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June 11, 2009

Dear Study Group friends –


We offer highly knowledgeable, experienced, and successful policy communications across a range of related energy, and climate issues in New Mexico and Washington, DC.

We ask for a) your financial support (and from those who can afford it and are so motivated, increased support), b) your help in organizing and/or attending serious discussions and planning sessions (public and private, as appropriate), and for some c) your help in our Albuquerque office, or your help remotely, on specific projects.

Gratitude and exigency

Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the resources – attention, work, and money – that many of you have shared, which that have made the Study Group’s work possible. 

Over the last few years our work has been more effective than I dared hope, and certainly more effective than I dared promise – or will.  I’ll tell you more about some of those successes in a moment and how they generally come about. 

Today it is my job to ask for your financial support (or your continued financial support, as the case may be) with a minimum of distraction by other issues. 

Some of you are already giving generously.  If so I hope you realize your gift is much more than money, and could be greater still without costing you more.  Money is a necessity, for the Study Group as for everybody who would do anything in the world, but your gifts also help sustain us morally and help sustain our community.  The widow’s mite was complete.  So is yours.  So is ours.

There are several methods by which you can contribute: here at our secure web portal, mail a check to our address at the bottom of this message, or call our office in Albuquerque at 505-265-1200 if you would like to arrange a sustaining donation, stock donation, or other type of property donation. Thank you!

But I also want to ask: how can the Study Group staff, board, and volunteers serve you and our communities better?  We have a great many capabilities that still lie fallow.  We want to use them.  Even in our “diminished democracy” (Sheldon Wolin) we have the freedom to have the discussions that will stir hearts and change lives.  But we can’t have them alone.  We need you, your friends, and your organizations.  We could have quite a good time together.  Kafka describes the fatal alternative:

Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence...Someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence, certainly never.  

We have knowledge and experience to a rare degree.  You can help guide their application. 

Some of you are more financially secure, and can materially help more than others.  In the nature of things, those who inhabit this tricky category bear an outsize responsibility for bringing forth a human future.  Wherever you choose to plunge in, please do, whether in part through the Study Group or in any of a million other ways. 

I think most would agree that, collectively, we are not succeeding in providing that human future.  Not yet.  In my experience, the main reason for this is that we, individually, are not fully accepting our unique, essential roles.  Like Jonah didn’t, at first.  There is no magic technique we can summon (or ask others to summon) that can substitute for our own presence, for usOur own commitment is the sine qua non of success, the one nonnegotiable factor and the one needful thing, not just for us but for everybody.  Nobody else can do it, and nobody will. 

Yes, of course we hope you will support the Study Group, but I am writing you about more than that. 

I want to praise the full acceptance of a role, whatever it may turn out to be, in saving this earth and all we hold dear in it, as the main thing each of us does while we yet live and breathe – the more or less central sun around which rotate all our the other events and priorities.  If we are to succeed collectively, more of us individually are going to have to take up such a path.  

I am sure many more of us will feel such a call in the coming years. 

Revolution is no longer revolutionary; the impossible has become imperative.  It is no longer shocking to hear that we need a revolution in our affairs, a perestroika as Gorbachev said this week, because we know “business as usual” is rapidly destroying us, and can’t continue.  What we don’t know is how to bring this revolution about on terms friendly to humanity.  For that we need serious friends with whom to conspire. 

Recent accomplishments

It’s an ancient proverb: “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” 

Nonprofit organizations like ours, which attempt to influence policy, often evince a weak sense of causation in fundraising literature.  It’s common to claim “credit” for this or that desired outcome, even with slight or late involvement, fanciful lines of influence, or (especially) the omission of many other (and often prior) people, organizations, and objective causes.  Many painful examples could be cited, so many that the integrity of the whole could rightly be called into question.  There is no simple remedy for this problem – no remedy, that is, without deep local engagement and accountability. 

It also goes without saying (and usually does go without saying) that each and every “accomplishment” rests on a prior mountain of effort and general rectitude on the part of anonymous actors stretching into the far distant past – Amos’s “righteousness as a mighty stream.”  Much of this integrity is on “the other side,” as for example when government nuclear officials speak the clear truth even when it is problematic to their projects, programs, and budgets. 

Condensing this and other considerations, I’d like to say that we here don’t do policy advocacy, as we usually understand it.  Our successes, to the extent they occur, all come from fidelity to truth – traditional moral truths, simple truths like 2 + 2 = 4 (but not 5), and so on.  Truths we keep on struggling to know.  These objective facts, the dots we connect, are more powerful than any tiny (or even any pretty large) organization.  We can’t hope to successfully “oppose” the military-industrial complex of the United States.  But we can be effective messengers – as in, “Hey, buddy, I’m not sure but I think you and I are sitting on a train track; we might want to move.”  Such messages can be very effective.  We are in the truth business, not the opinion business. 

With this introduction, I am pleased to say we have been making significant progress on our nuclear policy agenda.  For example:

       Plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production has not gone far, either at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) or anywhere else. 

Production goals for this year are in the single digits.  Requested funding for fiscal year (FY) 2010 is down from FY08 by 30%. 

The House Appropriations Committee last year, echoing our concerns, called for a pit production level of zero for now and, going beyond our request, for the elimination of the entire warhead type (W88) for which these pits are being manufactured. 

We have been at the forefront of the pit issue for almost two decades.  The Study Group requested pit aging studies, including specifically the Pu-238 alloy studies now being used, between ten and fifteen years ago.  We have been gradually picking up allies.  Some organizations refused to join our call to halt production as recently as last year, but even some of these have since changed their minds. 

