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"Forget the Rest" blog


What you can do; resources; news

April 13, 2016

(Letter to local members; tell us if you want off this exclusive list.)

  1. What you can do
  2. The presidential election, and what needs to be done
  3. Critique of the Nuclear Security Summit
  4. Plutonium disposition: let the wild rumpus continue
  5. Working paper for UN on multilateral negotiations; comments
  6. Ted Postol on the increasing risk of accidental nuclear war due to U.S. modernization
  7. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) hearing testimony and followup

Dear friends --

We haven't written since March 24 -- and there's a great deal to relate! Some of this will find its way into a Bulletin very soon for our larger national and international audiences, but not all.

First, here's what you can do if you want to work directly with the Study Group. For local members this is a bit different than for people far away, and in some ways more important.

  • Internship and fellowship opportunities -- help us with outreach if you can, but quickly. If you know someone who would like to join our program this summer, now's the time. We sent a flyer around to UNM and a few networks in January, with no bites. In late March we refocused the program to just the summer months (updated internship flyer for your use,pdf), opened the program to undergraduates, re-sent and stepped up our outreach, and increased our own commitment to what might be a half-dozen undergrads. We have one interested person from abroad (with a relevant master's degree and foreign ministry experience), but despite our outreach at UNM (including our colorful outreach at an interesting internship fair, where we had lines at our table for most of four hours) and to hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities with special outreach to several, we have no U.S. applicants. We will close the application process one week from today (i.e. 4/20).
We conclude that we need to sweeten our offer, or undertake more and better outreach, which would cost more money or more time than we can afford. UNM graduates and students need jobs, not internships, even though they are generally not ready to make an immediate net contribution. Their spirits are willing but their bank accounts are far too weak. As is ours.
  • This leads us back to money. We can't make any more time in our days, but we could (and should) raise more money, which which we could recruit more time and skills. Will you help us? The appeal we sent in December is still quite relevant. It is rich with links. We do not know the people you do.
Money, as they say, talks. It talks to young people, to funders, and to other actors in our broad field, who think nuclear disarmament (for example) is "not mainstream," in part and subconsciously because it is certainly not well-funded.
  • If you would like to significantly volunteer, please call and let's talk. We would need to make this a serious commitment with significant responsibilities, just as in any other business. But it could be rewarding to that same extent.
  • If you would like us to speak or lead a discussion, you have to ask. Talks at churches, environmental groups, and in house meetings can be very valuable. University classes can be important. A very strange silence has descended over the local political scene, for the most part. It is, for the most part, the quiet of the slaughterhouse pen
Another route to go, with even longer-guaranteed (30 years!) solar panels -- the most robust in the business -- and much cheaper as well (but less efficient, for now), is the DIY path, via McCune Solar Works (store; you can get involved by joining their co-op). McCune's experienced staff will help you get started and you will gain valuable experience, overcoming what Chuck McCune and we call our society's "learned helplessness." Like Positive Energy, McCune will donate to the Study Group for every referred system they sell.

Second, the presidential election, and what needs to be done. The Study Group cannot endorse candidates obviously, but we have our views, which we can't put here. On the Democratic side, it is highly likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. By the end of this month, this may become a near-certainty, after more primaries run their course. Or perhaps there will be upsets. 

Many of you are Bernie Sanders supporters. Let us assume for the moment that Sanders loses. What are Sanders supporters going to do about it? Anything? What is Plan B? Shouldn't a prudent person who thinks "Plan A" is extremely important to our common future but has a serious risk of not happening, also have a Plan B? In our day-to-day conversations we are not hearing about any "Plan B."

One of our advisors, when asked what Sanders supporters would do in the event Sanders lost the primary, answered, "Nothing." I was taken aback by the starkness and brevity of that answer, but in our experience it is the correct answer most of the time. And that is the problem. It is all our problem. If we go quietly into that good night, there will be no dawn. The resource crisis and the ecological crisis -- all our crises run together, are ONE crisis -- are now too deep. Humanity is in profound crisis, as William I. Robinson eloquently reminds us. You couldn't discover that little fact at any of the campaign rallies or debates.

We are in general appalled by how exclusively many people are focusing on this election without actually working in it. If you think it's a make-or-break moment and decision for the U.S. by all means jump in with both feet -- as we have done here for 26 years.

The leading Republican (and most explicitly anti-war) candidate, Donald Trump, as well as the second fellow in the Republican running, Ted Cruz, may both be out-maneuvered by the pols at or before the Republican Convention in favor of some yet-to-be-anointed nominee. Should this happen, it could trigger (additional) social unrest.

Meanwhile a number of organizations have started a mass arrest action at the U.S. Capitol, with 600 arrests so far, to protest the overwhelming role of money in U.S. politics. 

In some ways this is a propitious moment.

It is however possible that a fascist politics of xenophobia, hatred, and revenge will be more powerful and persuasive than the typical ephemeral and weak protest on the left (to the extent there is a left). We hope not, but we can't prevent bad political outcomes just by wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is perhaps the only resource that is not in short supply at the moment in this country.

Dear friends, this national election, no matter who wins, will not halt the drift toward militarism and fascism. These trends have deep roots and are driven by harsh new realities. We have to get into the streets, into corporate lobbies, into congressional offices, into fundraisers, into legislative chambers, into our self-centered churches. The planet is dying, and our economic system will grind up, is already grinding up, billions of people and species as a matter of course. Most of us will be spared the face-to-face blood and screams for now, so life will seem very pleasant for many of us. For now. We need to rediscover a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand persuasive ways to get essential truths across, to awaken values we have almost lost -- gently but also, as Gandhi showed us, very firmly.

We will be happy to support such action however we can. Some of you will see us at a joint planning meeting soon.

