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May 3, 2013

Bulletin #169: Quash the Obama nuclear surge: campaign roll-out in NM next week; please come or otherwise help.  Briefings and public discussions:

  • Santa Fe: Wednesday, May 8, 6:30 pm, at the Santa Fe Woman’s Club, 1616 Old Pecos Trail
  • Albuquerque: Thursday, May 9, 6:30 pm, Study Group offices, 2901 Summit Place NE
We are sad to announce that our colleague and director Rosamund Evans died yesterday from complications associated with cancer.  Rosamund, a veteran of the civil rights struggle and many others, was a dear friend and will be sorely missed. 

Dear friends –

As we warned in our last Bulletin (#168: “Obama administration to request major increase in NNSA nuclear weapons spending”, April 9), the Administration has proposed a surge in nuclear weapons spending and programs (see April 10 Press release #2, with graphs, and #1, before budget release). 

The forthcoming Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) requests an unending surge.

We briefly summarized some of our immediate concerns in a letter to congressional colleagues on April 17. 

I went to Washington for a week to discuss these new developments and other concerns of long standing.  As usual Trish – Albuquerque “mission control” – set up DC meetings and did the countless other things that keep us going. 

I learned a great deal there.  The sum of it is this: while there are excellent people in this administration, too many people in power think real reform is not possible, to the extent they seek it at all. Congressional paralysis is severe, perhaps beyond all precedent, but in nuclear weapons policy the Administration is basically paralyzing itself by not having a preferred direction.  It’s just not clear what the White House (and its Party) want in terms of nuclear policy, and in those cases where the White House might have a view, capitulation before negotiation seems to be the rule. 

There is a Nuclear Posture Implementation Plan – a plan for the stockpile plan that would significantly cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  It sits on the President’s desk unsigned, as a senior administration official confirmed to me.   It may never be signed.  We just don’t know.  

More broadly, as one veteran journalist put it to me in Washington, “At some point the Administration must decide what not to do.” 

So while the entrenched nuclear bureaucrats and the contractors and lobbyists are powerful, as is the small but vocal “nuclear weapons caucus” in Congress, the real problem in our view is the lack of political courage and the generally low expectations among Administration and congressional liberals.  

The upshot of this absent leadership is that few warheads are being retired (only 146 since February 2011, when the New START went into effect) and plans to design and produce new kinds of warheads and bombs are heating up. 

These plans, which require building and operating more and larger factories and labs than would mere maintenance, are very expensive.  As a result – or perhaps merely to deny an issue to Republicans – the Administration now foresees at least a decade of continually rising nuclear warhead budgets. 

In its recent budget request the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) formally requested the first five years of those increases.  If NNSA is able to get its “foot in the door” on the new weapons projects it plans, even larger increases will be requested to try and keep them on track, as many congressional and administration sources agree. 

As we said in our press release, the initial budget increases are to be financed in part by cutbacks in NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation programs.  Some of these cuts (e.g. to the MOX program for plutonium disposition) are richly deserved. 

Spiraling costs mean that most of these grand warhead plans will come crashing down sooner or later.  (The latest warning comes from the Navy via the Washington Post this week: the cost of replacing Ohio-class Trident submarines threatens to drastically shrink the Navy, to the point of eliminating its global character.)  

But in the meantime these grandiose nuclear plans are and will cause havoc.  They support Russian nuclear weapons investments and upgrades, undercut nonproliferation efforts, and they distract us from the real crises we face.  They delude us into a nostalgic and childish view of the crises we face.  They waste money as well as precious political attention and time.  And time, where our true national security is concerned, is not on our side. 

They also make some people rich, and make political careers.

Slouching toward Santa Fe: the proposed “Modular Pit Factory” (MPF)

Since the late 1980s, when the Department of Energy (DOE) realized the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver was nearing the end of its useful life, DOE has sought new and expanded facilities to manufacture the plutonium cores (“pits”) of nuclear warheads. 

We now know pit plutonium doesn’t age much, so replacing the plutonium parts of pits in existing warheads isn’t necessary (see Los Alamos Study Group, “Plutonium in Warhead Cores (“Pits”) Stable to 150 Years,” Dec 6, 2012 and Study Group comments on LANS letter in response to the Study Group's Dec 6 press release, Dec 12, 2012).  

As we wrote in 2006 there was a December 1988 plan, a stealth 1989 plan, a February 1991 plan, a July 1993 plan, and a May 1995 plan finalized in late 1996.  All these were defeated by various combinations of citizen intervention, congressional skepticism, the facts on the ground, and above all a lack of any actual technical need. 

At LANL, we defeated the big Special Nuclear Materials Research and Development Laboratory (SNML) in 1990.  Trish and her Amarillo colleagues defeated a proposed big plutonium processing plant at Pantex that year as well.  The Study Group bird-dogged to death the ill-starred Nuclear Materials Storage Facility (NMSF) at LANL in 1998, meant to anchor a pit capacity expansion.  

