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Defense Secretary Carter visiting state’s national labs this week

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2016 11:00 pm | Updated: 12:17 am, Tue Sep 27, 2016.

By Rebecca Moss
The New Mexican

SOD Ash Carter

Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington earlier this month. Carter, a physicist by training and policy wonk by reputation, cut his professional teeth on nuclear weapons during the Cold War. He will visit national laboratories in New Mexico on Wednesday to discuss the nuclear weapons programs. Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press

During a trip to New Mexico this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to tour the state’s national laboratories and discuss the nuclear weapons programs there — a visit that is applauded by defense contractors but is raising concerns among local anti-nuclear proliferation groups.

Carter is scheduled to visit Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories on Tuesday and tour Los Alamos National Laboratory on Wednesday. A news release late last week said he would “discuss the nuclear enterprise and thank personnel here [in New Mexico] for their work to ensure the readiness of the nuclear force.”

The statement goes on to say that Carter will be recognizing the labs’ scientists and engineers for “their ongoing work involving the development, assessment and security of the nuclear triad.”

Anti-proliferation organizations say the visit indicates an increasing demand for New Mexico facilities to expand their already robust role in modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The visit shows that “something new and terrible is going on,” said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, which is planning protests and other events to coincide with Carter’s talks.

Mello said Carter’s visit is meant, in part, to ease concerns about the financial gap between the initial projected costs of refurbishing the nuclear stockpile and new estimates that suggest nuclear weapons designed for the Air Force could be close to $30 billion over budget.

“We are not sure why he is here except to solidify support for an aggressive nuclear modernization, period,” Mello said. “He is politicking, and he shouldn’t be.”

He said Carter’s position appears at odds with President Barack Obama’s efforts to move away from a nuclear arsenal, asserted in a speech in Prague in 2009.

“What it means, if it grows, is war. World war. And we are almost there,” Mello said.

Projects are underway at Sandia to create the B61-12 gravity bomb and the W88 Alteration 370, weaponry meant to replace the aging Cold War arsenal. Los Alamos, meanwhile, is nearly ready to relaunch production of the grapefruit-size fission trigger cores inside nuclear weapons. The lab has a goal of producing as a many as 80 of these plutonium pits each year by 2030.

At a Strategic Deterrent Coalition conference in June, officials at national labs in New Mexico said their workload has ramped up to levels not seen since the Cold War era.

The Los Alamos Study Group has contested these projects, saying they are costly and unnecessary weapons that add to an already large surplus of nuclear technology. “Quantity has a quality all its own,” Mello said.

Before Carter speaks at Kirtland on Tuesday afternoon, the group will host a “Stop the War Machine” protest at 11 a.m. at the corner of Gibson and Louisiana boulevards in Albuquerque. It also will host a 1 p.m. news conference at the state Capitol in Santa Fe on Wednesday, accompanied by piñata effigies of Carter and U.S. Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

“We are frustrated” with the state’s delegates, Mello said. “Heinrich and Udall always vote for everything lab-related.”

And at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dr. Frank von Hippel, a nuclear arms control and policy expert from Princeton University, will give a talk at the Center Stage Performance Space in Santa Fe on “New Directions in Disarmament.”

The study group will hold additional events Thursday and Saturday in Albuquerque, including a meeting with U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.


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