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Heinrich, Udall promote LANL plutonium pit manufacturing; please help

September 27, 2017

This letter:

  1. Please consider helping us financially and/or with your networking on our behalf!
  2. "Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons" opens for signature, with 53 states signing in the first three days!
  3. Heinrich, Udall work closely with congressional neocons to promote and protect LANL plutonium warhead core ("pit") manufacturing in new law
  4. Talk in Jemez Springs, Saturday October 7, 2 pm
  5. LANL in yet another major plutonium criticality safety incident
  6. Study Group in the news

Action suggestions this time:

  1. Please help us raise funds to continue to the fight against new warheads, new plutonium pits, and the new factories to make them.
  2. See our letter of Sept. 15 for more suggestions.

Dear friends,

1. Please consider helping us financially and/or with your networking on our behalf!

Many nonprofits send fundraising letters on almost a daily basis, with or without accomplishments. We don't do that. But now we must ask.

We are proud of what we have been able to do, and to prevent from happening. It has all been with your solidarity, companionship, and concrete help. To you our donors, thank you.

But being successful doesn't automatically translate into funding needed to fight and win again. Now is that relatively rare occasion when we really must ask for your help.

We are asking for two things: your financial support (continued or new), and your endorsement of our work to your friends.

As regards your outreach and networking on behalf of the Study Group, we can help. For example, if you want to plan a get-together with friends that might be interested, one or two of us can come. If such a discussion took place in a church or organization, so much the better. 

You might want to mention our successful climate and solar internship program this past summer, which almost totally occupied us from late May through early August.

Just right now, we are quite thrilled about the historic, brand-new nuclear ban treaty. Many people don't even know about it, or can't believe its real.

A few of you went with us to the UN in the first decade of this century to Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conferences. Others may remember the reports and interviews we sent back, to KUNM and elsewhere. To those who went and to all of you, I have this to say: you won. We kept faith, gained experience and connections, and poured these into the ban treaty effort, which we judged sound. We ignored the negativity coming from the usual suspects in the arms control community, academia, and the funding community.

(For some of our contributions, see the left column here. There were more. Also two of our board members, Ray Acheson in New York and Mia Gandenberger in Geneva, were deeply involved in leading this effort. Our former intern Michael Spies was the lead UN expert supporting the ban negotiations.)

You who have been with us through this time are part of this story. It's your baby too.

All too close to home, since 1989 we have played a central role in preventing a renascence of pit production after the demise of the Rocky Flats Plant. There have been seven or eight attempts to build a new pit factory over these 28 years. We have been involved in defeating all of them. We could see the next attempt appear next year, however (see 3. below).

"You and Trish are rock stars!" gushed one congressional staff member in 2012. "Every time our chairman demanded to know why construction hadn't started [on the huge pit facility at LANL], NNSA said construction couldn't start because of your lawsuit!"

Our analyses meanwhile went to the Vice President, to Congress, to the military. And even though this project was the highest construction priority of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and a central commitment in the New START ratification deal, we won. In the end, almost everybody agreed it should not be built -- even LANL, as we later heard.

Newcomers to New Mexico or to these issues can peruse the record of that battle (main page; litigation page), the gist of which appeared in this story by journalist Roger Snodgrass.

As it turns out, that facility was the only nuclear weapons "modernization" project cancelled during the Obama Administration. Most so-called "anti-nuclear" groups had agreed to allow its construction, including groups in New Mexico, as part of the New START "deal."

Telling this story, I cannot omit the long hours put in by a few key board members and volunteers -- Peter Neils, Darwin Bond-Graham, Tom Hnasko at the Hinkle Law Firm, Willem Malten of CloudCliff Bakery and a few others.

I could list other policy victories over the years, which have been supported by lawsuits, media exposés, articles and opinion pieces, and focused expert lobbying. I could mention what have been hundreds of public meetings. Some media traces have been collected here.

We have won -- a lot -- and we can win again. But as we have been saying for the past decade, "this time is different." If we win, it may be in part because of circumstances we don't like.

Please do join us. This can be as easy as a monthly donation of any size, or a single donation, either of which Trish can arrange for you. Or very conveniently, both can be set up via JustGive (they do take a small bit). The Study Group can sell that extra car for you (Trish is very good at this). You can remember the Study Group in your will. Checks work fine (our address is at the bottom of this email). Credit card donations can be taken over the phone or via secure link. Stock can be donated (avoiding capital gains and associated taxes).

Thank you.

2. "Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons" opens for signature, with 53 states signing in the first three days!

A milestone in the prevention of nuclear war was reached last week when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature on September 20. In the first week, 53 states signed and 3 ratified, an excellent start. The Treaty enters into force 90 days after the first 50 ratifications. You have already received our press release.

In opinion pieces in the Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, and the New Mexico Political Report we called this Treaty a "lifeline" for New Mexico. But we -- an activated minority of the New Mexico body politic, will need to seize this lifeline, as part of a broader community awakening to our social and environmental responsibilities, for it to help. It would only take an active couple of percent to change a great deal for the better.

Kudos are due to Robin Collier, the wonderful force behind Cultural Energy in Taos (KCEI 90.1 FM and soon KCEI-LD Channel 18 broadcast TV, KCEY 89.5 FM), who interviewed me about the Ban for broadcast yesterday, September 26.

We have collected our publications on the Ban Treaty along with other key resources and links here.

