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March 10, 2012

Bulletin #146: Fundraising request (donors – thank you!); new developments and press coverage; next steps

If you haven’t seen the profile of our recent work by veteran reporter Roger Snodgrass
in the Santa Fe New Mexican, here it is.   For reference: Our best CMRR resources (pdf) as of Feb 22, 2012.

Dear friends –

1. First and most important in this Bulletin: fundraising request (donors – thank you!)

Thanks to help from many of you – in a variety of forms – we have helped delay indefinitely (“at least five years”) the proposed new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 

In the process many doors have opened, in general and to us specifically, and not just in nuclear weapons policy.  Many national security-related policies are now far more fluid than they seem.  The bottom line is that for historic reasons a lot of political boundaries are dissolving for those of us interested in discovering, together, what’s true and decent, in a time when truth and decency are under siege.  This is a different kind of politics than is usually assumed these days.  It’s the only kind we at the Study Group are interested in. [1]  

In New Mexico especially this level of influence may be hard to understand.  We see mostly open doors in New Mexico too, across a range of issues.  We just don’t see very many barriers, period – or perhaps it’s just that we know how to dissolve them.  Time and money do limit us badly however, both in our direct policy work and in our education of the rising generation, which we desperately need to provide with useful tools and transformative experience.  Our young people will lead soon enough and we have to prepare them, as we are doing in our UNM internship program, which we hope will become a major emphasis this summer.

We want to walk through those open doors, and we want to do so in solidarity with you.  First, however, I have to write and ask for your financial help.  The Study Group’s coffers are quite empty.  If you aren’t a supporter of this organization, would you consider becoming one?  If you are, would you consider talking to your friends about getting involved? 

I know it may be inconceivable to many of you, but we have to weigh responding to decisionmakers in government who have asked for our help, with responding to queries from news media here and abroad, with trying to find the right message or formula to raise enough money just to pay expenses. 

In many ways it is easier to get a sound provision written into federal law than to organize a successful meeting in which we can seriously discuss our own future in this state.  I am dead serious about this comparison.  It’s very real.  (Yes, this has been a surprise to us, too.  The level of discouragement and disempowerment in our communities is severe.) 

For some years now we have been largely supported by a few hundred small donors and a handful of small foundation grants.  While not of our choosing, this has a lot of pluses.  One is that we are truly an independent grassroots organization and at the same time a professional and technical one, based to the best of our ability on science and human values.  Yet unlike most professional organizations we have no large foundation grants and we haven’t in many years.  (We keep trying.) 

Not infrequently, we get checks from people whom we know are making a big sacrifice to enable our work.  As you might imagine, this is very inspiring for us.  Our median donation is just $50.   Checks with four digits are much less common that we would like.    

Frequently people ask us, “What can I do to help?”  When we say, “educate yourself and talk to your friends and associates,” people tend to become abashed. 

Please don’t be.  Please do talk to your friends.  And if, among these, some are interested in the Study Group or find our work useful, please ask them to become sustaining donors (here’s the form, pdf), or to make a one-time contribution (electronically, here, or by check to the address below) of any appropriate size.  Contributing by check avoids a 3% fee.  

We will be happy to meet with you and your friends as a group.  We will try to follow up on any other concrete suggestion you may have if it is within our reach.  

I am asking for your help in reaching potential donors, but this request is not just about resources for the Study Group.  It’s also about all of us being serious about the future of nuclear weapons – and for we New Mexicans, the future of our state. 

If we care enough we will find a way to speak and to act effectively.  If you are looking for an easy or risk-free way to effect major social and political change you might want to rethink your assumptions. 

If you want you can share today’s profile of our organization (“Activist's experience, passion culminate in LANL project delay”) with your friends, or you can tell them this:

The circa $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) has been indefinitely deferred (i.e. deferred for “at least five years”).  It was the nation’s flagship warhead production plant project.  To date, $635 million (M) has been appropriated for this one building – $994 million for both CMRR buildings. 

For a decade CMRR-NF was said to be essential.  Now, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has finally agreed with us: it was never needed

Twelve years ago, when the project was first announced, we said:

“It’s the ambitions of the nuclear materials program at Los Alamos that is driving this new, bigger facility,” said Mello.  “We don’t really need a new facility.  We have the plutonium facility we need if we don’t undertake a suite of new plutonium missions that crowd one another out.” [2]

We said we’d fight hard against this monstrosity and the supposed “need” for new warheads that lay behind it.

[Nuclear-disarmament advocates] argue a new weapons lab for Los Alamos is just as unnecessary now in the wake of the Cold War as in 1990, when Congress killed lab plans for a $385 million Special Nuclear Materials Laboratory.

“It’s like a horror movie: It keeps coming back,” said Greg Mello, head of the Santa Fe-based Los Alamos Study Group.  “There’s never a stake through the heart.  When will we wake from the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ ideas?” [3]

 “We will fight pit production at any level, other than simple maintenance of the technology, with all means at our disposal,” Mello said. [4] (emphasis added, or restored). 

And so, enabled by your help, we did just that.  Starting in 1999, there were targeted billboards on I-25 (“Nuclear weapons production – here.  It’s the pits.”) [5]   Later, we organized hundreds of organizations and businesses, gave hundreds of briefings in Washington, and finally – with the help of attorneys Tom Hnasko, Lindsay Lovejoy, Diane Albert, and with strong participation from our board of directors, we sued – and just in the nick of time too. 

