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December 14, 2016
Protest at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, October 15, 1983, from Boulder Weekly
It took thousands of people and many years to shut down this plant -- and a few brave whistleblowers who risked their lives. Plutonium work was and is dangerous, expensive, and contaminating. Since June 1989 the US has had no functioning pit production plant of any scale. As a result the US cannot build entirely new nuclear warheads. There have been seven or eight plans to replace the Rocky Flats Plant. All have foundered, with help. This organization -- and Trish with her Amarillo cohorts at STAND -- have played a greater or lesser role in all these victories.
The Study Group, virtually alone but with your help, tripped up the most recent plan, which was finally canceled in 2014 after a long and difficult struggle.
There is now a new multi-billion-dollar plan to expand pit production (short fact sheet). It can be blocked far more easily now than the work of closing Rocky Flats was then.
No new factory, no new bombs. New factory, new bombs. New bombs, no new priorities. No new priorities, no hope.
Dear New Mexico friends –
Thank you, all of you, for your solidarity and help thus far.
Many of you have sent contributions recently. To you, thank you and we will be in touch before long.
Here's our biggest local nuclear weapons challenge in a nutshell, and why we can win.
For more than three decades, the Rocky Flats Plant made plutonium warhead cores ("pits"). Now, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is the only place in the US that plutonium pits can be made.
To make pits in quantity would require several billion dollars in brand-new and upgraded LANL facilities for production, analysis, nuclear waste handling, electrical transmission, etc. at LANL. This construction, spread across several projects, is in its initial stages.
Some of the buildings still in the planning stages would be the most expensive buildings in the world, on a per-square-foot basis. Three of them, even if considered separately, would be the most expensive construction projects in the history of New Mexico.
The federal tax dollars they would consume during construction (let alone operation) would be sufficient, if used to sweeten private-sector solar and wind energy projects, to eliminate most stationary carbon emissions in the state, create thousands or even tens of thousands of jobs, save billions of gallons of water annually, and prevent hundreds of early deaths each year from air pollution.
If these gold-plated new factories aren't built, new plutonium pits can't be built in quantity and therefore brand-new warheads won't be possible. The old ones would have to suffice for the nuclear war scenarios being planned day-in and day-out by STRATCOM.
There is no technical reason the older warheads could not suffice (to incinerate and irradiate millions, and starve the rest of humanity and the animal kingdom in the freezing dark). But the loss of modernization momentum would be politically damaging to the nuclear enterprise in a number of ways.
Omitting most of the numbers, new pits are "needed" if and only if all three of the following policies remain in place:
- The US replaces all, or nearly all, its land-based missiles with brand-new missiles and launch systems (current estimated cost: $85-$150 billion);
- The US maintains sufficient reserve warheads for land-based missiles to allow uploading additional warheads onto them -- which would contravene the stockpile size limits of the New START treaty (now set to expire in 2021); AND ALSO
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its laboratories proposed this crazy IW plan. Neither the Navy nor the Air Force, the supposed "customers" for this new warhead, actually want it. It was designed to support and enrich the labs and weapons plants.
- The older W78 warhead on some of these missiles, serviceable through the 2040s with the usual maintenance and upgrade program, is replaced by a brand-new design called the "Interoperable Warhead One" (IW-1), which would also replace one of the Navy's warheads. The IW-1, an inherently ambitious design that attempts to replace two very different warheads with one new kind, may or may not be certifiable. The program, which is unlike anything attempted so far, might fail.
Other than IW-1, no other warhead or bomb, existing or proposed, requires new pits for decades hence.
The ballpark cost of the IW-1 and its associated new pit factory complex -- precise enough for our purposes here -- is about $30 billion. That's real money.
These programs are a key part of Obama's overall nuclear modernization plan, which will cost in excess of $1 trillion with continuing deployments included.
No one knows where all this money -- a marked increase over current nuclear weapons spending, itself far higher than it needs to be because of waste and contractor greed -- will come from.
Planned increases in overall military spending, of which nuclear modernization are an important part, will come from some combination of: a) adding to the national debt; b) cutting federal domestic programs; and c) cutting mandatory spending -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs. For the next four years, we can rule out increasing taxes.
Trump's pick for Secretary of Defense, retired four-star Marine general James Mattis, testified last year before Congress that in his opinion, US land-based missiles are especially dangerous and may not add value.
Nuclear hawks don't necessarily support new LANL facilities. If LANL managed its existing facilities better, new facilities would not be necessary, even for expanded pit production. Contrariwise, if LANL doesn't manage its existing facilities and people better, no pit production will be possible there at all. For hawks with an eye on the budget, better management is key, not more facilities badly managed. Separating the "facilities question" from the "pit production question" is a helpful step.
There are many ways to fight these deeply stupid and wasteful programs, which despite being a house of cards are nonetheless widely supported in the executive branch, Congress, and the military. Widely-supported, yes -- but not universally supported. The more knowledge people have, the more questions they ask -- questions which often turn out to have no good answers.
The Russians, of course, take note of these plans, a familiar -- and for the participants often very lucrative -- mutual dynamic. But the Russians have far less money to waste.
It's a self-perpetuating system, sized for a Cold War and needing a Cold War to justify it. As Joseph Schumpeter once said of the imperial German war machine, “Created by the wars that required it, the Machine now creates the wars it requires.” We will not survive those wars, whether cold or hot.
The relatively cheap ways to kill these programs involve analysis, publishing, media outreach, and lobbying. Cheap, yes, but they require dedicated full-time-plus work by first-class experts.
Next in order of price comes litigation, a drastic but potentially powerful step if supported by analysis, lobbying, publishing, and media outreach.
Organizing effective opposition on the ground is also very expensive, given current social and political conditions in New Mexico. Our goal, you see, is to win, not just to show up and "make our voices heard."
Nobody is going to stop these programs for us. Amazingly, aims such as preventing a new Rocky Flats Plant from taking shape, or stopping IW-1, tend to not be a priority in the arms control world, which in its wisdom has been unable to stop even a single project or program for the past eight years, despite vast expenditures.
So we need your help. Please.
Money is not all we need to win, but it is necessary. As long as our health holds and our communities cohere, we have the rest.
Despite Trump, circumstances are not at all unfavorable, though there are many uncertainties. We can take advantage of those uncertainties. They are how we win.
There are many ways to give. Please see Bulletin 226 for some of them. Those of you who wish to donate and have not yet done so can do so by check sent to the address below, by credit card over the phone or via secure link, by donating stock (thus avoiding capital gains and the associated taxes), or by donating an extra car, boat, or real estate. You can set up a monthly donation. You can remember the Los Alamos Study Group in your will or estate plans. Please contact Trish by email, or phone 505-265-1200 if you have any questions.
Our 2015 and 2014 fundraising appeals provide more background and are not at all out of date. Our web site contains links to all our recent written public work. (There is another body of work we cannot share, such as most correspondence with government.)
Like every other organization, what we need most are more major donors, whose larger gifts powerfully liberate our time. Enough major gifts, and we can hire skilled help to leverage our own in key areas.
Right now, I am asking you to approach your wealthier friends on our behalf. We will be happy to make a detailed presentation and funding case to any such group, if you organize the meeting. You have contacts we don't. Everyone does. Putting us in contact with potential donors, large or small, is a powerful way to help. Please do not feel that small gifts are not important. They are terribly important!
I don't want to make this note longer than it is. I will write again about other topics in the coming days.
Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group