Most recently and importantly, our litigation and analysis played a central role in the delay and eventual demise of the huge Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), at the time NNSA’s largest and highest-priority infrastructure project.  CMRR-NF was similar to the earlier SNML, but with a far greater price tag.  The downfall of CMRR-NF (after wasting at least $500 million [M]) caused a huge uproar in the armed services committees and nuclear bureaucracies that is still going on, a year and a half after indefinite “delay.” 

Naturally now there’s a new plan, sort of.  We’ve had inklings of it for the past year, which is about as much as has been revealed to Congress.  Now a little more is known. 

The billion-dollar “interim” plan that NNSA told Congress about a year ago (our comments are here, here, here, here, and here) is now the first phase of a vague, evolving, but bigger, plan.  That plan is likely to cost billions of dollars if all its phases are ever built. 

The new long-range plan involves constructing up to “6 to 8" underground laboratory and production "modules" at LANL’s Technical Area (TA-) 55 and the "recapitalization" of LANL’s main plutonium facility (PF-4).  We might call it the "Modular Pit Factory" (MPF), recalling the “Modern Pit Facility” of 2003, which included a “TA-55 Upgrade Option” not terribly dissimilar to this plan. 

Pieces of the interim plan are scattered throughout NNSA’s budget request. 

NNSA would jump-start its new plans, whatever they precisely are, using $120 M in stranded CMRR funds, if the armed services committees follow appropriators in allowing that.  A rushed “business case analysis” is being done to satisfy them. 

But there are no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement (EIS), and no schedule. 

Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, despite NNSA’s abysmal management records, the agency claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent to get this project going, starting right now

No U.S. warhead requires new pits.  None of this is about maintaining warheads.  The supposed need for new pits, and a new pit factory, is closely tied to plans for two proposed new warheads:

  • A proposed W78/W88 "interoperable" Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles.  Privately, Administration and congressional sources agree this is "a new warhead."  Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” it might require pit production.

  • The proposed "Long-Range Stand-Off" (LRSO) missile warhead, to go on the proposed LRSO, which would be carried by the proposed new nuclear-capable bomber fleet, none of which are as yet designed.  This warhead too might require pit production.

President Obama might not know it, but NNSA now claims to need a higher pit production rate of 50-80 new pits per year after 2030, when the MPF would be open for business (as would be the Uranium Processing Facility, UPF, in Tennessee).  That means NNSA foresees other new warheads beyond these two. 

In 1996 LANL was chosen for the pit production mission on the basis of a total estimated capital cost of $310 M (in 1995 dollars; that’s $473 M today).  This included refurbishment of PF-4 and all other capital investments necessary to achieve a 50 pit/year capacity.   At the same time, internal DOE documents recognized that no pit production was actually needed “for the foreseeable future” (see history and discussion here). 

Since then, billions of dollars have been spent on the pit production mission and billions more have been requested.  Now we have a new plan which would build a Rube Goldberg scheme of underground foundries, bunkers, labs, and factories in an active seismic zone atop a poorly-anchored stratum of loose volcanic ash, linked to each other and with existing facilities (which would be rebuilt) by tunnels in unknown ways, to serve unknown missions at an unknown ultimate cost, to make pits that are not needed except for warheads which have not been requested, designed, tested, or certified, which nobody can use, under a nonproliferation regime (the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) that requires complete nuclear disarmament.    

We have seen many bad plans at DOE, but this one really takes the cake. 

Not just this plan but the entire corpus of NNSA planning is very shaky.  Many false premises are suddenly under greater scrutiny, because Congress has little faith that NNSA can actually complete all the warhead and construction projects it has laid out.  Internationally, nuclear weapons modernization plans and failure to proceed with disarmament are coming under greater scrutiny, as are nuclear weapons generally.  Increasing numbers of people and states understand that the collateral damage from nuclear weapons begins long prior to any actual use of them, and it takes many forms.

Please help us defeat these plans as we have defeated prior ones

These LANL developments, which like CMRR-NF are closely linked to an aggressive nuclear weapons agenda, are outrageous.  Managerially they are unwarranted under any logical nuclear weapons policy at all.  They perfectly express the fundamental insanity that lies at the deepest heart of NNSA’s management problems – why all the reforms attempted have failed and will fail.  NNSA and any successor agency could be improved, and we have lots of practical ideas how to do that, but in the final analysis U.S. nuclear warhead programs will never be well-run. 

These plans indicate a runaway nuclear weapons policy that runs counter to President Obama's rhetoric, his Nobel Prize, U.S. nonproliferation objectives, and binding treaty law. 

