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Nuclear Bombs Forever?

Between November 9 and December 14, 2006, the Department of Energy (DOE) held meetings at 11 sites and at DOE headquarters to hear public comments on plans for “Complex 2030” – the vision of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex in the year 2030. Described by many around the country as the “Bombplex,” there was virtually no support expressed for the Bombplex at the meetings. Instead, the large number of speakers at virtually all sites had a different vision of 2030: one in which the U.S. will have fulfilled its requirements to make good faith efforts at nuclear disarmament.

The meetings were the initial stage of a formal legal process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in which the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons part of DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) gathers comments about what should be included in the programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS). The meeting locations were near the major DOE nuclear sites, which would remain the major sites in 2030.

  • Pantex Plant, near Amarillo, TX would continue to assemble/disassemble all nuclear weapons;
  • Livermore (CA) and Los Alamos (NM) are the nuclear weapons design labs;
  • Sandia Labs (NM and CA) develops the non-nuclear components of the weapons;
  • Y-12 (Oak Ridge, TN) manufactures the highly enriched uranium secondaries;
  • Savannah River Site (SRS) extracts tritium and maintains the tritium reservoirs;
  • Nevada Test Site is the underground test site.

Meetings were also held around two other possible flight test sites – the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico which is a possible alternative site to Tonopah.

No meeting was held at the eighth major existing DOE weapons site, the Kansas City Plant (MO), which manufactures the non-nuclear components.

Rather than issue a new PEIS, DOE instead calls the new process a supplement to the “Stockpile Stewardship and Management” PEIS issued in 1996. DOE has used that PEIS for numerous decisions for the existing complex.

A major issue to be determined through the new PEIS process would be the site for the “consolidated plutonium center” which could manufacture up to 125 plutonium pits per year for the new weapons that the Bombplex would build and maintain for the rest of the century. DOE hopes that the plutonium facility would be in full-scale operation by 2022. In the meantime, any plutonium pits are manufactured at Los Alamos, the only site with pit manufacturing capability.

On November 30, 2006, DOE issued its congressionally mandated unclassified “Plutonium Pit Lifetime Study,” which reported that plutonium pits maintain their capabilities for more than 100 years. Various speakers at several meetings pointed out that report shows that the plutonium center will be to produce pits for new nuclear weapons, since the pits in existing weapons will not need to be changed for many decades, at a minimum. The “Reliable Replacement Warheads” would be new designs and could include new missions, such as “bunker busters,” and “more usable” weapons, which were identified in the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, submitted to Congress on December 31, 2001.

At virtually every meeting, several speakers stated that the PEIS should address how to implement Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That Article states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties ratified by the Senate are the “supreme law of the land.” The U.S.Senate ratified the NPT on March 13, 1969, and the treaty entered into force on March 5, 1970.

BRIEF EXCERPTS FROM SOME OF THE BOMBPLEX MEETINGS:
NOVEMBER 9 – NORTH AUGUSTA, SC

Steve Leeper, from the United States Mayors for Peace Campaign:

“The use and even threat of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law. The vast majority of people around the world want nuclear weapons eliminated, including 66% of Americans. It’s technically feasible to eliminate all nuclear weapons. It’s a political problem.”

Supporters of the Bombplex at SRS included U.S. Senators Isakson and Chambliss from Georgia and Graham from South Carolina. The United Way of Aiken County also voiced support.

Statement of Richard Lindsay:

"My father, Robert Lindsay, was employed at the Savannah River Site or “bomb plant” as we always referred to it, in Aiken from 1952 to 1964. He was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the stomach with metastases to liver, lung and lymph nodes. He passed away in July of 1964. He was 53. He began working at SRS at age 41."

"In 2002 my brother attorney Alvin Lindsay filed a claim on behalf of my mother for a federal payment of compensation for the death of my father who had developed an occupational illness as a result of his exposure to radiation and/or toxic substances while employed at SRS."

