In April 2009, President Barack Obama declared in Prague that he was committing the United States to a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. His vision was almost universally welcomed and, eventually, honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since then, it has become apparent that the President’s vision is not driving a change in US nuclear policy. Instead things have gotten, as Alice said in Wonderland, curiouser and curioser. The path to a world free of nuclear weapons, the President seems to believe, leads first through the largest increases in nuclear weapons funding in history—the weapons production budget will nearly double, to $13 billion, in the next five years.
The money will be spent on “life extension upgrades” on warheads in the existing US stockpile, the W76, the B63, and the B61—life extension means taking old bombs and refurbishing them, replacing some old parts and, in some cases, upgrading the warheads. In the case of the W76, the new modified warhead will have a new name (W76-1) and a new military capability—it is, in effect, a new weapon.
But most of the increase is for “modernizing” the US nuclear weapons production infrastructure, including a new plutonium pit facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico (called the CMRR-NF), a new highly enriched uranium secondary production facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (called the UPF), and a new Kansas City Plant in Missouri to manufacture non-nuclear components that govern the fusing and firing of nuclear weapons—a whole new nuclear weapons complex with a pricetag in excess of $8 billion.
There is no legitimate military or security need for new, life-extended weapons or new bomb production facilities. The US can easily maintain a reliable stockpile while reducing our arsenal as we negotiate arms control treaties with existing facilities. There is no policy driver for expanded production capacity—the recent START Treaty requires the US to dismantle hundreds of warheads and sets a ceiling of 1,600 bombs. There is a broad consensus that a stockpile of 1,600 warheads is more than sufficient to deter any deterrable aggressor.
So if it’s not military necessity or security concerns, what drives the new arms race? Profits.
In 1998, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance launched the Stop the Bombs campaign to oppose ongoing bomb building at the Y12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Y12 enriched the uranium that fueled the Hiroshima bomb and went on to manufacture the thermonuclear secondary for every warhead in the US arsenal. It is actively “upgrading” the W76 warhead today.
OREPA’s Stop the Bombs campaign has worked to build opposition through education, organizing, and mobilization. The grassroots campaign has used “every tool in the toolbox;” OREPA’s staff and members have served on official state and federal advisory boards; participated in formal public hearings and informal work sessions; done advocacy work in Washington, DC; and have even taken to the streets and been arrested in acts of nonviolent civil resistance—several hundred arrests in the last decade. OREPA works cooperatively with other groups around the country through the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
Over the years, the Stop the Bombs campaign has addressed the economic reality surrounding nuclear weapons.
At public meetings, workers and corporate benefactors of bomb production routinely stand to declare their fealty to the United States and their pride in maintaining our nuclear posture in the interest of security. They never mention how much money they are making from the bomb business, but the weaponeer CEOs over the last fifteen years have enjoyed multimillion dollar salaries. The companies? Bechtel, Babcock and Wilcox, the University of California, the giant engineering firm URS, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell, just to name the headliners. Each site also butters the bread for scores of smaller contractors as well. Recently, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced plans to consolidate some contracts at production facilities, reducing competition, consolidating expertise and, most importantly for contractors, maximizing profits!
The economic realities in many of the weapons production communities are straightforward—the sites were developed, often in secret, to build bombs, and the communities that developed around them maintained that focus—it’s what they know how to do and what they get paid to do. Because these sites have had a big regional economic footprint, they have exercised disproportionate clout in Washington, DC and are positioned to protect their profits even in the face of economic uncertainty—witness the doubling of the bomb budget at the same time a freeze on most non-military domestic spending was announced.
Efforts to stop the new bomb plants are ongoing—OREPA continues to educate, organize and mobilize, in the streets and in decision-makers’ offices. Grassroots activists are building momentum in Kansas City through a series of actions this summer, and activists in Los Alamos are mounting a multi-faceted opposition to the CMRR-NF.
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