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Nuclear Weapons Laboratories National in Name Only

By Russ Wellen, December 7, 2012


In fact, corporations not only manage them, but increasingly determine their agendas.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) recently returned from another one of his trips to Washington, during which he meets with congressional and executive-branch officials and analysts about nuclear weapons. First, he followed up on the proposed nuclear-pit laboratory at Los Alamos, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), which has now been delayed five years, in large part due to the efforts of LASG.

He reports in LASG's most recent newsletter that, despite the delay, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, "will almost certainly contain (as does the House version) … a requirement to continue CMRR-NF design and construction." As of this date, I'm unable to ascertain if that's the case with the bill, which passed in the Senate yesterday (Dec. 5). Next a House-Senate committee reconciles their separate bills and sends the final version to the president.

Mello gives us an idea of the opposition the LASG has been up against in trying to put "a stake through the heart" of the CMRR-NF just locally in New Mexico (emphasis added).

When and if these provisions pass, they will do so in substantial part because of strong efforts of New Mexico Democrats (Heinrich, Udall, Bingaman, and to a lesser extent Lujan), who have consistently allied with the most hawkish members of Congress to achieve this end. 

Mello was also in Washington to reemphasize his concerns with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is becoming increasingly privatized.

The last sliver of NNSA which is not a management and operating (M&O) contractor (just 3%, by dollars spent) is not making many decisions.  To say there is a leadership vacuum is an understatement. 

In fact, writes Mello:

There is very little space left in which a vacuum could form.  When it does, the big nuclear labs and plants (i.e. the contractors) automatically fill it. 

Worse

… when NNSA needs “independent” advice, it generally turns to more contractors to help out.  The U.S. nuclear warhead business – and it is a very big business, with sweet multi-decade contracts for the vaguest sort of work that run more than $30 billion in total value in the case of [the Los Alamos National Laboratory] (just to pick one) – has very little federal character left.

Mello explains.

The proposals of the nuclear hawks basically amount to unshackling the contractors even more – giving them even more money to begin even more projects with even less accountability.  Despite the appearance of occasional inter-party conflict, the federal government – really all parts of it, at the moment – have basically circled the wagons to protect the contractors who run the warhead complex.  

He can only conclude that

… most members of Congress do not really understand the degree of privatization involved, or that the nuclear weapons laboratories are actually corporate actors, not federal.


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