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Key resources: nuclear weapons ban, plutonium pit production

November 17, 2017 

Bulletin 236: Defense bill on Trump's desk contains Heinrich/Udall amendment seeking fresh mandate for plutonium pit factory at LANL

Dear friends and colleagues –

Yesterday (11/16/17) the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA: text; conference report) passed the Senate. It will now be signed by President Trump. Besides the Department of Defense and other defense entities, the bill authorizes programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-independent agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) that designs and builds nuclear warheads and contracts for the operation of the laboratories and production plants which do so.

The bill authorizes -- but does not actually provide -- defense spending. It attempts to set policy, which may or may not be always followed. The appropriations committees provide, or don't provide, funds and may set conditions and requirements, setting policy in these ways also.

This is a 740-page bill that authorizes $700 billion in military spending -- a staggering amount, more than President Trump requested and more than is allowable under Budget Control Act.

In other words Congress doesn't know how to pay for all the military spending it is authorizing. War on the Rocks has a good background analysis of this.

This spending supports, in addition to many active wars large and small, a worldwide network of roughly 800 military bases -- an empire of bases, maintained for the purpose of controlling the world. This project is failing of course, even as our own economy and society are imploding.

Senators Udall and Heinrich betray the true interests of New Mexico in their support of this bill, especially the nuclear weapons and special military pork provisions they sponsored within it.

The plutonium "pit" production aspect of this bill is particularly troubling, as it attempts to force the Department of Energy to build underground manufacturing facilities at LANL for the sole purpose of building new kinds of warheads in large quantities. The "senators from the labs" don't want a thorough vetting of LANL's pit proposals, and they are afraid South Carolina might steal their plutonium bacon. They want LANL to be a plutonium pit factory.

This morning's articles tell the main story well: "Moving Pit Production From New Mexico Would be Harder Under NDAA," Dan Leone, Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor; "Senate OKs defense bill, which presses for decision on pit work," Rebecca Moss, Santa Fe New Mexican.

The US has about 1,740 deployed warheads. In addition to these there are about 5,000 pits in reserve ("hedge") warheads and intact warheads awaiting dismantlement. In addition to all these, there are at least 16,000 intact pits in storage at the Pantex nuclear weapons factory near Amarillo, TX.

As LANL admits, pit production is not necessary to address aging issues. What is it for, then? It is for making a new kind of warhead (Interoperable Warhead #1, IW-1) in large quantities. There are already roughly 542 pits of the type needed for IW-1 (the W87 pit; see this analysis). The Navy, one of the two customers for this warhead, does not want it. Neither does the Air Force, rumor suggests. (Hint: it might not be accurate, and would be a very expensive gamble, requiring many missile tests in addition to everything else.)

For a readable overview of pit issues, see this new fact sheet. For more, see here.

We previously discussed the "Plutonium Capabilities" part of the bill (now Section 3141, e-page 622 in the enrolled text) in Bulletin 235 (under "Pits now and then").

The hypermilitarism embodied in this bill hurts New Mexico disproportionately in comparison to other states -- which is exactly the opposite of the proud support we see on the senators' web sites (Udall, Heinrich). Such priorities as these guarantee continuation of economic and social failure for New Mexico and the nation. They also undercut the work of progressive, environmentally-oriented leaders.

Attempting to force construction of underground plutonium factories at LANL really betrays Democratic Party voters and donors in northern New Mexico. If their plutonium "vision" comes to pass, Northern New Mexico would bear the brunt -- of increased nuclear convoys on the highways, increased waste generation, disposal (where?) and shipment, and above all the reputational damage and harm to the region's identity that would come from manufacturing the worst weapons of mass destruction, now outlawed.

For Catholics and indeed for all who profess religion it is noteworthy that this month, Pope Francis condemned the very possession of nuclear weapons. This is in line with the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (text, good FAQs, from ICAN), of which the Holy See is an early signatory ("Nuclear disarmament now a ‘moral imperative’ as Pope Francis rejects deterrence," Gerard O’Connell, America, November 13, 2017).

Once Trump signs the bill -- which could happen at any time -- NNSA is supposed to submit its proposed plan for expanded pit production to the congressional defense committees and the Secretary of Defense within 30 days. That is very little time for consideration of any alternatives which have not been carefully analyzed already.

That is all I want to say about this right now. We are furious at this betrayal. 

We can stop this as we have done before, but it will require some real come-to-Jesus conversations by all of us with our friends, privately and publicly.

Meanwhile, and quite germane, our November fundraising mailing is at the mailing house.

This morning we took some 400 pounds worth of fundraising requests, fact sheets, and enclosures to our excellent bulk mailing house. We hope this mailing bears good fruit.

Our introductory cover letter in this mailing is now posted, with active links, on our web site. Please feel free to send it to your friends and to discuss it with them.

As we say there, in so many words, this organization depends on you, and people like you. You have friends and contacts we do not.

Thank you all for your support, and please have a wonderful Thanksgiving. All other news must wait for another time.

Best wishes,

Greg, Trish, and the Study Group "family"

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