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October 8, 2014

Bulletin #195: Emergency meetings in NM; despite world crises, Administration likely to seek massive increase in nuclear weapons spending

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Dear friends –

Please come to one or both emergency meetings, in Taos, Friday, Oct. 10, 6:00 pm, Kit Carson Cooperative, 118 Cruz Alta Road, Attack of the Plutonium Zombies (Again) and in Santa Fe, Monday Oct. 13, 6:00 pm, Santa Fe Woman’s Club, 1616 Old Pecos Trail, “Nuclear Permaculture: The City Bechtel?

If you live nearby we hope you will pull out all the stops to attend these very important meetings.  Call us at 505-265-1200 if you want help car-pooling.

Please call and personally invite your friends to these meetings.

There are seven more public meetings planned in New Mexico in October and November.

As regular readers know, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and its federal sponsors are once again attempting to build a new plutonium processing and warhead production complex, part of the Administration's $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization plan.  The capital cost for this complex is now guesstimated by NNSA at $4.3 billion (B), not including waste management facilities, other necessary buildings which have not yet been unveiled to Congress (but which are mentioned in obscure documents), and other necessary infrastructure.  Operating costs and eventual decommissioning/burial costs are in addition.

Not everyone can go to these meetings.  Let me try to sketch in some background to those discussions, condensing the argument and omitting most references.

At least ten such pit production plans have failed over the past 25 years, in part because you and we have helped the government see the error of its ways.[1]  That does not mean current plans will fail but rather suggests that, especially if we are strong and skillful, they might fail again, because they are as poorly thought-through as ever. 

Unfortunately there are new, naive decisionmakers in Washington who actually believe LANL’s song and dance.  They haven’t yet “seen the elephant” at NNSA.  They will, if they stay long enough. 

Also unfortunately, Senator Udall supports a new multibillion dollar plutonium factory, part of a federal budget that protects and grows our labs and bases (as evidenced here, here, here, and here for example) – which is to say, a heavily militarized budget.  And when Senate Republicans were ready to simplify plans for the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb and withheld funds for its GPS guided tailkit, Senator Udall worked hard and successfully to engineer funding for the new bomb.  A militarized budget, which Tom Udall strongly supports, must short-change human needs as well as climate protection; that’s what a militarized budget means.  It will invariably undermine international cooperation as well, including international climate cooperation.  That’s what a militarized, nuclearized, foreign policy is all about – empire, in a word.[2] 

You can see the latest information we have and can share about these pit plans on our “modern pit facility II” web page and its linked pages. 

Studies show that detonation of only a relatively small number of nuclear weapons would likely produce a horrendous multi-year “nuclear winter” that would cause much of the human race to die from famine and disease.  Post-attack nuclear power plant meltdowns and spent fuel pool fires would contaminate large areas, even if they were not targeted.  The ozone layer could be badly damaged for a long time, with enormously destructive consequences for life on earth. 

So official U.S. national “security” policy includes “modernizing” threatened nuclear omnicide.  Check. 

But what about “nuclear summer?”  Earth, you see, is accumulating heat from nuclear fusion in the sun at a rate of about 60,000 kilotons of TNT per second – four Hiroshima bombs’ worth of heat every second (more explanation here).[3]  But how is this relevant to nuclear policy?

Suppose no nuclear weapons were ever detonated, there was no nuclear proliferation, no more nuclear meltdowns, and existing nuclear arsenals were modernized as planned, at enormous cost.  This implies militarized budgets, and military rivalry between nuclear weapon states.  Hawks and arms controllers might disagree on the ideal characteristics of such “nuclear stability,” but such a world is exactly what both say they want. 

