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Key resources: nuclear weapons ban, plutonium pit production


October 1, 2017 

Bulletin 235: Fall fundraising request; news and quick updates

Dear friends and colleagues –

1. Fall fundraising request

We here at the Study Group – staff, board, and volunteers -- are proud of what we have been able to do over the past 28 years, largely thanks to your solidarity and concrete help. To our donors and supporters, thank you.

Success doesn't automatically translate into the funding needed to win again, however. Now has come 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 outreach on our behalf. Unlike many nonprofits and politicians, we don’t – and we won’t – ask often.

There are many ways to support our work. Donations, whether single or recurring each month, can be securely made (or set up, if monthly) via JustGiving. (They do take 3% and they have just started using a sign-in process.) You can set up a secure monthly donation directly with us. Or you can send a check; our address is at the bottom of this email. Or you can email Trish, or phone the office (505-265-1200), to make donations by credit card without going through JustGiving. You can use PayPal. Stock can be donated, averting capital gains and the associated taxes. The Study Group can sell that extra car (or whatever) for you. You can remember the Study Group in your will.

In New Mexico, it is likely that we can appear at a public or private educational event you organize, schedule permitting. We are generally more than happy to speak or lead a discussion on any of the issues we work on, and often we can answer questions on related issues as well.

Over the past quarter-century we have played a significant role in halting a variety of nuclear weapons projects – weapons and infrastructure, both. We’ve led protests, filed lawsuits and won most of them, published many original analyses, held hundreds of public meetings, catalyzed thousands of news articles (some traces, here), and played a useful role in successful international negotiations. Our focused, on-the-ground education and lobbying in Washington has been quite cost-effective – and successful, as much so as that of large organizations. Along the way we’ve mentored more than thirty interns, fellows, and junior staff, including three interns this summer, with more to come.

Since 1989 we’ve played a central role in preventing a renascence of plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production, an area of particular expertise for us. There have been seven or eight attempts to build a new pit factory over these years and we have been involved in defeating each of them. A new attempt is now underway.

When the last-proposed new pit facility at LANL was halted indefinitely in 2012, one congressional staff member exclaimed, "You and Trish are rock stars! Every time our chairman demanded to know why construction hadn't started, NNSA said your lawsuit prevented them!"

That facility – finally cancelled in 2014 after an expenditure of $500 million – was the only nuclear weapons modernization project halted during the Obama Administration.

Right now we are quite happy about the brand-new nuclear ban treaty. This organization is proud to have been deeply involved in that effort.

New Mexico is a nuclear battlefield. Its economy is weak, its politics fraught. This is in no small part due to corruption of the state’s identity, leadership, and civil society organizations by nuclear weapons institutions. Arms control deals struck soon after the Cold War and again under Obama contribute to maintaining New Mexico as a nuclear sacrifice zone. Even assuming otherwise enlightened leadership, New Mexico will spiral down further if the state becomes home to a facility for commercial spent nuclear fuel, as some are attempting. Such a facility would be a permanent, not “interim,” hazard on a massive scale.

Such factors as these make our job complicated but they also give us standing as well as insights not easily acquired otherwise.

This concludes our request at this time. If you have any questions at all we will try to answer them.

2. Action suggestions this time:

We are not going to ask you to take trivial actions that will not be effective.

  • Consistent with the theme of this Bulletin, our first suggested action is, one way or another, to help raise funds for this organization to continue the fight against new warheads, new plutonium pits, and the new factories to make them. Besides donating yourself if you are not already doing so, one simple step is to forward this Bulletin to your friends with your endorsement, and ask them to join this mailing list. Previous Bulletins and press releases are on our web site.
  • Organize full-time climate activists in your church, business, or organization. Almost all churches have sufficient in-kind and (the modest) cash resources necessary to support at least one dedicated young person. Focus on practical, concrete political organizing and community transition.
  • Simplify everything, in order to engage politically. Boycott ecocide! Progressively harvest the "low-hanging fruit" in lowering your climate footprint and use the resources liberated to organize concerted action. Dreams of 100% renewable energy in a high-energy society like ours today are fantasies. The need for a rapid, just transition to simpler, more resilient communities is pressing.
  • For New Mexico suggestions, see our local letter of Sept. 15. Also: agitate within organizations to which you belong (e.g. political parties, environmental organizations, nonprofits) to divest from nuclear weapons. For example, don’t allow your organization to greenwash or fund politicians who promote weapons of mass destruction! This is a big problem in New Mexico (look who helped put Senator Heinrich – a strong nuclear and military hawk; see his recent press release for just the latest example – into office). Our senators are among the most pro-nuclear weapons senators. They have been working closely with Republican hawks to promote and protect LANL plutonium warhead core ("pit") manufacturing in what is about to become a new law (see below).
  • Work among your friends and in your organizations to courageously discredit and counter the war propaganda coming from the mainstream media. And we need to roll back militarism in this country – fast. St. Pete for Peace is a positive example of what a small organization can do. Possibilities are endless.

3. Local Study Group letters: possibly useful to you

In addition to other resources on our web site, of late we have been putting more content into local letters than we have these more widely-distributed bulletins. We’ve lightly indexed the contents of those letters for easy reference, for ourselves and our active members.

