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"Forget the Rest" blog

10/12/08

Dear UC De-Mil Friends --


Someone asked me to send to the uc-demil list our take on National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) recent completion of the “Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” (CTSPEIS).  Here are a few opinions. 

One way of answering that question is the press release that we sent out on October 9th.  It tries to shine at least some kind of light on the context of the CTSPEIS, since the content is largely unremarkable.  I didn't see any surprises -- of course there have been no decisions from NNSA yet, just preferences expressed -- or any noteworthy victories or defeats for disarmament activists either.

As noted below, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is an environmental law, and it governs some aspects of the process, though not the content, of government management decisions.  Don't look to NEPA for nuclear policy changes.  Those embody and require political change.  NEPA deals with administrative matters.  Sure it can delay, and it can weed out patently crazy ideas if they are crazy for reasons other than nuclear policy.  In the present instance, NNSA's processes are quite sane -- very good in fact. 

Decisions made pursuant to this document can and no doubt will be changed later by NNSA and Congress.  As the October 9th press release stated, “Whatever NNSA’s administrative choices may appear to be today, there is absolutely no reason why downsizing of the nuclear weapons complex [and progress toward disarmament] cannot proceed within the framework established by this PEIS.” 

On the subject of plutonium pit production, this document just describes the evolving status quo.  NNSA is adding to the plutonium complex at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) just as fast as it can, working 7 days a week.  The future of these efforts is hanging in the balance; they cannot be distinguished from the construction of a large-scale pit factory (a "modern pit facility," if that phrase rings a bell) with an indeterminate number of buildings and capacity.  Capacity and construction are not limited by anything in this CTSPEIS (one can only build so fast). 

Actual pit production at LANL has gone from zero since the earliest 1950s to 11 last year and a planned 6 this year -- with the active or passive approval of most "anti-nuclear" groups.  Larger capacities have always been aspirational.  The reality is that activist groups have signed off on an increase in production as a compromise ("the compromise we have made," as I have heard many times). 

Most "anti-nuclear" groups have passively or actively supported construction of new plutonium facilities as well, limiting their critique to what amounts to post-hoc statements after congressional action, to the safety of, and pollution from, the facilities, etc.  The House of Representatives has been trying to kill the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) factory complex for the past 5 years but the "antinuclear" community has with the rarest exceptions not been helping them.  I am guessing that many well-connected antinuclear activists in the U.S. do not even know what the initials "CMRR" stand for, even though it is the single most important project to nuclear weapons advocates.  "Pivotal" is the word one used in idle conversation with me one day a few years back.  Yep.

There has been a lot of fuzzy talk -- and more than 100,000 NEPA comments -- about the "Bombplex" and "opposing complex transformation" but to the extent such talk lacks specific referents connected with current congressional decisions, and a concrete way of influencing them, that talk (and those comments) mean little or nothing.

In my opinion we have some big opportunities:

  • We are gaining traction on cutting pit production down to zero.  Zero is quite a different number than 20 or even 6 (what NNSA apparently chose this year).  (It is embarrassing, isn't it, to have NNSA choose a lower number than most of the antinuke crowd.)
  • We can stop the CMRR Nuclear Facility (the largest proposed new plutonium facility, 90% of the total project cost) if we make a concerted effort to do so.  An argument can be made that wider conditions in society are growing more propitious for our success day by day (that is, our economy and society are going to hell in a handbasket) which is one reason the press release was couched as it was.
  • We can achieve deep cuts in nuclear weapons funding once we make up our minds that the U.S. will not conduct a nuclear test again (long subject).  Deep cuts in funding and programs are important and very possible -- even likely -- and they should be sought assiduously.
  • The market demand for clear-eyed, fundamental critiques of the "nuclearist"/imperialist/death-oriented ideology is in my opinion growing.  More and more people want alternatives.  Politicians now have to have some real answers.  People are getting angry.  Clarity as to what is real and what is fake will no doubt improve with time and experience.

Non-opportunities include, in our opinion:

  • Attempting to achieve disarmament by diversifying the weapons labs, which will increase, not decrease, their social and political power while screwing up the new missions.  If those missions are important (e.g. energy, climate) the collateral damage might well be even worse than the certain failure to help with disarmament.
  • Geographically consolidating weapons sites, which would not decrease their power in Congress and is not practical politically and so is thus yet another divisive waste of time and activist funds; a diversion of dwindling resources from a near-infinite number of more socially beneficial projects (because consolidation would require new construction); and a huge distraction.

OK, out of time.  Just my two cents, per request.  Best wishes to all,

greg mello


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