(APN) NORTH AUGUSTA, SOUTH CAROLINA "The product is a nuclear bomb. They kill people like you and me," Allison Peeler, a college-age volunteer with Carolina Peace, said, crying during an impassioned speech here at a public hearing on Bush's plans for a new plutonium pits plant.
"A [plutonium] pit is the central core of a nuclear weapon typically containing plutonium-239 that undergoes fission when compressed by high explosives," according to a footnote in the Notice of Intent published in the Federal Register, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News. The Notice is published on pages 61731-61736 in Volume 71, Number 202 of the Register.
The first "public scoping" hearings were held here in North Augusta by the US Department of Energy (DOE), National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). About 75 people were in attendance.
Hearings will be held subsequently in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Amarillo, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Tonopah, Nevada; Socorro, New Mexico; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Livermore, California; Tracy, California; and at the DOE Office in Washington, DC.
Besides DC, all these cities will be potentially impacted by at least one of four aspects of the Bush Administration's "Complex 2030," plan.
Atlanta Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) sent up a contingent to the hearings, with about 15 activists present at the evening hearing. Bobbie Paul, Executive Director, is calling the plan the "Bomb-Plex," and is also using the slogan, "Bombs: Away!"
The hearings are being held pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), which requires environmental impact statements every time a program is being considered which could have an environmental impact.
"You may think this decision to build [a new nuclear weapons plant] is a local issue, but before you sell your souls, I want to warn you, it's a global issue. The tide is turning. It will increase negative attention," Steve Leeper, Representative for the United States to the Mayors for Peace Campaign, said in his public comments.
"The use and even threat of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law," Leeper said. "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," and not a technical one.
NNSA SEES THE BEGINNING OF AN 18 MONTH REVIEW PROCESS
But the NNSA stresses a decision has not yet been made.
"The important part of this process is public participation, especially on alternatives," Ted Wyka, Complex 2030 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) Document Manager, told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.
"This is the first stage. We're going to consider all inputs. There's a 90 day comment period which closes January 17, 2007. This isn't something we have written yet," Wyka said.
The goals of the Complex 2030 include, "first, to identify a site to build and locate a consolidated plutonium center, a place where we're going to do manufacturing, production, as well as research and development and surveillance," Wyka said.
"Typically, this has been done across the country at different locations," Wyka said.
The second goal is "to consolidate special nuclear materials (SNM's) to fewer locations," Wyka said.
The third goal is to "reduce or consolidate duplicate facilities or programs to improve operations, including high explosives, tritium, environmental testing facilities, and hydrotesting. For example, we may have 8 sites that do environmental testing. We might not need all of them," Wyka said.
The fourth goal is "transferring flight testing operations from Tonopah to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico or the Nevada test site," Wyka said.
In other words, out of the four parts of the proposed action, three of them involve transfer or consolidation, while the first probably the most controversial involves potentially building new nuclear weapons.
Here's the thing, though. The NNSA is simply reviewing public input on the proposed plan, which is to build more nuclear infrastructure. Decisions about actually producing the bombs would be made by the President of the United States and the US Congress.
"This isn't about the types and levels of weapons. That is a Presidential decision which is funded by Congress. This is to develop the infrastructure, and to transform the infrastructure," Wyka said.
"Our job is to make sure we have the right complex to meet those national security requirements," Wyka said.
But could even the construction of new weapons facilities send a negative message to other counties, thus fueling the nuclear arms race?
"It's not about using it; it acts as a deterrent," Wyka said. "It depends on how it's read. If it's looked upon as increasing numbers, then yes," it could send a negative message.
The NNSA's Power Point presentation said the plan was needed due to "react to adverse geopolitical changes."
However, when asked what specifically those geopolitical changes are, Wyka couldn't name any and said probably that line shouldn't have been included in the presentation.
Wyka said he couldn't think of any public health impacts from a consolidated plutonium center, but said this is what the public input process is for.
Wyka said the NNSA did not assess public health impacts up front so as not to seem to bias the public input process.
"We need to look at workforce exposures," he said.
"This is an advantage when we're trying to use a new facility, rather than an old facility, so we can use state of the art," technology, to possibly prevent exposures, Wyka said.
THREE PROPOSED OPTIONS
The NNSA is looking at 3 options for going forward: Complex 2030; continue the status quo; or third, reducing nuclear weapons production to a nominal level.
A nominal level is seen as 50 certified pits per year, Wyka told APN during the public question and answer session.
