable to professional activism.

  • Organize one or more study sessions or meals with your friends, as ways to learn more and to clarify one’s own intentions vis-à-vis our converging crises and the opportunities that go with them.  If you wish, you can conduct such an event as a fundraiser for the Study Group.  Invite one of us to talk and answer questions if you wish.

  • Come to Study Group meetings if you live nearby, either the public meetings announced in this bulletin or other meetings we may announce.  Invite your friends to these public meetings.  We can explore many other effective ways to work at these meetings.

  • If you are a member of a church or religious organization, insist that your congregation hire or otherwise support a full-time climate and energy lobbyist and organizer.  There is no other more important ministry and no other more essential youth ministry in particular.  The churches are almost inactive on climate issues or else invest in namby-pamby, politically-meaningless gestures.  There is no church that can afford a pastor that cannot also afford to support a full-time activist/lobbyist with in-kind housing, food, cash allowance, and health care.  In New Mexico, nuclear issues are usually too controversial for churches, but at bottom climate issues are not really different issues than nuclear weapons, militarism, full employment, police violence, and many others.  The professional environmental groups have utterly failed on this issue and will keep failing, so don’t count on them.  It’s not all their fault of course, since other civil society groups that ought to be standing up aren’t.  There’s a leaden silence apart from a few important, symbolic but narrow foci like the Keystone XL pipeline.  None of us can work with that silence.

  • If you live in New Mexico and do not have a professional responsibility to poor clients who truly need favors from our politicians, don’t give politicians money unless and until they can articulate nonviolent public policies that will expand our social contract, promote equality and justice, and rapidly transform our society into a more environmentally sustainable one in a way that helps leads the world, not hold it back.   Evangelize about your choice, in letters to the editor and every other way you can think of.  None of our congressional delegation are even close to offering such policies.  Our city and county governments are not doing this either.  New Mexico is failing fast.  Don’t reward failure.  Use your money and your precious time in effective, productive, responsible ways.

As we have noted, Tom Udall is particularly devoted to the nuclear weapons labs and military bases that harm our state.  (For a review of why they do in the case of Los Alamos see “Does Los Alamos National Lab Help or Hurt the New Mexico Economy?”, July 2006.)  The New York Times suggests that Udall’s chances of winning another 6 years exceed 99%.  When you give money to Tom Udall he may well use it to run ads promoting militarism and nuclear weapons institutions.  Your donation to Udall buys advertising for Bechtel.  If you truly believe in donating money to candidates to prevent a right-wing Senate takeover, it’s an obvious fact – not advice from me – that you’d do better donating in a close race. Better, donate to a candidate that can articulate and work for political values you want.

Please do not construe this advice as having anything to do with who to vote for, or to whom to donate.  Udall’s opponent is no doubt as militaristic as they come.  The point is that those who donate to today’s candidates should not deceive themselves into thinking they are doing more than they are.  To reform our democracy will take a hell of a lot more than donating money, let alone voting for the lesser of two weevils.

When (not if) Tom “wins” this “race,” he will be as free to choose and to lead as any American politician can ever be.  He is now the senior politician in his Party in this state, and the pressure on him and his Party needs to be intense – just as it does on the other Party.   That pressure can take many forms. The resulting dialogue – and we need turmoil before we can get that – has immediate national implications.

  • If you live in northern New Mexico, do whatever you can to cut your city’s, county’s, or tribe’s financial support for, and membership in, the “Regional Coalition of LANL Communities” (RCLC).  The RCLC is a lobbying organization for the for-profit, Bechtel-led Los Alamos National Security (LANS) Corporation, which runs Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).   Through RCLC, your local government officially supports whatever LANS happens to want.  That’s what RCLC does in Washington – the message as it is transmitted and received, which is not the same story you are being told in New Mexico by the biddable politicians involved.  If you want to devote some serious time to this, call us.

  • If you do not live in New Mexico, agitate, mobilize, organize, and work with your congressional delegation to cut military spending and especially nuclear weapons spending.  Help build what Martin Luther King called “a coalition of conscience” that bridges issues into a powerful bloc.  As far as lobbying goes, you know what committees your delegation sits on.  You know people he or she will listen to.  There is no way to pretend otherwise: if you want to make a difference you must acquire the political power to do so.  You have to do this yourself, with others you know or will come to know.  Nobody else can do it for you.  Either you have a voice or you don’t.  If you don't, get one.  Your opinion, like your isolated vote, doesn’t matter one tiny little bit.  “Public awareness” doesn’t matter.  Political power matters.  If you love this planet, if you love your children, get that power.

  • The biggest problems we face are distraction and apathy on the one hand, and the too-ready acceptance of political placebos on the other.  By “apathy” I don’t mean a feeling.  I mean an absence of action.  We who care must dig in and radicalize our lives.  Don’t imagine that any of the crises we face will be solved in our spare time.  Is it absolutely necessary to be in your job?  Is that new purchase really necessary?  Is that heavily-polluting airplane trip to Cape Wonderful really more important than your volunteer work in your own community?  (Aircraft emissions at high altitude are an estimated 2.5 times more potent than surface emissions in global warming, last time I looked.)  Is full-time college or graduate school really a good idea at this time in history? Aren't we at what will be the end of history if we put too many of our best young people on the shelf for 4 or 6 years more and leave the crazy old men in charge that much longer?  Frankly a lot of the graduates we meet have been systematically miseducated, have few useful skills, and are too immature to understand how unfree they are, without even considering the debt burden they may be incurring.  My generation has thoroughly misled them.  Most “successful” graduates work, live, and think in an especially thick propaganda bubble that is horribly out of touch with broader social, historical, environmental, and – yes – scientific realities.  Colleges provide education, but they also provide social control and repression. The latter far outweighs the former overall.
  1. Converging crises, integral response: our public meetings this fall

Study Group public meetings in September, October, & November.

