US Nuke Agency Pushes New Bomb Production

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

US Nuke Agency Pushes New Bomb Production

by
Matthew Cardinale

ATLANTA, Georgia - Despite
statements by U.S. President Barack Obama that he wants to see the
world reduce, and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, the U.S.
Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration
continues to push forward on a programme called Complex Modernisation,
which would expand two existing nuclear plants to allow them to produce
new plutonium pits and new bomb parts out of enriched uranium for use
in a possible new generation of nuclear bombs.

Initiated under the
George W. Bush administration, Complex Modernisation - referred to by
anti-nuclear activists as "the Bomb-plex" - would "transform the
plutonium and uranium manufacturing aspects of the complex into smaller
and more efficient operations while maintaining the capabilities NNSA
needs to perform its national security missions," according to a report
by the NNSA in the Federal Register.

"The
main purpose of the Complex Modernisation programme is to maintain
nuclear production capacity for the U.S.," Ralph Hutchison of the Oak
Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance told IPS, arguing that the talk of
modernisation obscures the real objectives of the programme.

"There
are pieces of the modernisation scheme that might address environmental
safety or health concerns, or structural integrity of old buildings
that might need to be looked at," he acknowledged.

But the more
controversial aspect is the creation of a new nuclear production
infrastructure at two sites. First is infrastructure for production of
new plutonium pits - the central core of nuclear weapons - at the Los
Alamos lab in New Mexico, to replace what the NNSA argues is an aging
U.S. nuclear stockpile.

According to its 2009 10-year plan obtained by IPS, the new site could produce 80 plutonium pits per year.

Second, is expansion of enriched uranium processing at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

"Complex
Modernisation" is the latest public relations slogan for the NNSA's
plan; previously it was called Complex 2030 and then Complex
Transformation.

The NNSA held two years of public hearings on
the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS) it
was required to produce under the National Environmental Policy Act for
Complex Modernisation.

At a hearing attended by this reporter in
November 2006 at the Savannah River Site in North Augusta, South
Carolina - which was initially considered for the new plutonium pits
production - NNSA spokesman Ted Wyka told IPS the agency wanted "to
identify a site to build and locate a consolidated plutonium centre, a
place where we're going to do manufacturing, production, as well as
research and development and surveillance."

"This (SPEIS
process) 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."

The NNSA's final report on the
SPEIS process - essentially approving its own "preferred alternative" -
was published in December 2008 in the Federal Register, just two weeks
before President Obama's inauguration. Here, the NNSA noted that, "With
respect to plutonium manufacturing, NNSA is not making any new
decisions regarding production capacity until completion of a new
Nuclear Posture Review in 2009 or later."

Anti-nuclear activists
are looking to Obama's upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) - which
U.S. presidents have conducted at the beginning of their term since
Bill Clinton - to set a new course for nuclear weapons policy for the
U.S.

Obama will face a decision regarding whether to carry out
the production of new plutonium pits, the planning of which was
initiated under the Bush administration.

Obama will also face a decision about the proposed new uranium processing in Oak Ridge.

"They
want to replace several buildings with one fancy new high-tech
3.5-billion-dollar building they're calling the Uranium Processing
Facility," Hutchison said. "And similarly to what [the Federal Register
stated] about the plutonium, although they haven't printed this yet,
they're waiting on the NPR numbers to come in," before they seek to
begin construction.

In the meantime, while Obama works on his NPR, the planning and design of the two new facilities continues.

Obama
"included 55 million dollars in his budget for planning for the uranium
processing facility in Oak Ridge. What people told him was, if you
don't put this much in it, the whole [Complex Modernisation] programme
collapses. We need enough money to keep the team together until we make
the decision. Congress has doubled that; it's just gone through the
process," Hutchison said.

However, an Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) process specific to the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge was
"put on hold", Hutchison said.

"Since February, every month they
say they're going to release it next month. They can't put it out,
because they need to say why they need to build this bomb plant or how
big it needs to be. They can't do that without the numbers from the
NPR," he noted.

"They have an internal struggle. Obama's saying
and doing all these things moving towards a vision of a world free of
nuclear weapons, but the Department of Defence wants to keep building
bombs. All the defence contractors, everybody's making money off of
building bombs, they're in the DOD up to their necks. They want that
number to come out," Hutchison said.

"They want us to get sucked
into this word 'transformation,' as if we're forward looking; or
'modernisation' - what's wrong with modernisation? It's still the
Bomb-plex. It's still a cover for allowing us to continue to make bomb
parts like pits... it's old wine in new bottles," Bobbie Paul,
executive director of Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (WAND),
told IPS.

Meanwhile, as previously reported by IPS, Obama has
made at least two important international speeches concerning nuclear
weapons, in which he has said that the U.S. and the world must work
towards being completely free of nuclear weapons.

"I state
clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and
security of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said in a speech in
Prague on Apr. 5.

"To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing,
my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S.
ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," Obama said.

One hundred and eighty-one other nations have signed and 149 have ratified the treaty.

Last
week, Obama became the first U.S. president to chair a U.N. Security
Council summit, where a resolution was passed aimed at limiting the
spread of nuclear weapons.

Obama has signaled his support for a
significant shift towards disarmament as part of his upcoming NPR. In
addition, Obama said he wants the U.S. and Russia to significantly
reduce their nuclear weapons as part of the renewal of the Russia-U.S.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

However, so far Obama has not
taken any steps to stop Complex Modernisation in its tracks and has not
addressed the NNSA's plans to develop new nuclear weapons or refurbish
old ones. Advocates worry this means new facilities to produce or
refurbish nuclear bombs are still on the table.

"It's kind of
double-talk. We're talking about reducing our arsenal and not being
able to test, but we still have so many bombs on hair-trigger alert...
[Complex Modernisation] is another title to give NNSA permission to
build new bombs. It flies in the face of what he's told the rest of the
world," Paul said.

Advocates worry that Obama - who treads a
rocky path and wants a second term in office - may be willing to
compromise on Complex Modernisation in return for ratification of the
CTBT in the U.S. Senate.

Ratification - which failed in 1999 by
18 votes, receiving only 49 - will require at least 67 votes in the
Senate. This means the entire Democratic Caucus, including the two
independents, and at least seven Republicans will have to support the
measure.

"There's been some talk, in order to get those treaties
ratified, some people might allow some new nuclear research and
production to go on. [Our position] is no, we stand by Obama. We need
to do things consistent with a nuclear-free world," Paul said.

The NNSA did not immediately return two phone calls from IPS seeking comment.

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