Third, we've been very active on a half-dozen radio shows and on RT television providing commentary on Obama's final hypocritical and ineffective Nuclear Security Summit, thanks to a press release ("Nuclear Security Summit” — Hypocrisy, Profiteering, Spectacle") from the Institute for Public Accuracy. It's a pity we can't easily share some of those interviews with you, and a pity that none of them were in New Mexico. (New Mexico is, as we know, largely conquered. It has to be wrested back. Minor reforms have failed, and will fail.)

Fourth, plutonium disposition has been in the news (and in our workload). From previous Bulletins and letters you all understand, we hope, that we are in favor of disposing of surplus U.S. plutonium at WIPP. Where pits are concerned, we favor direct disposal of "sterilized" pits, appropriately prepared and packed, without any plutonium processing. We are NOT in favor of disposing of other kinds of nuclear waste at WIPP, besides transuranic waste (TRU). Neither are we in favor of disposing of foreign plutonium at WIPP (there is just far too much of it). For general background see this page. Here is some of the local news: 

We've had a great deal of correspondence and discussion on this topic, face-to-face in Washington DC and Princeton, and in press calls and requests.

Yesterday the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee issued its draft Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2017, which requires the ($50 billion) mixed-oxide (MOX) program to continue. Let the wild rumpus start -- er, continue! As we wrote to colleagues at Princeton:

I had to laugh at what Putin said about MOX and I hope you found it humorous as well. I am sure he got a draft list of possible ways to hit back at the U.S. and chose some, including U.S. plans for Pu disposition. I am sure he knows full well that MOX competes with warhead spending. I told ______ I thought dilute and dispose would fail (still far too expensive, and takes far too long, especially in our present peak oil/industrial/economic decline reality). I say this because I saw that Frank [von Hippel] was in SC recently trying to explain why D&D would be better than MOX. It is better of course, but not so conspicuously better as to really attract conspicuous support, or really (IMO) to be practical over decades. On the other hand, as ______ said to me, "One step at a time." There is political wisdom in that, primarily because nobody wants to talk about the future in realistic, scientific terms.

Please note: MOX competes with nuclear weapons spending in the "Atomic Energy Defense Activities" account, where it competes with cleanup as well, and in the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) and Department of Energy's (DOE's) overall budget.

Fifth, we submitted a working paper ("Progress in multilateral nuclear disarmament requires a treaty prohibiting the possession, threat, or use of nuclear weapons") to the 2016 Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of diplomats gathered at the United Nations in Geneva.

We also felt compelled to broadcast a note enclosing the above paper and making further points to fellow NGOs touching on multilateral disarmament strategies, which is captured here as a blog post and sent worldwide by Pressenza. We also received nice comments about that note from experienced people we respect, which was nice for us.

There is much more to say and we hope to do so in the coming days, before Trish and I head toward London and Geneva to talk to diplomats and colleagues on the side of the OEWG deliberations. You can find more resources on these deliberations on ICAN's web site. (That is former LASG Fellow Mia Gandenberger in the foreground of the picture at the top.)

Sixth, we were very interested to see a recent talk by the Dr. Ted Postol (bio) to Harvard Peace Action, in which he provides a short description of a nuclear attack on Boston (to scale), and explains (yet again) some of the reasons why the Obama program of nuclear modernization is creating new risks of nuclear war.

Please take a look at that talk, especially the final pages.

Most people don't know that Russia has no early warning satellite system any more, or how the increased accuracy of submarine warheads today doubles the effective size of the U.S. arsenal against hard targets, or how this new accuracy and lack of warning for launches from the sea decrease Russian reaction time to essentially nothing. We are in a hairy situation, to a degree we didn't have during the Cold War.

You can thank our president for this. It's not the Republicans fault. It is Obama's fault, the fault of his Party in Congress, and the fault of the arms control community that did not oppose these upgrades. To repeat what I said above, we are in very deep water in a number of ways, and aiming for minor reforms will fail.

Two years ago Ted sent us a 1998 paper outlining the analytical bases for this concern. As it happens, in 1999 I wrote about what I thought were disturbing ramifications of Trident upgrade plans, using documents obtained mostly by FOIA litigation. (See also this important article by Admiral Pete Nanos, later Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.) 

We weren't aware of the Harvard talk until Steven Starr, senior scientist with Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), sent it to us along with another interesting Ted Postol paper from 20 years ago ("Possible Fatalities from Superfires Following Nuclear Attacks in or near Urban Areas," 1986), which prefigured Lynn Eden's excellent Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (2006).

With Ted's permission, we decided to post all this on its own web page, at least for now.

While that web project was in the queue the New York Times published a so-called "retro" video piece about Nuclear Winter, which downplayed the danger and omitted all the more recent work validating nuclear winter concerns. We publish here a comment by Steven Starr that sets the story straight.*

Seventh, thank you to everyone who came to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) hearing.  The New Mexican wrote about the hearing ("At forum, LANL officials admit to struggling with safety issues, management"), among others. Here is my testimony (Part I, written before the hearing, and Part II, submitted afterward). A congressional staff member gave us this interesting and pertinent presentation on safety, which is referenced (Working on Small Problems Before They Become Big Problems, Thomas M. Weishar, NNSA Naval Reactors). The NNSA warhead complex and LANL in particular does not run by these principles!

I've got to leave it at this and close for now.

Best wishes to all --

Greg and Trish

*The other issue badly handled in that video is that of solar radiation mitigation (SRM) in the arctic by means of aerosols sprayed into the atmosphere, regarding which I wrote a considerable comment to Dr. Alan Robock at Rutgers. Ethically and scientifically, the matter is not so simple as Robock says in that video. It needs to be discussed. You can trust the New York Times to misreport key facts, for a purpose. They do it daily. I will try to get my comments up as a blog post, which can be a basis for discussion.

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