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Don't Be A Party To New Nukes

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Yes, my wording was strong in last week's column, you might even say apocalyptic. I don't apologize.

Should we go along with our government's plans to build new generations of nuclear weapons, we're contributing to the possible demise of life on the planet one day, not to mention near-term health and environmental issues.

To recap: The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported five weeks ago that officials are preparing an environment impact statement for release this month, "to support construction of new Oak Ridge facilities--including a $500 million storage center for bomb-grade uranium and a proposed $1 billion uranium manufacturing facility."

More controversial nationally is Complex 2030, a planned nuclear weapons complex to be located in the United States, possibly New Mexico, which would begin pre-production work on new generations of nuclear weapons and also serve as the main storage site for plutonium.

The National Nuclear Security Administration is taking comments through Jan. 17, 2007. I believe it's important that the public oppose these plans by sending an email to Complex2030@nnsa.doe.gov .

They're asking for our comments, so please, say no to new nukes.

As a few readers pointed out last week, the Complex 2030 proposal would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in this country over the short term by retiring so-called unreliable nukes that were built during the Cold War. The complex would recycle some components-mostly the nuclear portions-into new weapons-grade materials, while storing or destroying other components.

But in the words of Thomas P. D'Agostino, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs for the NNSA, who testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on April 5, 2006, the program would also do the following.

* "Ensure needed warheads are available to augment the operationally deployed force...
* "Design, develop, certify, and begin production of refurbished or replacement warheads,
* "Maintain capability to design, develop, and begin production of new or adapted warheads...
* "Produce required quantities of warheads...
* "Sustain adequate underground nuclear test readiness."

D'Agostino further told the committee, "The center would have a baseline production capacity of 125 pits per year net to the stockpile by 2022... comparable to what we had during the Cold War." Pits are the plutonium hearts of nuclear warheads. The plan calls for an interim ability, by 2012, to produce "30-50 war reserve pits per year continuing until the center can meet the needs of the stockpile," said D'Agostino, whose testimony is available on the NNSA website. To me this sounds like a plan to heavily produce and stockpile new generations of weapons. Dick Cheney and others have lobbied for a variety of new nukes over the years.

East Tennessee figures prominently in building up arsenals that could one day kill millions or billions of people. To D'Agostino, the prospect of maintaining this capacity amounts to good news. "The story is not all bad, however," said D'Agostino, referring to our diminished nuclear weapons program. "We restored tritium production in the Fall of 2003 with the irradiation of special fuel rods in a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor, and anticipate that we will have a tritium extraction facility on-line in FY 2007, well in advance of need... We have largely restored uranium purification capabilities at our Y-12 plant, and are modernizing other capabilities so that we can meet demanding schedules of warhead life extension programs."

Gee, I feel safer already, don't you?

The program is being sold on the premise that our nuclear stockpiles, and especially those plutonium pits, are rapidly deteriorating. However, as Walter Pincus wrote in the Washington Post on Nov. 30, a team of scientists at NNSA has concluded those pits will remain reliable for another century without upgrading. To me, this calls the program into question. Already we have thousands of nukes. Sure, we should support dismantling unreliable ones and begin letting the arsenal shrink by attrition, at least. After all, how many nukes does one country need?

In 1968 we signed a treaty that said we'd work to stop building and stockpiling new nuclear weapons. No, we can't disarm immediately, but we should work toward the long term goal of a world that doesn't bristle with nuclear weapons. Instead, we appear headed in the opposite direction. To finance new modern facilities for producing new nukes, in violation of international law, even as we punish others for hinting they might follow our example?
Please, don't be a party to it. Lodge your protest now with an email to complex2030@nnsa.doe.gov.
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)

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