"SRS needs to be cleaned up - safely - and not returned to the days of bomb building. There will always be certain factors you can't account for and all the safeguards in the world won't make SRS a safe place to work. There were safeguards when my father worked at SRS. He supposedly had a good paying job, an important job. The price was too high to pay. And it still is today. Lives are going to be sacrificed just as my father's was, no matter how many safeguards you say will be in place."

Many speakers favored Zero Nuclear Weapons.

NOVEMBER 13 – OAK RIDGE, TN
The Knoxville News reported:

“Most of the speakers voiced objections to the plans. Some suggested the government should be tearing down the Cold War weapons plants, not spending billions of dollars to rebuild them in the 21st century."

"I believe in family values, and I don't think WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) come under that heading,"

said Mary Olson of Asheville, N.C. She is southeast director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Center.

Brita Larsen Clark of Johnson City said it makes no sense to build national security around nuclear weapons, which are built for mass murder. "It's crazy," Clark said.

Many speakers reiterated the comment that the U.S cannot produce nuclear weapons while insisting other countries not pursue nuclear capabilities.

NOVEMBER 15 – AMARILLO, TX
Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt:

"We urge the NNSA and DOE to give serious consideration to locating the consolidated plutonium center at Pantex," she said. "Virtually all of the nation's plutonium is already here at Pantex. The siting of the proposed plutonium facility at another site would require an intolerable security risk for the country with the movement of this stockpile across the nation's highways."

About two-thirds of all the speakers commented in opposition to the Bombplex.

NOVEMBER 28 – LAS VEGAS, NV
NOVEMBER 29 – TONOPAH, NV

The Pahrump Valley Times reported that the approximately 80 people attending were concerned about possible closure of the Tonopah Test Range.

Al O'Donnell, Tonopah Chamber of Commerce president, said that "from an economic standpoint it'd have a devastating effect on our community."

"They said it costs $140 million to keep it open, just to continue operations" said Jerry Ellison, a security company employee.

"The security costs were astronomical. The cleanup costs which would be left would be about $50 million. The $140 million was a state-of-the-art program. The facilities they're looking to take it to are not state-of-the-art facilities. If they're going to put it at the NTS, it has no infrastructure for testing capabilities."

DECEMBER 4 – SOCORRO, NM
The hearing site was chosen to hear comments on the White Sands Test Site.

DECEMBER 5 – ALBUQUERQUE, NM
The Raging Grannies presented several songs against the Bombplex, including:
"Why must we pay for destruction and slaughter, nuclear weapons and war?"
The Albuquerque Journal reported that “the 10 gray-haired activists sang with a mixture of grandmotherly twinkle and fire in their bellies.”

The comment period was extended to accommodate the number of speakers, but virtually all opposed the Bombplex and argued for reducing nuclear weapons. No one spoke in favor of the Bombplex.

DECEMBER 6 – LOS ALAMOS & SANTA FE, NM
The Albuquerque Journal reported: “But many of the speakers who addressed the Los Alamos meeting used the forum to denounce the country's nuclear weapons and military policies."

Reverand Holly Beaumont, a legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches said,

“In reality, Complex 2030 is a bizarrely inappropriate Dr. Strangelove-esque plan to revitalize the United States' nuclear weapons production capability in order to manufacture the so-called reliable replacement warhead, which will potentially drive a new nuclear weapons arms race."

The Santa Fe hearing included a large majority opposed to the Bombplex. Bizarrely, it also included a comment from Carlsbad (NM) Mayor Bob Forrest that requested that his city be considered for the plutonium center, as it was one of the alternative sites for the “Modern Pit Facility,” a previous and failed DOE attempt to establish a plutonium pit manufacturing center.

DECEMBER 12 – LIVERMORE AND TRACY, CA
The Tri-Valley Herald reported:

"In Livermore, a town flush with incomes from two nuclear weapons labs where teams are designing the new bombs, no one rose to defend the proposal in hours of hearings Tuesday."

Many speakers opposed the Bombplex pointing out that the U.S. cannot design and produce new nuclear weapons and effectively insste that other countries forego nuclear capabilities. The NPT disarmament obligation was supported as an alternative.