We almost lost this battle.  In the summer of 2010 NNSA and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) were gearing up to start construction that fall or winter.  In June, NNSA and LANL organized a meeting for potential subcontractors in Espanola.  They told reporters, and us, that their initial bid packages were ready.  In August, they announced a date of October 1 for the first $60 million in bid requests. 

We sued on August 16, 2010.  The project lacked any vestige of an applicable environmental impact statement (EIS), a condition of legal nudity.  They chose to affix a fig leaf, the Supplemental EIS (SEIS), during the preparation of which construction could not occur.  It wasn’t the best outcome, but it did stop construction long enough for Congress and the Administration to wake up.  As Wellington said about Waterloo, “It was a near-run thing.”   

To get some idea of what a $5 billion nuclear facility under construction looks like, here’s a picture of the Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS).  (This is another entirely unnecessary and wasteful project that will create far more problems than it is supposed to solve, but that’s another story.)  This didn’t happen here.  LANL and NNSA were desperate to start construction, even before design was completed, to “set the hook” in Congress.  And once a huge hole gets dug, and long-lead contracts are let, it is much harder to get such a thing stopped, no matter how great the folly. 

2. New developments and press coverage

Since our last Bulletin we’ve had some more good news:

Since these stories we have learned that these “cuts” savor less of reality and more of propaganda.  They play to audiences in Congress and New Mexico.  Stay tuned for more from us on this.

On the legal front we recently filed a motion (pdf) in the 10th Circuit, asking the court to accept into evidence NNSA’s newest CMRR-NF plan, vacate Judge Herrera’s decision dismissing our case, and remand back to the lower court with instructions to write a fresh EIS for the CMRR-NF project, now changed dramatically again.  NNSA and DOE have now made the triple decision to a) use existing facilities to do some of what CMRR-NF was going to do while decreasing the purpose and need of CMRR-NF by choosing to lower the (arbitrary) pit production capacity; b) completely re-scope the project for the long run; and c) continue designing CMRR-NF as if the other decisions had not been made.  NNSA must respond (pdf) by March 19.  Stay tuned.

Also, NNSA has decided to increase, by a factor of four, the amount of plutonium which the Radiological Laboratory, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB) will contain.  Normally, this would make this facility into a Nuclear Facility (“NLUOB”?), but NNSA seems to have created a loophole.  They make the rules, after all.  Handy, how that works. 

Details of the new “distributed capability” option for handling and storing plutonium are being drafted by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which has a great financial self-interest in the outcome.  Sad to say, that’s the kind of management we have come to expect from NNSA.  Contractors rule. 

3. Next steps for us  

As I am sure you realize these Bulletins are mined for intelligence by a variety of parties whose interests don’t always coincide with ours.  So I will be brief for that reason – and also because if we don’t raise money we won’t be able to do much of anything. 

As some of you know we have been to Washington, DC for three weeks already this year.  We will go back soon enough, but in the meantime our help is being requested on nuclear weapons legislation, on other infrastructure projects, and we are working on some overall enterprise management issues. 

New and upgraded nuclear warheads are planned.  They needn’t be. 

Pit management and plutonium issues in general are in flux and need our help. 

We hope to host a series of seminars in New Mexico on nuclear topics.

As mentioned above, we hope to be working with more interns this summer.  Our outstanding UNM intern Mika Armenta is blazing a fine trail. 

We don’t see nuclear weapons policy as separate from other national and New Mexico security issues.  This affects our program here. 

There’s more, but that’s enough for tonight.

Thanks for your patience with the long Bulletin everybody,

Greg and Trish, for the Study Group

[1] It ought to go without saying that in a culture such as ours, steeped in and largely overwhelmed by propaganda and advertising, people of conscience probably should redouble our efforts toward deepening our common understandings, our con-science. 

I say this to draw a sharp contrast with the political culture that seeks the ever-higher-volume repetition of slogans, “talking points,” and “messages.”  Thirst for power and prestige seems to have broken all proportion.  In our recent travels, and the outreach Trish has been doing, we have seen more emphatically than ever that a great many people misunderstand this organization.  We are not an activist or advocacy group as these terms are usually understood. 

Surveying the scene, from Occupy to the councils of the nuclear weapons enterprise and all the places in between, I want to ask interested parties – especially political activists of all stripes – whether it might be the case that the common search for truth and that alone is uniquely necessary and sufficient for all wholesome ends. 

I mean it as a very practical question for thought and discussion.  We can take it up in future meetings, some of which we are counting on some of you to help us organize.

[2] Ian Hoffman, “Taps Sound for LANL Facility,” Albuquerque Journal North, 2/19/00.

[3] Ian Hoffman, “Bingaman Seeks Funds for Design of Weapons Facility,” Albuquerque Journal North, 4/15/99.

[4] Jennifer McKee, “Nuke Report Vexes Activists,” Albuquerque Journal North, 1/6/00.

[5] For a retrospective on that campaign see "The Billboard Campaign: The Los Alamos Study Group and the Nuclear Public Sphere," Joseph Masco, Public Culture, Vol 17, Number 3, Fall 2005, pdf.

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