For these reasons we are launching, on Wednesday, a local, national, and international campaign to defeat these proposals – and to hold our local politicians accountable for promoting nuclear corporate interests instead of developing our communities. 

We will use any and all nonviolent means to defeat these proposals, as necessary and appropriate.  We demand life-affirming security policies that can address our truly grave human, environmental, and economic needs.  We will be working closely with international organizations beginning this summer (look for more in the next Bulletin).  We will identify Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and northern New Mexico as a highly-nuclearized, socially-blighted region devoted to the furtherance of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear corporate interests under the oppressive "leadership" of our senators and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, all of whom fully support these plans.  New Mexico as a whole – so far from God, so close to Los Alamos – will be tarred. 

Please come to one of the two meetings above to learn more. 

Please consider helping this effort financially (you can donate here, or become a sustaining donor, send a check, or write Trish to donate stock, make a bequest, or make other arrangements). 

Please write us if you have even a little time to help, no matter where you live.  We are developing new ways to help, whether you live nearby, in other U.S. states, or in other countries. 

The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi

That’s the name, but as we all know the reality is increasingly different.  I said “slouching toward Santa Fe,” not “Los Alamos,” for a reason.  Santa Fe is now increasingly “inside the fence.” 

Until 2006 the University of California (UC), and since then Los Alamos National Security (LANS), and at all times DOE and NNSA, have assiduously sought to quell protest, undermine environmental regulation, and prevent bad publicity for LANL.  They have become quite successful at community and public relations, in addition to the lobbying, campaign contributions, “lending” staff to “help” members of Congress, and the hundred other tricks of the influence trade that LANS’ free access to tens of millions of taxpayer dollars makes possible. 

(This money is “free” because it is quite plentiful and entirely unregulated.  How can this be?  For starters every LANL program, project and salary is taxed internally to pay for categories of overhead which include, or for some programs just are, lobbying and propaganda.  In addition, corporate profit – “fee” – is freely available to the trustees and their managers, as are the resources of the LANS parent companies, an effectively bottomless pool.  Employees’ and managers’ own funds can be used, e.g. as campaign contributions.  In addition, many LANS jobs are themselves primarily lobbying or propaganda, and LANS can grant leave to “assist” governments.  In addition, DOE, especially the “green”-sounding office of the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, has many ways to grant money to its friends or hire contractors for services rendered.  Very lucrative jobs can be offered, for example to former congressional staff and federal or state regulators.  For large political donors and wealthy politicians, corporate investment opportunities and hedge fund(s) are available.  In all these ways and more, the privatized LANS led by Bechtel – the scope, scale, and influence of which boggle the mind – has in practical terms unlimited funds available to bend government policy.)

Bechtel-led LANS and its sponsor DOE use these funds and their many local “front groups” to buy friends and to buy silence.   In many ways Santa Fe is within the LANS security perimeter.  Indeed LANS and its Sandia partner Lockheed-Martin have built a political fence around the New Mexico congressional delegation, and the result is what you see: poverty and despair. 

DOE pays large but fickle sums to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), which regulates LANL and sets discharge and cleanup requirements.  DOE provides a large annual payoff each of four surrounding Indian tribes (the “Accord” tribes), a practice which began when then-DOE Undersecretary Charles Curtis made an emergency trip to New Mexico to keep the Pueblos from joining the successful Study Group–led lawsuit to delay the DARHT project. 

LANS paid the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF) handsomely to run its (useless, in our view) RACER environmental database.  DOE, through NMCF, recently paid over a million dollars to local and national “antinuclear” groups to drum up participation in its various “comment” processes that provide a benign outlet for concerned citizens and watchdogs.  The LANL Foundation reaches into local communities and school districts with what school administrators have told us are intrusive grant priorities.  The direct political campaign contributions are huge – the largest, for example, in the career of former Senator Jeff Bingaman.  There’s a “Citizens Advisory Board,” funded and tightly controlled by DOE. 

Then there’s the fiscally-giant Los Alamos County itself, its coffers stuffed with gross receipts taxes from LANS.  Reliable sources tell us that LA County, which as I recall has something like 850 employees for a county of roughly 18,000 people, was going to make so much money from taxes on CMRR-NF construction they would have something like $100 million left over in the bank –a sort of local “sovereign wealth fund.” 

LA County is a member of the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), a national lobbying group.  LANL subcontractors have their own lobbying and outreach organization.  The local union, because of its Democratic Party role, is powerful.  A lead organizer of “Occupy Santa Fe” told us that he struck a deal with a union representative to make sure statements made at last year’s “Occupy”-themed Hiroshima Day protest would not undercut jobs at LANL.  The union threatened a counter-demonstration without that commitment.  They got it. 

