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Message to Budget Super Committee — Stop Wasting on Nukes

The Budget Super Committee is looking for places to save money, and OREPA has found a whopper! How about saving 85 billion over the next ten years by NOT MODERNIZING our already modern nuclear weapons?


Representative Ed Markey has drafted a letter to the Super Committee that calls for some fiscal restraint on nuclear weapons”it doesn’t do everything we might want, but it’s a start. You can see the letter and access a very handy page to let you send a message to your Representative asking her/him to sign on to Markey’s letter at the Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) web site:  http://capwiz.com/wand/issues/alert/?alertid=53876596&PROCESS=Take%20Action


OREPA also sent a letter to Jimmy Duncan, Republican representing the Knoxville district, a long-time fiscal conservative. Here’s the text of that letter:


The Honorable Jimmy Duncan

2207 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515


27 September 2011


Congressman Duncan,


Fiscal responsibility, something in short supply in Washington, DC these days, has always been a hallmark of your service in the House of Representatives. At times it has led you to stand up to the leadership of your party and to take positions that may have been unpopular even with your constituents in East Tennessee. You’ve been able to do it because you have been consistent and principled.


I am writing now because I am hoping you will continue to apply those same principles as the budget Supercommittee deliberates on its proposal.


For more than twenty years, I have served as the Coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. When I began this job, I didn’t know all that much about Oak Ridge and even less about nuclear weapons. But over the years, I have learned a fair amount. I’ve served on advisory boards for the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Tennessee, and the National Academy of Sciences. I’ve presented briefings at the United Nations and, with Ambassador Robert Grey, on the Hill. I’ve read hundreds of documents and reports prepared by the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration and I’ve published several monographs on the future of Oak Ridge, particularly the Y12 National Security Complex.


This past week, your colleague Ed Markey prepared a letter to the Supercommittee asking them to take a careful look at the nuclear weapons budget. Mr. Markey lays out a clear and straightforward argument that nuclear weapons, a relic of the Cold War, have outlived any usefulness they once had, and that the United States should reduce its investment in nuclear weapons rather than increase it. Mr. Markey is not coming out of left field”his opinions are in line with former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Shultz, as well as former Senator Sam Nunn and former Secretary of Defense William Perry, all of whom have called for the US to chart a path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Their call has garnered broad support around the world from political, diplomatic and military leaders.


Instead, the National Nuclear Security Administration has laid out a plan to “modernize” the US   nuclear stockpile and to rebuild the nuclear weapons production infrastructure, including a new facility at Y12 in Oak Ridge, the Uranium Processing Facility. Since it was first proposed six years ago, the pricetag for the UPF has skyrocketed at a rate that defies credulity”increasing more than 1000%! The price increase is routinely laid off to “inflation” and “increased cost of building materials.” Neither of these has risen by 1000% since 2005.


The argument of the weapons establishment is straightforward: if we are reducing our stockpile, it is imperative that our remaining warheads be reliable in order to maintain a credible deterrent posture as we move toward zero. The NNSA pursues this end through the Stockpile Stewardship Program, and it uses this argument as justification for three new multi-billion dollar bomb plants, one in Los Alamos, one in Oak Ridge, and the third in Kansas City.


But when the NNSA briefs you and your staff, they leave out some information that is crucial if you are to have a fully informed perspective as you address these funding requests. Here’s some of what you aren’t being told:


• Stockpile stewardship is not just”or even primarily”about maintaining our stockpile or improving security and surety; it is about upgrading the stockpile and, in the case of the W76″undergoing Stockpile Life Extension at Y12 at the moment”introducing new military capabilities to existing warheads. While this is not widely publicized in the US, it is not secret; our nuclear competitors know it and view it as a provocative act.


• Stockpile Life Extension is not necessary to assure the reliability of our nuclear arsenal. A study by the JASON found that current warheads can be relied upon to function as designed for at least 85 years”far longer than the 40-45 years cited by the NNSA. The JASON examined plutonium pits, the components most susceptible to the effects of aging”we have urged a similar study of the secondaries of nuclear weapons, but that study has yet to be funded.


• It is not necessary to spend tens of billions of dollars on massive new bomb plants in order to continue stockpile stewardship activities. At Los Alamos, existing facilities can produce as many as twenty plutonium pits per year. In Oak Ridge, existing facilities can produce many dozens of secondaries per year. According to the NNSA, their mission requirements for stockpile maintenance can be met with a throughput capacity of less than 15 warheads/year. The production capacity is needed because certain tests required by the stewardship program result in the destruction of components.


• The new facilities proposed at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos are grossly oversized”with the bloated pricetag to match. Rather than design to meet their stated mission requirements, NNSA has chosen to build a giant UPF in Oak Ridge with a production throughput capacity of 85 secondaries/year”an overdesign of nearly 500%, much of which will sit idle year after year if the US maintains its current program. If the US achieves further arms control agreements with Russia, and further downsizes the arsenal”almost universally predicted”the disparity between what we need and what we are paying for will grow greater.


• The schedule for modernizing the stockpile and the schedule for modernizing the infrastructure do not line up. According to the current schedule, stockpile life extension operations will have been completed for all but one of the warheads currently in our stockpile, and that one will be in process before the new UPF comes on line in 2024. This assumes construction schedules stay on track until then, which is unlikely. In other words, as difficult as it may be to believe, the work to be done in the proposed new facility ($7.5 billion and rising) will already have been done in existing facilities.


• By NNSA’s own admission, a smaller UPF, still sized to meet mission requirements, would have less environmental impact.


• According to DOE/NNSA’s Ten Year Plan for Y12, upgrades to existing facilities at Y12 to meet current environmental, safety and health standards can be completed for a fraction of the cost of a new UPF”and will be done so that Y12 can continue to operate between now and 2024. In other words, we are paying twice for the same job”stockpile life extension of the US arsenal.


• Finally, I know from conversations in some offices, even Tennessee’s Senators and Representatives were not told the new UPF would cost jobs in Oak Ridge. Initial projections by the NNSA were startling”the new, computerized, high tech UPF would require 2,400 fewer workers”a workforce reduction of 40% of the production staff.


Mr. Duncan, I am providing this information so that you can be fully informed as you make decisions that are in the best interest of our country. I am not asking you to consider doing anything that would compromise the security of the United States. It is, in fact, the pursuit of expanded nuclear weapons production capacity and the modernization of our stockpile”seen as provocative acts”that increases the risk of a new global arms race and the security risks therein. At briefings on the Hill with Ambassador Grey in last 2009, he spoke forcefully when he said the United States would have “zero credibility” in international arms control discussions if it proceeds with massive investments in a new production infrastructure.


I will be happy to have followup conversations with you or your staff as you consider these issues, and I hope you will contact Congressman Markey about signing on to his letter to the Supercommittee. If you are unable to do that, I hope you will consider asking for accountability regarding the incredible escalation of cost projections for the UPF.


Reducing US spending on nuclear weapons will not deliver us from our financial straits, but every billion helps!







Ralph Hutchison, coordinator

Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance


Ralph Hutchison

315 Mayflower Dr

Knoxville, TN 37920

865 776 5050



Reflections for Nonviolent Community


Sunday Vigil at Y-12 in Oak Ridge Tennessee

Sunday Vigil

OREPA has held Sunday vigils every week for more than 22 years at the main entrance to the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex (intersection of Scarboro Rd and East Bear Creek Road) at 5:00pm ET. We are outdoors and space our chairs; when covid numbers are up, we encourage people to wear masks. Bring your own chair, we have some umbrellas for sun shade or rain.

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