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August 26, 2009

Dear Study Group friends,

Greetings from the disarmament trenches!  You haven’t heard from us in almost two months, and we also haven’t heard from many of you. 


We had hoped to see some of you at a series of meetings planned for earlier this month.  We postponed those meetings in favor of continuing to prepare for congressional and executive meetings in a couple of weeks. 


We were happily interrupted by the arrival of a new grandson about three hundred miles east of here, a month ago.  


We’ve been living day after day in “nuclear policy land” this summer.  It’s a desert as far as human sensibilities are concerned, and we miss our friends.  We just don’t know a better or more effective way to serve you right now. 


There is an awe-full struggle going on over the future of humanity and life on this planet and we wish to acquit ourselves well in it, especially in the particular terrain we know best.  Our doors are open wide to the intimate companionship of like-minded warriors.  That’s the theme of this letter, by the way. 


For all of us here in New Mexico – where nuclear weapons are our second-biggest export (in dollars, after oil and gas) – nuclear policy is, like it or not, part of our bedrock.  Nuclear weapons are New Mexico’s unique contribution to our failing culture’s death orientation, our particular contribution to empire, global oppression, and homegrown nihilism. 


These weapons no longer make much of a claim to being modern but they persist, and in New Mexico they are still in the driver’s seat.  Our congressional delegation is what it is in large part because our nuclear labs are what they are.  These weapons’ day is past, but they and their institutions will continue to wield great power until they meet one or more immovable Facts. 


Financial worries have been a distraction.  We are grateful for the chance to contribute what we know, and for the serious and intimate conversations we have here and in Washington.  That dialogue is delightful, whether with friends or adversaries – categories which are not at all fixed.  We appreciate honesty, an interest in facts, and good faith wherever we find them.  I only hope we will be able to bring what we know to bear in time, and with enough clarity of presentation, to avert increased weapons investment and innovation (about which more in a moment.) 


For the past few weeks I have been working on a one-time, short project for a network of international colleagues based in Princeton, on pit production issues. 


I was reflecting yesterday that Trish and I have been fighting against construction of a “Rocky Flats” successor plant since 1989, the year “Rocky” closed – she in Panhandle, TX and I here, both starting that year.  There is no new pit plant at Pantex, and not one here either.

In 1989, construction at Los Alamos was slated to begin in 1991 and be complete by 1994.  Today, construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), that same plan more or less, cannot be completed before 2019, assuming all goes well.  It is not going well, but its authors have many allies – not least the passivity we see in New Mexico and Washington.[1] 


Many of us think the closure of Rocky Flats was the greatest single accomplishment of the U.S. nuclear disarmament movement and its unheralded nuclear worker allies.  (Cessation of atmospheric testing was great for human health, but the arms race picked up steam after that and Kennedy’s death.) 


For 20 years now no new Rocky Flats has opened.  Thanks to you, we in New Mexico – which has been in the crosshairs this entire time – have been doing our part.  Without a new plant, the U.S. cannot make new kinds of warheads in any quantity without commandeering space from competing priorities, programs, and facilities, and to some degree suspending hard-earned laws, safety standards, and other norms.  It could be done, but only over what would be loud internal protests and quite possibly only in the “heroic mode.”


Each year that passes makes the job of restarting production harder and therefore more urgent to its advocates.  The issue is gaining in importance.  It has become so important to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) that they seem completely willing to sacrifice Los Alamos as a scientific laboratory to get it.  And they are doing just that.  It’s not much of a loss.

Los Alamos’ new corporate masters don’t care.  Just show them the money. 


The Obama Administration is not better for us than was Bush’s.  To the extent they are different at all (or populated by different people), which is debatable, they are better in some ways and worse in others.  Our job is harder in one sense: we can’t count on the “Bush-versus-most-of-Congress” dynamic that was so helpful from 2006 to 2008.  Real budgets for nuclear weapons fell during that period.  They are continuing to fall, but without a real paradigm shift they may start to rise.  Not that we would want The Decider back. 


It will be very hard to keep Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratification advocates inside and outside the Administration from offering fresh concessions to nuclear hawks.  These deals are being brokered ostensibly to buy CTBT ratification but also with a view to keeping the right contractors happy and the right hawkish chests thumped.  It would take 67 votes to ratify, seven more than to break a filibuster, so you see the problem.  A defense bill is close to passage that could increase U.S. commitment to nuclear weapons, despite vague pronouncements from the President about a “nuclear weapons free world.”  


Please, folks, follow the money.  An Administration spokesperson, (former Rep.) Ellen Tauscher, calls her former committee’s bill, which would allow NNSA to make innovative warheads, a “down payment” for CTBT ratification.  And so it is.  A down payment only – and there may not even be a framed piece of paper for the office wall no matter what we (not they) end up paying. 