4. Welcome the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons!

Campaigners around the world celebrated on Sept. 20 when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature. In the first week 53 countries signed and there were 3 ratifications (current Treaty status, via ICAN), an excellent start. The Treaty enters into force 90 days after the first 50 ratifications. You have already received our press release. We have collected our publications on the Ban Treaty along with other key resources and links here.

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. Robin Collier at Cultural Energy in Taos (KCEI 90.1 FM), did a news interview with us on the Ban on Sept. 26.

Other than at KCEI, news about this Treaty has been suppressed by the New Mexico news media, as it has been nationally. The opening of this Treaty was truly a historic occasion, a capstone of successful efforts by a majority of the world’s countries (122 voted for the treaty in negotiations), to prohibit nuclear weapons. How can that not be news, in New Mexico especially?

5. Counterpropaganda: “all are invited!”

In late 2013 we noticed that the New York Times seemed to be veering even farther than usual from objective reporting of foreign policy. Obviously-relevant facts were being mysteriously omitted, to an unusual and new degree. Then came the $5 billion US-sponsored coup d'état in Ukraine (“the most blatant coup in history”) and with that, all objectivity in US news media regarding Russia in particular flew out the window.

But even then, most of us could not imagine how low US media would fall in the space of the next three years. We could not foresee the barrage of lies, innuendo, and propaganda regarding “all things Russia,” the externally-supported rebellion in Syria, the perennially-mishandled North Korean crisis arising from US misdeeds past and present, the genocidal US-and UK-supported war in Yemen, and so much else that Americans (including and especially decisionmakers throughout government) are now subjected to on a daily basis.

But for sheer lunacy and endless repetition, the notion that Russia had something to do with the defeat of Hillary Clinton, and the ever-fresh and creative accusations of Russian perfidy that have sprouted in the media compost since then, really do take the cake. In sheer mendacity and scale the whole episode dwarfs anything I have ever seen.

What to do? We have organized a couple of teach-ins, which were a drop in the bucket. Obviously we can’t dissect all the lies, fill in all the strategic omissions, and point out how constantly innuendo now passes for fact in elite journalism in very important stories – not in this brief note, and not ever. It’s too much. But it’s something we can’t ignore either.

Think about it. This is a subject to which we must return. We are deeply disappointed that there are so few forums available in which to counter today’s all-encompassing propaganda.

Meanwhile, we have found Consortium News to be very useful. Reading and discussing that one excellent – and we find, quite reliable – source alone would go a long way toward raising some consciousness among peer groups.

6. Pits now and then

New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), along with Senator Tom 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 effort in July introduced a similar House amendment. Bundled with many others, it passed by a voice vote.

The amendment, which is about to become law after reconciliation with the slightly-different House version (for the Senate text 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 a congressionally-imposed, arbitrary demonstrated capacity of 50-80 pits per year by 2027 (see here for legal requirements), including any necessary new infrastructure;
b) allows the Pentagon and military to specify a more demanding pit production schedule beyond 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 site reaffirmed in a pro-forma 2013 "business case" analysis.

The bill concentrates decision-making 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).

For more the background of this amendment see Bulletin 229, this short fact sheet, and, web pages here and here with their links. What Heinrich and Udall are trying to do is to get the pit production ball rolling at Los Alamos, overcome the rational critique arising from responsible organs of government (like the Government Accountability Office, GAO – see here) and keep another state – South Carolina – from stealing this new pork.

New pits are needed only for a new warhead. To keep the labs busy a new warhead is needed. The military has very mixed views about this new warhead, as discussed in Bulletin 229 and previously. Obama didn’t have the guts to kill these stupid programs while he could. Now Trump is wrapped around the generals’ little finger.

Disposing of surplus plutonium via the MOX program, a circa $50 billion program centered in South Carolina, is failing and under attack by a broad political spectrum, from DOE to NNSA to neocons, to GAO to the Army Corps of Engineers to “good government” types inside and outside government to liberals and environmentalists. The South Carolina delegation is sniffing around the LANL pit production program as a backup to occupy the unfinished hyper-expensive Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility now being built at the Savannah River Site (SRS), as political compensation.

(Meanwhile LANL seeks to process all surplus US pit plutonium, a massive undertaking that would almost certainly crush LANL’s rather delicate ability to operate its plutonium complex at all. In our view, neither MOX nor “dilute and dispose” is feasible. Both are very expensive, which makes them attractive to the contractors who all-but-control NNSA.)

In the late 1990s, LANL gained the pit production mission by representing that it would not have to build any new facility to handle that mission. The capital and start-up cost at LANL that was estimated by DOE was $506 million in today’s dollars. For its part, LANL said at the time it could manufacture 50 pits per year right then. SRS, which has a wide variety of industrial and analytical facilities devoted to plutonium and related materials, plus extensive waste management facilities, was the second-place winner. No other sites were really feasible.

The state of play in the pit production siting process, as of April 1998, is summarized here. Adding another zero onto all the cost estimates would not be enough.

Basically LANL has been unable to reliably and safely execute the pit mission for 25 years. Of course, the biggest reason for this is that there is no need to make pits. “Pit production” is a sales pitch, not a management necessity and still less a desideratum. Making pits is not even legal under the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, remember? But who will enforce that? You and we can do that. 


Greg Mello

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2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

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