There is no question that news about this Treaty has been actively suppressed by the news media, in New Mexico and nationally. The opening of this Treaty was truly a historic occasion, a capstone of successful efforts by a majority of the countries in the world to prohibit nuclear weapons. How can that not be news, in New Mexico especially? The powers-that-be here (and the owners of major newspapers) believe nuclear weapons are a goose that lays plutonium and wastes golden eggs for New Mexico. This blackout -- along with the media's extravagant and unbalanced praise of the late Senator Domenici (during whose Senate tenure New Mexico markedly fell in its economic performance relative to other states) -- are data points suggesting that the state's opinion leaders are still too confused to grasp this lifeline. Yes, we are grateful for the op-ed placements, but the Treaty was news.

A friend who watched the opening ceremony with us noticed the striking sculpture in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber where the ceremony took place, and wondered what it was. This morning he sent a link. It turns out that sculpture (Danish, 1953) depicts "Mankind and Hope." So, what attachments prevent us from living inside hope, as Barbara Kingsolver put it, in Animal Dreams? (Here's a little essay on that theme from 1998, which we have just posted.)

3. Heinrich, Udall work closely with congressional neocons to promote and protect LANL plutonium warhead core ("pit") manufacturing in new law

This is a serious development. Senator Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), along with Senator Udall, successfully introduced a floor amendment (S.Amdt.778 -- scroll down to see text) to the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Senate last week. There was apparently no debate on this amendment.

A coordinated prior effort in July introduced a similar House amendment. Bundled with others, that also passed without debate, by a voice vote.

The amendment, which is about to become law after reconciliation with the slightly-different House version (for text of the Senate version, see Section 13101, p. 1205ff in the printed bill after Senate passage),

a) gives NNSA a 30-day deadline for completing an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for ramping up pit production to an [arbitrary] demonstrated capacity of 50-80 pits per year by 2027 (full requirements), including any necessary new infrastructure;
b) allows the Pentagon and military to specify a pit production schedule of their choosing, in addition to the above legal mandate (which has not been taken with 100% seriousness since it is expensive, unnecessary, and arbitrary), namely one that is "responsive to [unstated, evolving] military requirements;" and finally the amendment;

c) adds review and concurrence requirements for the purpose of making it difficult to move pit production away from LANL, the location reaffirmed in a pro-forma 2013 "business case" analysis.

The bill concentrates decisionmaking power about pits in the Pentagon, military, and the armed services committees.

Were Democrats in charge in the House, a measure such as this would be unlikely to pass, given the resistance already manifest from Rep. Garamendi and many others (Rep. John Garamendi, D-CA, offers amendment to cut funding for expansion of plutonium pit production at LANL, May 24, 2016; role call vote; amendment; video).

There are many ways to fight this. Rest assured we will, if you will help us. We have won seven times already.

Friends, we've said it again and again: this is not just about pits or nuclear weapons. We need a broad community awakening that understands and acts on all the converging crises we face at the same time, not as separate "stovepipes" that keep citizens running all over ineffectively but as an all-encompassing emergency that requires a political, moral, and spiritual awakening. We need to talk about that. As disasters press upon us (and they are and they will) that response will come, for some of us at least. It would be best to "make friends with the trends" now.

Our greatest challenge is not from the military-industrial complex but from the fear, despair, denial, and apathy in our own communities. Most people don't realize that it is actually easier to have quality meetings with congressional and committee staff in Washington than it is to have a discussion in supposedly "progressive" circles right here at home.

We don't like the enabling, greenwashing role of environmental and arms control groups in endorsing and funding individuals like Senator Heinrich, whose Democratic Party "all of the above" energy policies and hyper-militarism are incompatible with a viable climate and "liveable world," the latter being a reference to one of his most important campaign contributors.

For more on these pit programs see Bulletin 229, this short fact sheet, and, in extenso here and here.

4. Talk in Jemez Springs, Saturday October 7, 2 pm "'Remaining awake through a great revolution:' roles of citizen groups; some key issues"

This will be at the Community Library (map); for a description please see our letter of Sept. 12.

5. LANL in yet another major plutonium criticality safety incident

This was reported by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), giving rise to these and other news articles and an interview:

This was another epic management mistake and it well deserves the press attention it got. This activity-- pit hemi-shell casting -- was a high-profile undertaking with lots of management attention, a performance long in the making in the most mission-critical program in the PF-4 facility. To egregiously break safety rules including posted material limits, and not realize it for 3 days, speaks volumes about the fitness of line management. Please note: those who approved and conducted this work were not the most senior LANS managers, though it is they who bear the ultimate responsibility. The mistake(s) were down at the team, group, and facility level, people who will not change when a new contractor comes in a year from now.

NNSA and LANL say this violation was no problem at all but nonetheless suspended the workers involved. And if there is no problem when these rules are violated why do NNSA and LANL have these rules?

6. Study Group in the news

Not everyone will like those last associations. I however largely agree with the views expressed and found the conversation to be very well informed.

On that subject, we are in the midst of a rising McCarthyism, as Robert Parry has repeatedly analyzed and discussed. Here's the conclusion of yesterday's (9/26) excellent article:

So, instead of Democrats and Chancellor Merkel looking in the mirror and seeing the real reasons why many white working-class voters are turning toward “populist” and “extremist” alternatives, they can simply blame Putin and continue a crackdown on Internet-based dissent as the work of “Russian operatives.”

Already, under the guise of combating “Russian propaganda” and “fake news,” Google, Facebook and other tech giants have begun introducing algorithms to hunt down and marginalize news that challenges official U.S. government narratives on hot-button issues such as Ukraine and Syria. Again, no evidence is required, just the fact that Putin may have said something similar.

As Democrats, liberals and even some progressives join in this Russia-gate hysteria – driven by their hatred of Donald Trump and his supposedly “fascistic” tendencies – they might want to consider whom they’ve climbed into bed with and what these neocons have in mind for the future.

Thank you for your attention,

Greg Mello

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