The public is also welcome to offer additional alternatives. In fact, the majority of public speakers either endorsed the Complex 2030 program, or instead asked for a fourth option, of the phasing out of all nuclear weapons.
During a question and answer session, one audience member asked where Bush's national security requirements are to be found.
Bush writes a memorandum which is provided to US Congress each year, but the information is otherwise classified. Information on the NNSA website should provide some indications of what those priorities are, though, George Allen, Director of the NNSA Office of Transformation, said.
It is unclear how much impact the public could have on the process by commenting on the environmental impact statements on this stage, though. The NNSA finds of the three options outlined, only Complex 2030 meets Bush's "security priorities."
In other words, it is not clear, if the public mounts strong opposition to Complex 2030, would the DOE have any efficacy or will to challenge the President's program?
COMPLEX 2030 SUPPORTERS CITE JOBS, ECONOMY
About half of the speakers appeared to be in support of Complex 2030, and were at the same time bidding for it to be located at Georgia's Savannah River Site (SRS), where a nuclear power reactor is already located and a second reactor is also being pursued separately.
Of course, due to disparities in political participation among the poor and disadvantaged, speakers at public hearings tend to be unrepresentative of public opinion, with the least advantaged the most underrepresented.
Nancy Bobbitt, a Field Representative for US Sen. Isakson, read letters of support from US Senators Chambliss, (R-GA), Graham (R-SC), and Isakson (R-GA).
Chuck Smith, an Aiken County Council Representative, said "I see the world as a very dangerous place. There's forces out there that want to destroy your families. The deterrent is a necessary force to keep stability."
Smith did not acknowledge the fact, however, that the US already has enough nuclear bombs to blow up the entire planet ten times.
The United Way of Aiken County is in support of the plutonium facility as well.
The existing SRS "is a safe place. I've never worried about it. This community depends a lot of the Savannah River Site," Dee Stratford, President of the United Way of Aiken County, told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.
"It's a staple in the economy," Dave McRae, Director of Resource Development at the United Way of Aiken County, added.
To illustrate the good neighbor-ness of the SRS, Stratford said the United Way of Aiken County received $1.9 million this year from SRS, and a total of $44 million since 1950.
Letters in support were also read by individuals on behalf of the The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce; Chancellor of the University of South Carolina, Aiken; the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory; the Sheriff of Aiken County; the Public Safety Directors of Aiken and Augusta; the Lower Savannah Council of Governments; the Southeast Environmental Management Association; Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a pro-nuclear lobby; and the President of Augusta Technical College.
OPPONENTS CITE DANGER, ENVIRONMENT, AND COST
"We will never have true peace without the abolition of all nuclear weapons," Krista Brewer of Atlanta WAND said in her public comments.
"First, they're very expensive. We're using scarce federal dollars. Second, nuclear technology is far too dangerous [due to] leaks, accidents, [risks during] transportation, the possibility of a terrorist attack, or weapons getting in terrorists' hands," Brewer said.
"The people at Three Mile Island probably thought their plant was safe," Brewer said.
"We urge the Environmental Impact Statement to take into consideration the sum total of radioactivity in the area," Brewer said.
Brewer and Paul also made a demonstration of dropping beebees in a metal bowl; Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream recently made a similar presentation in Atlanta.
One beebee represents 15 Hiroshima-sized bombs.
Paul drops it in the bowl, and it goes: Ping!
Then, Paul drops 6 in the bowl and it goes: "Ping! P-p-ping-ping-ping!"
Finally, Paul drops 10,000 beebees in the bowl and it sounds like the friggin end of the world. "That's the total US nuclear arsenal, 150,000 sized Hiroshima nuclear bombs."
"My concern are those unborn, who have no voice" Charles Utley, a minister, said in his comments.
"How many bombs to you need to kill yourself once?" Utley asked.
"Why should you continue to build? We had contamination in my community last week. Why try to build something you already can't control?" Utley asked.
"When we gather love in our hearts we can put away some of the bombs. But as long as you try to out-do somebody else, somebody else might try to out-do you."
"I do not fully support the SRS nuclear mission. The directives came down from the President and Congress. We've seen recently that their judgment is questionable," David Mantos, a resident of Aiken, said in his comments.
"The decision to build nuclear weapons is jeopardizing our national security. Even a war hawk has to admit we have plenty of nuclear weapons. It's unnecessary that we're producing more," he said.
Public comments may be sent by email to Mr. Wyka until January 17, 2007. They should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor and National Correspondent for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at email@example.com
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.