DECEMBER 14 – WASHINGTON, DC
A coalition consisting of religious leaders, citizen organizations, and members of the diplomatic, nuclear weapons, and retired military communities rebuked the Department of Energy's (DOE) Complex 2030 plan. During a press conference at the National Press Club, the group outlined fundamental flaws and dangers associated with the $150 billion proposed plan to rebuild the existing nuclear weapons complex and manufacture a new line of nuclear weapons under the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.

The following are excerpts from statements delivered by the speakers during this event:

"Undertaking Complex 2030 would communicate to the rest of the world that even the sole conventional military superpower needs new and improved nuclear weapons for its security, thereby encouraging other nations to acquire them to the detriment of international security. What is required instead is to take actions to diminish the role and utility of nuclear weapons in our nation's security and comply with our nation's obligation to make a good faith effort to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons."

– Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr.
(USA, Retired), Senior Military Fellow at the
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

"I've been a diplomat for many years. It is not a very good sell to talk to a prime minister and say, 'you can't have nuclear weapons, but we can have lots of them.' It is just not the kind of argument you want to have."

– Ambassador Thomas Graham, former Special Representative
of the President for Arms Control, Non-Proliferation,
and Disarmament (1994-1997)

"The Department of Energy should invest this type of effort not in making new plutonium warheads - that are dangerous to human health, the environment and foreign policy - but in expanding its research and development program in clean, renewable energy research that can benefit all Americans and the rest of the world."

– Dr. Mike McCally, physician, Executive Director,
Physicians for Social Responsibility

"The question is not how much more sophisticated our plants and weapons can become, but how serious we are as a nation to lead the world with an alternative vision which interprets power differently and promotes peaceful coexistence globally."

– Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Theological Advisor to the
Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

"Los Alamos should not be given further responsibilities in plutonium processing and management until it has fully accounted for the plutonium discrepancies in the waste. A discrepancy of 60 bombs worth of plutonium should be investigated fully in this Environment Impact Statement."

– Dr Arjun Makhijani, President, Institute for
Energy and Environmental Research

"By pursuing complex 2030, the U.S. is engaging in a nuclear arms race with itself."

– Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Advisor to the
Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for
National Security and the Environment,
U.S. Department of Energy (1993-1999)

At many of the sites, local member groups of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) provided information to encourage people to attend and talking points to facilitate their comments. They also provided additional means for making comments by January 17, 2007, when the comment period ends.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The current DOE schedule is to publish the draft supplemental PEIS in the summer of 2007 and to hold public hearings at (probably) the same sites around the country. The Final PEIS would be issued in the summer of 2008 and at least one Record of Decision would be issued in the Fall of 2008. That DOE schedule recognizes that there will be new head DOE officials in January 2009.

But the schedule does not acknowledge that an adequate draft PEIS will have to address public comments including:

  • The Non-Proliferation Treaty alternative; including its facilities, costs, and environmental, health, and waste issues
  • The environmental effects of using the Bombplex weapons
  • The environmental, health and waste issues of the new Bombplex; taking into account the actual environmental, health, and waste issues of the existing Complex.

Since no previous DOE EIS provides that information in any of the areas, much new research, gathering of existing resources, including the dozens of reports that commentors submitted, and extensive analysis would be required. All of that work will require a substantial delay in the schedule.

Nonethelsss, DOE may proceed with its schedule.

The New Congress also may scrutinize the Bombplex, as it does not really meet the desire of some leaders to actually reduce the number of DOE facilities, in order to generate millions of dollars of savings. Congress could also hold hearings on the Bombplex and Nuclear Weapons Policy before it allows the Bombplex process to continue. The Modern Pit Facility process, for example, was delayed, then killed by congressional concerns.

– Don Hancock

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
DOE Complex 2030 website: www.complex2030peis.com/
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability website: www.ananuclear.org/
“Plutonium Lifetime Study”: www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/JASON_ReportPuAging.pdf

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“We, the Peoples gathered at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, at this critical time of intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life, demand a worldwide ban on uranium mining, processing, enrichment, fuel use, and weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on Native Lands.”

—Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit December 2, 2006



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