All meetings will begin at 6:00 pm sharp and end formally at 8:00 pm.
There is no charge for attendance but donations are very important to us and gratefully accepted.
Some of these meetings will be panel discussions; speakers will be announced.



Tentative topics

     UNM Law School, Room 2403
     1117 Stanford Dr NE

Thursday, September 18th

Tuesday, October 28th

Through and Beyond the Issues; Work, Study Opportunities with the Los Alamos Study Group

Violence and Nonviolence in New Mexico
Economic Development

Los Alamos
     Fuller Lodge
2132 Central Ave

Tuesday, September 23rd
Thursday, October 30th
Tuesday, November 25th

The Future of NNSA’s Nuclear Labs
Debate on U.S. Plutonium Pit Policy
Beyond Arms Control: Ban the Bomb!

Santa Fe
     Santa Fe Woman’s Club
     1616 Old Pecos Trail

Thursday, September 25th
Tuesday, November 18th

Aux Armes: Attack of the Plutonium Zombies
Ban the Bomb – Why, How, and Your Role

     Kit Carson Electric Cooperative
     118 Cruz Alta Road

Friday, October 10th
Friday, November 14th

Aux Armes: Attack of the Plutonium Zombies
Ban the Bomb: Why, How, and Your Role

Over dinner this week one of our board members remarked, “In certain ways, ‘World War III’ has already begun."

I wonder – is that a decent way to get the attention of your friends and colleagues?  It might be.  It’s wrong in some ways, right in others. The past 70 years have seen quite a few changes, but for the magnitude of mortality at risk it’s about right.  The environmental dimension of the conflict is not captured by the expression, however.

He was referring, in the first instance, to the arc of political and military violence that now extends from the South China Sea through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel and what is left of Palestine, North Africa, and Ukraine.  I am sorry to say the U.S. has a causative or enabling role in most of these conflicts.  This list does not include the other countries in which our military is lethally operating, as Jeremy Scahill has so ably documented in Dirty Wars.

A theme running through all these conflicts, directly or indirectly, is the geopolitics of oil and gas, two of the three fossil fuels that make industrial civilization possible.  Of course, fossil fuels are most of the anthropogenic climate problem, so the violence involved in controlling supplies is just the beginning of the problem.  (Natural gas is not better than coal for the climate, but that’s another story.)

The war is intensifying structurally as well.  The violence of the neoliberal “globalized” economy is crushing the poor and, in this country, squeezing and slowly eliminating what we used to call the middle class.

The war is underway environmentally.  There has been no meaningful progress on climate policy globally and none is likely soon.  The U.S. is nowhere on climate; Obama's plan, even if enacted, does little or nothing. Oceans and forests are under siege.  Worst of all, the possibility of rapid, very severe, irreversible warming is quite real but almost never even discussed in mainstream media or by politicians in the U.S.  Canada, our vassal petrostate to the north, plans to turn all of Alberta into a hydrocarbon strip mine and modern equivalent of the Siberian Traps.

The first casualty in this crisis has been truth.  From where we sit we see a fairly sudden, severe, increase in propaganda from mainstream U.S. sources, with coverage of the State Department’s Ukraine putsch the leading case in point.

In all these ways and more a multidimensional “World War III” has indeed started.  As in August of 1914, its course is not fully under the control of even the most powerful protagonists.  The dimensions of the conflict are mostly beyond the ability of statecraft to control at this point, in the absence of a humanitarian awakening.

Civil society has not yet been mobilized. 

The depth and degree of violence and suffering, and the toll on our planet’s life, are undetermined.  They depend in part on our actions and inactions.  We can’t control what happens but we can do our part.  We can help tilt the field toward life.

At this point, nuclear weapons are little more than a cancer on our culture.  They provide us no security. Together with our technologies of mass distraction and entertainment, they deaden our conscience – our con-science, what we know together – just when we most need it.  In New Mexico, they are a yoke beneath which we have been struggling. We awoke from the nightmare of World War II into a new kind of permanent semi-war, which has disfigured our state’s society and politics.

Humanity is at a crossroads. The crises which we in the baby boomer generation failed to adequately address have merged and ramified into a massive Gordian knot that now requires Alexandrian decisiveness and self-forgetting courage.  “One cut, and all is cut.”  There are no fully separate issues any longer, if there ever were.

Our commitment to the following generations is being tested.  "To be, or not to be" - is that the question?  In its bodily sense it is not a question for us, but rather a question we are answering for our children. Are they to be, or not?  Spiritually, morally, and politically, however, for we grownups, the question is not "to be, or not to be," but “will we, or won’t we?” 

“I can, therefore I am,” said Simone Weil.

Please join us.

Greg and Trish, for the Study Group

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