Opposition to billions in new construction, centrally at Los Alamos, is muted by many NGOs’ need to support CTBT ratification – some from sheer habit, many more from a lack of education among agenda-setting funders.  This is the dynamic that undercuts our work, and adds to its unique value, alas.  This dynamic tamps down real disarmament in government. 


The effort by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Tri-Valley CAREs, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico/SRIC, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to rebuild the nuclear weapons complex in New Mexico isn’t over.  Such a decision would create billions of dollars in gratuitous nuclear construction but that hasn’t fazed them so far.  For at least some of them, their goal is to concentrate the weapons complex in New Mexico, as one of them bluntly told me. 


In their attempt to bring the Kansas City Plant (KCP) to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, these groups’ natural allies (latent, we hope) include Lockheed Martin, the Albuquerque development community, Mesa del Sol, Bechtel, URS (formerly the Washington Group), the University of California, BWXT (or whatever their latest name is), all the New Mexico subcontractors of all the above, and all of the New Mexico congressional delegation. 


Some of these groups are apparently getting and spending a gob of money in litigation to force this move and they could yet succeed.  If you aren’t afraid of a group of adversaries like that, you’re probably not paying attention. 


There are no facilities at Sandia or Los Alamos which could house the work currently done at either KCP or the Y-12 site near Oak Ridge, under any realistic future scenario whatsoever. 


The argument that we should build up in order to disarm, concentrate in order to weaken, and select the poorest and most dependent state from NNSA’s collection, a state which has been the most powerful nuclear weapons advocate of all and still is, to do all this in, makes no sense. 


With respect to all this, some folks we meet in New Mexico are like the liberal in the joke who was so tolerant he couldn’t take his own side in an argument.  They place their trust in the integrity and effectiveness of nuclear bureaucrats, who know how much money the partial reconstruction of the weapons complex in new locations would cost. 


Without really knowing it, some people fall into seeing this situation in a “he said, she said” frame in which no objectivity is possible.  Unless we judge when judgment is necessary, and reason when reason is necessary, no dialogue of any kind is ever possible, only cacophony.  When political dialogue stops, money usually dictates. 


I can’t send you the work we have been preparing, for reasons I think you will understand.  You will eventually see it, after Congress and NNSA. 


In the meantime we are dying to talk to you about it.  And that’s a big way you can help.  If you want a briefing on nuclear issues, for goodness sake please ask.  This is our job, how we live, what we do, and so those who attend will have to make that briefing worthwhile financially for the Study Group.  You won’t get off-the-cuff opinions, recycled rumors, or talking points made up on K Street.  It shouldn't have to be said, but we want to have a factual discussion. That’s why we have an audience in Washington and that’s what takes time. 


I want to say more, but I have to close.  Some of you may be willing and able to help us financially.  If you can, we sure could use that help.  Even more useful would be, in addition to your financial help, your outreach to friends, on our behalf.  You can do so very much more than we can in that way.  We will respond, but it takes at least two people to have a conversation.  You and your friends have to do your part too. 


I think many people do not realize how powerful they are, and what life-changing works of justice and mercy they can do.  I am not talking about just through the Study Group.  At first, we tend to imagine there is somebody else who will do a certain thing that we know needs to be done.  It can be quite a horrifying experience to realize that despite the fact that we are “obviously” the wrong person to do it, nobody else will.   


In this, we offer the companionship of the Way – to the best of our ability, the timeless way, the way of the primordial human family.  We all are now facing terrible crises in human events.  There is denial, numbness, and pathology on the one side – and grief, work, joy, and fellowship on the other.  This is not a difficult choice.


Trish and I can only do so much ourselves.  Our board is also very experienced – decades each – in serious political action.  If you are interested in climate, or energy issues, some of us have experience and knowledge running back decades, and are working with Congress and DOE on these issues too to the extent we can. 


So: work with us, help us financially if you are in a position to do so, and open doors for us.


Our society is heavily atomized (so to speak) and it takes a surprising and often prohibitive amount of effort to set up meetings and organize events.  It takes personal contact – very pleasant, but very time-consuming.  We won’t have a public sphere if we don’t make one.  It’s just not a given any more. 


If you want to donate, please mail a check to the office at the address below or you can use this secure portal.  Talk to Trish (505-265-1200) about stock donations or bequests. 


Trish has created a secure on-line store, at  There are many useful and some beautiful items there, ranging from a very collectible Pendleton blanket to T-shirts, videos, books, posters, and prints. 


There is much more I’d like to say, especially about how you could help and work with us, but I must now return to “nuclear policy land,” where honorable colleagues on all sides wait for me.

Trish is expecting your call.  She could sure use your help in sustaining, and enabling, the conversations we are all dying to have. 




Greg, for the Study Group

[1] In this regard, we might take Simone Weil’s comment about the fall of France in 1940 as a caution.  It was not so much that we “lost France,” she said.  It was more that we had dropped it, and when we went to pick it up, we found it had someone’s boot on it.

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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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