On and on it goes.  Listing and quantifying the many ways in which LANL, both in its UC and in its LANS incarnations, has successfully bought local and national influence would make an interesting (and a long) book, almost as long as the ever-growing list of scandals and rip-offs it must keep hiding. 

In 2010 there was a new turn of the screw, probably related in one way or another to the immediate but endangered (by us) construction of the $6 billion CMRR-NF, which was going to change the political landscape of the region.  Late that year, a “Joint Powers Agreement” was negotiated between the counties of Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and Taos, and the cities of Santa Fe, Espanola, and the Town of Taos to create a “Regional Coalition of LANL Communities” (RCLC) the goals of which are to promote "environmental remediation, regional economic development and site employment, and adequate funding for LANL" (emphasis added)– and especially, as one of the sadder-but-wiser authors of the Agreement later observed, “promoting CMRR-NF.” 

RCLC derives its legitimacy from its non-Los-Alamos local government members.  These governments lobby for Bechtel-led LANS using local government funds. Sweet.  Los Alamos County ponies up more than 90% of the budget, although some of this may be DOE grants.  There was a $100,000 DOE grant to RCLC (through NMED!) in 2012. 

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo joined RCLC in 2012, the first tribe to do so.  We note that Ohkay Owingeh was the recipient of a $65 million janitorial contract with LANS in 2008, so they have a lot of skin in the game.  Working through the Eight Northern Pueblos, Ohkay Owingeh and RCLC staff are recruiting other Pueblos to join. 

RCLC is a member of ECA, and there are other such regional front organizations in other ECA locales.  Thus there are wheels within wheels, across the country, with money, contracts, and grants flowing in a complicated and highly politicized manner to the faithful, and campaign contributions, votes, loyalty, and silence running the other way.   ECA is also a vehicle for the promotion of nuclear technologies in general, such as the small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) Bechtel wants to sell around the world, after developing them at LANL and elsewhere with DOE funds. 

The Chair of the RCLC is Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, a long-time friend and co-worker of many of us.  He, with all his RCLC colleagues, need to be told in no uncertain terms by many of you that this role is unacceptable for public servants.  A line must be drawn. 

Previous bulletins have chronicled the extensive support of the New Mexico delegation for nuclear weapons, plutonium pit production, and their budgets.  There is no point in listing a lot of examples; their support is simply unwavering – and coercive to junior members of the delegation.  Here’s a letter dated February 7 basically asking President Obama to appoint an NNSA Administrator who will amply fund the New Mexico labs. 

Bechtel and its partner Lockheed-Martin and their collective spokespaper the Albuquerque Journal will find ways to heavily punish any effective dissent in New Mexico politicians.  The New Mexican used to be an active newspaper but now seems to be hiding.  The political punishment from our side – i.e. the side that wants to be rid of weapons of mass destruction – needs to be greater. 

The first big thing many Santa Feans still need to realize is that Bechtel’s LANL subsidiary cannot be reformed or repurposed, any more than a battleship could become a bicycle.  Bechtel is not your friend or patron.  It’s here for its own reasons.  

The second big thing we all need to realize is that the complex of political power centered in the nuclear weapons laboratories – that’s what they are and will always be – is utterly antithetical to justice and the environment.  

“Environmental cleanup” is fine as far as it goes (most so-called “cleanup” isn’t cleanup at all), but efforts to get money for this “cleanup” are entirely perverted by the corrupt system of influence described above.  When a citizen in Santa Fe says, “I want LANL cleaned up,” that sentiment is now transformed, through the above corrupt institutions, into a simple message of “more money for LANL,” period, as anybody who spends much time in Washington can tell you. 

Supporting LANL (and Sandia) as institutions means not supporting renewable energy, climate protection, social justice, and economic development in this state. 

If you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment.  Ask your congressman or senator what his or her plan for sustainable economic development is for New Mexico.  We are and have remained at or near the bottom of every national social and economic indicator.  So what’s the plan?  You will hear two things.  One is silence.  The other will revolve around the labs.  It’s been the same absurd and self-interested story for decades. 

New Mexicans deserve much better, but nothing will change until support for politicians is made contingent on a real platform with a chance of benefiting New Mexicans – which the labs (that make so many millionaires from a tiny slice of the state’s employment) do not. 

We therefore are asking you to firmly withdraw support in all forms from politicians of any party who support weapons of mass destruction and plans to build more factories for them.  If a politician is sure of your support, it really doesn’t matter what you ask him to do, including “clean up” LANL.  The nuclear weapons mission, which he will also then support, will generate plenty of new nuclear waste to “clean up,” along with more risk, more nuclear transportation, and more political corruption.   

Such priorities sicken the state and the world.  Politicians who pander to them must go. 

Santa Fe could have a much brighter future.  If these plans go forward it most assuredly will not. 

Please join us. 

Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

Postscript: You might enjoy these:

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