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For immediate release April 14, 2016

Senator Tom Udall: Proud of New Nuclear Weapons, Claims Excessive Credit for Routine, Must-Pass Bill

Contact: Greg Mello, gmello@lasg.org, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

ALBUQUERQUE – Today Senator Tom Udall issued a press release – which most journalist recipients of this press release will have received – in which he restated his proud support of U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs, while claiming credit for a routine appropriation committee markup.

There are several claims in that press release which have become normal propaganda in nuclear weapons circles, but which aren’t quite true.

We are quickly issuing this brief press release to call attention to the Senator’s priorities and dispute some of the claims made.

Study Group director Greg Mello: “We are very concerned about the senator’s proud support for the novel B61-12 nuclear bomb. This new bomb and others are igniting a new arms race, and they compete with critical human and environmental needs. We are concerned that Udall will continue to support this bomb and other modernized and upgraded warheads in budget battles later this year and beyond, including:

  • The Long-Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon and its associated warhead, which is opposed by ranking subcommittee member Feinstein;

  • The so-called Interoperable Warhead #1 (IW-1), support for which has largely evaporated in the executive branch outside the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA);

  • Expanded plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production;

  • The extravagant and partially unnecessary or misguided construction projects being lumped together at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement” line item (4-D-125) and the plutonium processing “modules” (aka the “Plutonium Modular Approach,” PMA) that are, with the CMRR, central in NNSA’s pit manufacturing program of record.” [See also the seemingly endless $1.4 billion Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB). NNSA’s CMRR project is described at p. 353ff in their budget request. See also our Feb. 9 press release and Bulletin 216, for a bit more.]

“We also want to go on the record saying that being proud of pork barrel spending through huge, politically-active contractors (which donate to one’s political career – and could donate massively to potential opponents) is in bad taste. It may be normal in this country but it’s corrupt, and it’s harming this state and the nation.

“As one former ambassador recently put it, the role of money in politics reduces the electorate to the equivalent of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. We can see what is happening but we can’t do anything about it. We see the huge role that money plays in Senator Udall’s press release, and we are saying, like a Greek chorus, that it is bringing us tragedy.”

The Udall press release concerns the routine annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and its nuclear weapons subset NNSA, the civilian functions of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), and a few other small agencies.

Quoting from the Udall press release, italics ours:

  • “Udall secured an increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which will boost Los Alamos and Sandia national labs.” The bill would increase NNSA funding by just 0.45% ($42 million, M) over the president’s request.

  • “Udall worked to ensure the bill fully funds the B61 and other nuclear weapons life extension projects at the national labs, appropriately funds WIPP recovery, advances DOE technology transfer, and that it increases funding for Los Alamos cleanup and other NNSA weapons activities.” Mello: “Yes, Udall was instrumental in rescuing the B61-12 when first proposed. The subcommittee markup funds WIPP $279.4 M, $8.4 M over the president’s request, and the LANL cleanup at $199 M, $10 M over the request. These are not huge bump-ups, and must be reconciled with the House in due course.”

  • “Our labs and WIPP are critically important employers and crucial to our national security. I'm proud to support them — and the New Mexicans who are employed there — by working on the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure the funding these facilities need to stay strong. As the appropriations process moves forward, I will continue standing up for New Mexico's labs and WIPP,” Udall said. Mello: “Is pork-barrel spending the purpose of his committee service?”

  • “I'm also very pleased that through this bill we are continuing to strengthen technology transfer at the national labs. Tech transfer can help us create a vibrant private sector in New Mexico by building on the cutting-edge creativity and research at the labs and making it easier to turn researchers' great ideas into successful, home-grown businesses. Over the last couple of years, we've made good, incremental progress, but we need to keep it up. I will keep pushing for provisions that encourage the Department of Energy to advance tech transfer.” Mello: “Tech transfer has never, in decades, created a vibrant private sector in New Mexico and there is no sign of that ever happening. ‘Good, incremental progress’ means essentially no progress. Where is this “vibrant” sector? Not here. These are flawed economic development ideas, as decades of data show. This is not leadership. It is pandering.”

  • “Senator Martin Heinrich praised the bill. Heinrich said: “This critical funding will ensure that Sandia and Los Alamos national labs and WIPP continue to play a vital role in addressing the nation's most pressing challenges and promote innovation through initiatives such as the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and technology commercialization opportunities. LDRD is a powerful tool that helps attract and retain top researchers from around the world to our labs, fosters collaborations with both large and small businesses, and expands areas such as advanced materials and manufacturing.” Mello: “Can anyone read this with a straight face?” [To learn more, see this weeks’ review of LDRD by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-16-486R.] “The labs love LDRD because it creates huge slush funds not accountable to Congress. DoD, which is much better managed than NNSA, limits LDRD to 3% of budget, while NNSA labs are allowed 6%. The essence of LDRD is lack of accountability. This is what Udall is defending.”

  • “The bill includes full funding for several life extension (LEP) projects carried out at Los Alamos and Sandia national labs, including the B61 LEP. The B61 LEP maintains our nation's nuclear weapons stockpile while allowing for the eventual elimination of the nation's largest warhead, the B83. Mello: “The B83 was going to be retired anyway, with or without the B61-12.”

  • “The bill’s LEP funding levels will allow the labs, if needed, to hire additional scientists and engineers to extend the life of existing warheads.” Mello: “This is the problem. ‘Extend the life’ is a lying euphemism for redesign and ‘improve,’ with new capabilities that make our world a more dangerous place. These decisions have huge international ramifications in Russia, China, and in the success and failure of nonproliferation efforts around the world. They should not be decided by pork-barrel considerations, in what amounts to legalized form of pay-to-play politics.”  

***ENDS***


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