|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Nuclear “Consolidation” Network Proposes
April 7, 2009
Washington, DC– Surely there will be praiseworthy parts in tomorrow’s report, which will advocate consolidating the U.S. nuclear weapons complex from its current eight sites to three. As of this writing, we have not seen this report.
Geographic consolidation, however, we cannot praise. The simplest, quickest, cheapest, and best consolidation is on the present sites.
Consolidation of weapons complex sites is unrealistic from the management and cost perspectives, and it does not serve disarmament goals either directly or in terms of future congressional support for nuclear weapons. Whether or not admitted by the authors, consolidation would require construction of large new, expensive facilities at the receiver sites, which a downsizing-in-place strategy would not require. Geographic consolidation has nothing to do with disarmament.
The environmental and economic justice aspects of any such consolidation plan, as well as the process by which it has been developed, are appalling. Those who would be impacted were not consulted. The injustice of such a process has excluded many voices and contributed to the impracticality of its outcome. The wider lessons that can be drawn should include a reassessment of the value of centralization in the peace and security community.
In our view, the portion of the report dealing with the weapons complex will be sound to the extent it would –
In terms of nuclear policy, any report like tomorrow's should reiterate a clear commitment to work toward complete nuclear disarmament. While it has become somewhat fashionable and even commonplace to profess a commitment to long-term nuclear abolition, the proof of all such rhetoric – whether from the Obama Administration, NGOs, or foreign capitals – lies in clear, disarmament-oriented actions proposed and pursued in the current year, i.e. now.
Given the absence of any requirement for newly produced pits, the appropriate production level for new pits is zero, as noted above and as the House Appropriations Committee has already proposed. Existing pits will last longer than the facilities that would be built primarily for the purpose of making more of them. There are thousands of pits being held in reserve and still other thousands being liberated as a result of dismantlement.
We are unimpressed with proposals that would invest in new long-lived facilities, which consolidating weapons complex sites would require. There is no logic in building up in order to downsize.
Study Group President Peter Neils: “We are quite concerned that the strategy articulated by the nuclear consolidation network is likely to have the opposite effect of the goals stated. To reduce our nation's commitment to nuclear weapons, and actually take a step towards disarmament, we need to gradually, safely, and prudently reduce operations of the complex in its current locations, downsizing it in place, an action which would save money and minimize risk of all kinds at every step.”
Executive Director Greg Mello: “This coalition suggests that consolidation, implicitly requiring billions of dollars in new infrastructure, will somehow reduce commitment to nuclear weapons, on the thin supposition that reducing state congressional delegations will reduce political support. Given that the complex is now over 90% privatized, with several huge corporations deriving substantial profits from their involvement, this rationale is naïve. All in all, geographic consolidation doesn’t make sense, from either the perspective of nuclear sustainers or that of nuclear abolitionists like us.”
***End of April 7 release***
April 8 update
There is indeed much to praise in this report. Most of the big-picture nuclear weapons policy and stockpile management approaches outlined here reprise themes that have been developed by many organizations, including this one, over the past 15 years. And there are some welcome new additions, which update these principles to some) current proposals.
Some elements represent an evolution in thinking over the past year or two, and even in the last month in one important case, by the authoring organizations. If consistently pursued and explored, this evolution is very welcome as well.
As expected, however, the nameplate “consolidation” plan is no more practical or desirable than it has been at any other time over the past two years. It’s supposed budgetary benefits are illusory.
There appear to be three main unrealistic assumptions underpinning the weapons complex plan in this report:
Taken together, these assumptions are tantamount to assuming the answer one wants. They are difficult to square with the sophistication of the authors.
There is also a glaring contradiction at the heart of this plan. If the stockpile is assumed to be 500 warheads very soon, which would be nice but isn’t a realistic basis for planning, and if it is assumed to be going to zero thereafter, why would it make sense to build new consolidated facilities, which would in every case have a long payback time (or be impractical and uneconomic over any realistic time period, as in the case of KCP consolidation)?
As one of the authors explained at a public meeting last fall, the primary principle behind this plan is diminishment of congressional support for nuclear weapons, to be achieved by piling up the nuclear weapons complex in as few states as possible, especially New Mexico. Good management and fiscal economy are not the driving purposes. The report’s details about the future weapons complex have been loosely backfilled around this political theory, which we judge to be quaint and mistaken.
The plan’s economic and environmental injustice is thus its central operating principle. That is why the plan and its preparations had to be kept secret from people and groups in the target area until yesterday.
 For details see Los Alamos Study Group, The U.S. nuclear weapons complex: Pushing for a new production capability, Mar 21, 2008; Build Warhead Factories Now, Worry about Weapons Policy Later -- Will Congress Take Back the Reins?, Feb 12, 2008; Letter to key congressional and executive branch individuals re: CMRR, Jun 11, 2008.
 For example see Los Alamos Study Group, “Short Precis on Pit Production Operating and Capital Project Issues,” June 10, 2008, and elsewhere at http://www.lasg.org.