       The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility at LANL is for the moment slowed, requested funding decreased, and possible construction is delayed again.  This is the single most important production facility proposed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  Finally choosing not to build it would mark a real break from Bush Administration policies.  We have worked a great deal on this and predecessor facilities, none of which ended up being built. 

       Nuclear weapons spending has been declining in real terms since 2006.  The first Obama budget, which holds spending flat next year and in the years to follow, is causing reconsideration or outright cancellation of several grandiose Bush Administration projects.  Everything considered this number is perhaps the single best indicator of nuclear weapons legitimacy for the United States. 

       A proposed $1 billion in nuclear weapons “stimulus” funding was defeated, quite possibly in part because we widely and rapidly disseminated a detailed analysis of the issue, alerting and informing committee staff, the Administration, and other NGOs.  Was our work essential?  We can never know.

       Along with many other organizations, we helped defeat the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).  There is little question it will return under another name later, especially if the CMRR Nuclear Facility goes forward. 

Looking over past calendars, I see that we have been in Washington talking to government officials, senior nuclear managers, and NGOs for a total of 17 person-weeks since October 2006.  Peter Neils, our president, was there for two of those weeks.  We have helped prepare congressional witnesses and have been asked to comment on draft government reports.  Some of what we have written has been incorporated in committee reports.  We have a unique perspective that is respected on Capitol Hill, the Administration, and elsewhere. 

Here in New Mexico, we have been holding at least two dozen public meetings each year on a variety of issues.  There is a lot of untapped potential here in this state, as said earlier. 

What we hope to do

None of the above successes is complete and none is permanent.  We hope to gradually make them so.  Meanwhile a bunch of new challenges have appeared which we are addressing both piecemeal and en bloc to the best of our limited abilities.  These include a half-billion-dollar privatized science building at LANL, to be built on governmental land by a shady California developer and his campaign-contributing cohorts, efforts by Domenici’s remaining Senate emanations to prevent NNSA’s closure of LANL’s tritium facility, and more.

We want to liberate billions of dollars by the direct downsizing of the nuclear weapons complex at its existing sites, and reinvest this money into the surrounding communities, especially into energy infrastructure and education that would employ thousands of people permanently, with local ownership and control. 

All we hold dear is now at very serious risk because progress on the energy and climate policy fronts is inadequate, both in New Mexico and nationally.  The Desert Rock power plant has been halted for now thanks to wonderful work by many people and the actions of the Obama Administration.  But there is no plan to phase out coal – none at all.  We think available information demonstrates that most of the climate legislation currently being considered would not help much, if at all.  The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill sets up a system hard-wired to fail. 

For its part, the Richardson Administration has done nothing to reduce carbon emissions that could be distinguished from what is already happening and will continue to happen due to market forces, foreign economic development, and fossil fuel depletion.  We are all going to have to come up with something better or our children will live and die with the consequences. 

The “Southwest Nuclear Triangle” vs. direct downsizing and community reinvestment

As you can read on our web site, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a few other groups are working to consolidate the nation’s nuclear weapons complex in New Mexico and west Texas to the extent possible.  NRDC has called this idea the “Southwest Nuclear Triangle” in public testimony.  It would seem to be the epitome of environmental and social injustice, comprising in its essence an assault on New Mexico’s environment, civilian political institutions, and society.  It was developed with a total absence of public involvement, the opposite of sound government and NGO practice. 

This plan, developed in effective secrecy without inclusion of local communities, is also without much analysis of how this consolidated complex could actually work.  It appears nobody except its authors even knew there was a plan being written, either in New Mexico or Texas, the target areas.  Not even us, until the month before release. 

A predetermined goal – relocating weapons complex functions – was the basis of the entire effort, as publicly-available grant summaries subsequently have made clear.  Litigation to implement the plan as regards the future of the Kansas City Plant (KCP) was conceived in 2007 or even before and begun in 2008, long before the publicly-available plan appeared in April of this year.  New facilities costing in aggregate billions of dollars would be required, we believe. 

When NRDC and its New Mexico ally made clear their intent to sue regarding KCP last August, we brought this issue to the public the same month.  But as was fully revealed only in April 2009, relocating KCP was just part of the plan.  Uranium processing and manufacturing, and tritium storage and handling would also come to New Mexico. 

So far this consolidation plan is failing for some of the reasons we oppose it.  It is much more expensive and requires bigger and longer new financial commitments to nuclear weapons than the simple alternative of downsizing in place.  It is also managerially impractical.

We have held three public meetings about this plan and anticipate more (among other subjects, of course). 

The obvious alternative is direct downsizing, with redirection of the large savings that would accrue into programs that protect employee and household economic security, provide for retraining and education in needed new fields, and build climate-protecting energy infrastructure.  New political alliances are possible because the amounts of money could be large.  Unlike consolidation, it could begin right now. 


That’s it for now.  We appreciate your attention and look forward to working with you. 


Greg Mello and Trish Williams-Mello, for the Study Group


P.S.  Some of our recommendations and analyses supporting stockpile curatorship and downsizing in place can be found on our homepage at, or in our archives at running back to 1995, should you care to peruse them.  This two-part letter to Congress last spring is a handy place to start:

Letter to Congress re nuclear appropriations, Part I, (pdf) May 13, 2008

Letter to Congress re nuclear appropriations, Part II, (pdf) May 14, 2008

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Los Alamos Study Group • 2901 Summit Place NE • Albuquerque, NM 87106 • ph 505-265-1200 • fax 505-265-1207

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