There is nothing stable about such a world, however.  Resource and pollution limits of various kinds but especially limits of food production, fresh water, petroleum, and greenhouse gases mean that humanity, civilization, and the earth’s species cannot survive present patterns of consumption.  We are in deep overshoot already.  Our climate, for example, is close to positive feedbacks from which there is no return.  Keep pulling that trigger, keep adding heat to the arctic especially, and that’s it.  Most life dies (another useful film here).  So we need dramatic changes now, not in five years – especially not in a decade. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, we are in the eye of the peak oil storm that first hit in 2005.  Within the precision of the data available, there has been no increase in actual crude oil production (excluding field condensates) since then despite heroic efforts, although production of various other liquid fuels has grown slightly.  But the world economy has never recovered.  For multiple reasons we won’t go into now, it won’t. 

In the U.S. our main oil policy is war, a war which current and former high U.S. officials are now describing as a thirty-year endeavor that is likely to expand to many countries.[4]  The U.S.-engineered coup in Ukraine and all that has followed from it, as well as our “pivot to Asia,” are bookends of a “new Great Game,” along the lines of the Wolfowitz 1992 draft Defense Policy Guidance in which the U.S. seeks to prevent the emergence of any Eurasian rival and to control the world’s diminishing reserves of conventional (i.e. cheap) oil, still largely centered in the Middle East. 

So the dream of “stable” nuclear deterrence held in common by nuclear hawks and arms control advocates is a naïve fantasy, just given the acute petroleum dependence of our society alone.  Even if it were possible, the cost and international tensions involved are incompatible with human survival.  We can be sure that a society prepared to spend $1 trillion on nuclear weapons of mass destruction in order to “deter” attack from another society (which is doing exactly the same thing) is a society that cannot lead the world toward peace and survival.  Such a society will not even save itself. 

There just aren’t the trillions of dollars in real capital that we need to make our society and climate sustainable and also some other trillions to prepare for wars, fight them, and modernize our mutual nuclear suicide belt.  We can print all the money we want, but there is only so much real capitol, i.e. real resources and skilled labor, to be had. 

Eisenhower said it well enough in 1953.  Notwithstanding his later actions, his words can serve as a rebuttal to Senator Tom Udall’s opposite credo:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

These equivalencies need updating.  Meanwhile I assert, without presenting updated calculations here, that the cost of LANL’s ridiculous plutonium factory proposal, now NNSA’s program of record and including two or more “underground modules” currently estimated to cost more than $200,000 per square foot of useful space, would pretty much pay for ending coal burning in this state, if used to leverage private investment in renewables.  That quality of investment – and quality, not just quantity, matters – would transform this state’s economy and society. 

The international problem is not just one of avoiding a short-term but omnifatal “nuclear winter,” but also avoiding the certainty, should business as usual continue, of an omnifatal “nuclear summer” as well.  That big fusion reactor around which we orbit will most definitely destroy all higher life on earth if we cannot make radical changes in how we live, including in our international relations.  We must make peace, very actively.  Maintaining our present nuclear arsenal is incompatible with that peace.  As the Vatican representative said to the First Committee of the U.N. in 1997, “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century.”  The “peace we seek” is not the “peace” of mass extinction. 

To survive, we need to avoid arctic and subarctic positive feedbacks, such as the large-scale decomposition of methane clathrates on the arctic continental shelf, or the decomposition of frozen organic matter in the arctic and subarctic.  Simply put, we need to keep arctic ice and grow more of it.  It’s not just about polar bears.  It’s about us – about everything, and everyone’s children. 

To save the arctic and prevent runaway global warming, we need close international cooperation with Russia.  Avoiding nuclear war is not sufficient any more.  

The same analysis applies to this country’s rivalry with China.   We can’t afford it, and not just in terms of money.  We need active mutual cooperation and trust, and we need investments that neither the U.S. nor China can afford while also supporting military rivalry.  Yet Senator Udall supports a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile, the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile, the purpose of which is to threaten China.    

In the context of the terrible converging crises our country faces, Simone Weil’s great work on the Iliad speaks to us with redoubled prophetic warning: “Thus it is that those to whom destiny lends might, perish for having relied too much upon it.” 

