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"Forget the Rest" blog

Nuclear “Consolidation” Network Proposes
Southwest Nuclear Weapons Complex

April 7, 2009

Contact:
In Washington, DC: Greg Mello, 505-577-8563
In New Mexico: Peter Neils, 505-259-5437

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 –

  • Downsize and consolidate the nuclear weapons complex and its activities at the existing sites, which due to infrastructure and workforce considerations are by far the most optimal, practical, safest, and cheapest locations for the work they now perform;

  • Apply to a range of realistic potential future nuclear stockpiles, from about 4,600 total warheads (the previous administration’s plan for 2012[1]) down to one-tenth that size.  Plans that assume quick, deep nuclear disarmament are unrealistic and merely rhetorical;

  • Assume no new-design production, especially for nuclear explosive components like pits and secondaries with their heavy infrastructure requirements;

  • Abandon the specious and bureaucratically self-serving notion of “capability-based deterrence” in favor of actual current and evolving stockpile requirements, including contingency requirements as downsized by the back-up and re-use studies suggested below;

  • Make full use of re-qualified nuclear components in Life Extension Programs (LEPs) and to provide stockpile backups where appropriate;

  • Halt the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project, specifically the proposed Nuclear Facility, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and re-scope procurement of special facility equipment (SFE) for the first CMRR building, now nearly complete[2];

  • Critically review the “need” for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12, a project we only partially understand, recognizing however that Y-12 is the best site for uranium activities;

  • Withdraw the Kansas City Responsive Infrastructure Manufacturing & Sourcing” (KCRIMS) proposal in favor of keeping Kansas City Plant (KCP) functions at the Bannister Federal Complex (BFC), the cheapest, best, and only other truly practical option[3];

  • Downscale or close out a number of Weapons Activities programs and projects because they are either partially or wholly completed, or unnecessary, or unsuccessful, or predictable failures, or duplicative[4];

  • Halt all manufacture of new pits and secondaries for the stockpile, keeping existing facilities and production lines in “warm standby” mode, manufacturing these components only for evaluation purposes[5];

  • Slow the pace of, and limit the quantitative and qualitative scope of, LEPs in anticipation of smaller stockpiles and fewer types of bombs and warheads;

  • Initiate independent and in-depth reviews of:

    • component reuse, stockpile redundancies and backups, comparing capital and operating costs for alternative stockpile management strategies (it is much cheaper to keep old components than build new ones);

    • Plutonium and uranium facilities throughout the Department of Energy (DOE) complex, current and planned, in relation to potentially down-scoped missions in Weapons Activities, MOX (for which discontinuation is an option), plutonium disposition overall, Pu-238 heat source production, and related missions;

    • Complex-wide infrastructure requirements with their associated costs, after completion of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and its subsequent stockpile plan;

  • Protect worker safety and the environment;

  • Keep nuclear weapons and materials safe and secure;

  • As a result of the above workload reductions, cut Weapons Activities spending at about 15% in real terms for the next 3 years, especially at the weapons labs, minimizing costs while avoiding management fiascoes by down-scoping missions, and finally also

  • Seek budget authority to protect employees’ economic security as they separate from NNSA; and

  • Provide incentives for nationally-needed work in communities near NNSA facilities, building local and national economies.

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:

  • The U.S. nuclear stockpile is going to immediately and permanently decline to 500 total weapons, therefore that stockpile comprises a realistic planning basis right now.

  • The workload of the complex needed to maintain these warheads and dismantle retired warheads is minimal.  The Study Group has been advocating curatorship and disarmament for 20 years.  At the production plants in particular, we know that more work is necessary, and resources provided, than assumed here.

  • There need be no large capital expenses – no large new construction – at the receiver sites.  This is ridiculous.  This report assumes facilities which do not exist.

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.

***ENDS***



[1] As recently estimated (pdf) by Hans Kristensen and Stan Norris of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), respectively.

[3] See Los Alamos Study Group, Interim summary of views: Kansas City Plant, (pdf) Oct 13, 2008. 

[4] For details see Los Alamos Study Group, Letter to Congress re nuclear appropriations, Part I and Part II, May 13 and 14, 2008.

[5] 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.


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