We and our children will certainly perish if we allow our leaders to speak mindless drivel – like “one of the best ways he [Tom Udall] can fight for jobs and economic development today – and for generations into the future — is by making sure our labs and bases are strong” – without taking to the streets, or turning them out of office, or in any other way effectively saying “No!  These are not life-giving priorities for my children, for my community, for my land!”   

Weil goes on to say that “[o]nly he who knows the empire of might and knows how not to respect it is capable of love and justice.”  How “not to respect” that empire, how to find within ourselves the resolve to make that peace for the earth and our children, is our political problem today. 

We must, as Lewis Mumford warned in 1954, bring the monster we have created back under the control of compassionate, humane reason: “[T]he problem of our time, the problem that holds a key to every other issue, is to bring Caliban back once more under the control of Prospero.” 

Tim DeChristopher recently quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Oh my friends, there are resources in us on which we have not drawn.”


Synopses of other news:

  • The Obama Administration quietly preparing to request a massive increase in nuclear weapons spending for next year, part of a nuclear weapons modernization budget costing the equivalent of three post-WWII Marshall Plans.  This modernization is only half of $1 trillion in nuclear weapons expenses planned for the coming 30 years. 
  • Lest we forget, the warhead establishment is almost totally privatized.  Contractors spend ~96% of the warhead budget.  At Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and quite likely also the other two National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) labs hundreds of millions of dollars are spread around in various “overhead” expenses without congressional control.  We believe that at the three labs thousands of people have salaries exceeding the pay of Cabinet secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
  • A Study-Group-requested Inspector General report slams LANL for incompetent nuclear waste management, which shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for what will be at least two years if not five.  (News about this here, here, and in many places; our press release here).  According to DOE, full re-opening could cost up to $551 million, assuming all goes well.  So far there have been no financial or contractual penalties to Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the company which runs LANL, for this and prior fiascos. 
  • After the WIPP debacle, the Department of Energy (DOE) removed the LANL environmental cleanup from NNSA’s portfolio and will seek a new contractor for this work, effectively splitting LANL in two for the first time (see also other articles on our home page).  New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has refused to allow WIPP to re-open with LANS still in charge of LANL cleanup (see also here). 
  • The Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories (CRENEL) has begun its work.  We filed our initial comments, offering reform and restructuring of LANL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). 
  • After the WIPP “heat event” (“fireball” or “deflagration” might be better words but we aren’t sure), and then the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) Recommendation 2014-1 highlighting lack of safety preparedness at nuclear labs and plants (see good article here), the Santa Fe New Mexican editorial board questioned LANL safety culture. 
  • Study Group staff visited Capitol Hill last month for a week of meetings with congressional and executive branch officials, our fifth week in DC so far this year. 
  • In a week we will be traveling to NYC to work with our international and other U.S. colleagues and speak on a panel at the meeting of First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly. 
  • The Study Group welcomes Lydia Clark and Thomas E. Luebben, Esq. to our board of directors.  And at least for this fall Jennifer Cousineau is joining us as one-quarter time Outreach Associate.  Welcome, all!

In memoriam: Ak Malten (1952-2014)

Best wishes to all; we are looking forward to seeing some of you in the next few days. 

Greg and Trish for the Study Group

[1] If you want to take a trip down memory lane you can check out this compendium of news articles on this struggle over the years of 1989-2006.  For events and analysis in the 2006-2013 timeframe see our Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) page.  A chronology of documents, analysis, links, and media dealing with post-CMRR Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) planning from 2012 to the present day can be found here.  See also note 3 in this press release, which lists the “ten” plans, expanding by two the list provided by Congressional Research Service in the reference provided.

[2] Our views about Udall’s political loyalties to the military and labs and how they damage New Mexico have been published in the New Mexican (reprinted in La Jicarita) and the Albuquerque Journal (here and here). 

[3] In terms of heat, detonation of the entire world stockpile of nuclear weapons is apparently less than one day’s worth of global warming.  I have not checked these calculations but feel free to do so yourself. 

[4]Key Democrats, Led by Hillary Clinton, Leave No doubt that Endless War is Official U.S. Doctrine,” Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, 10/7/14.

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