April 10, 2009

Watchdog Group Seeks Reduction In U.S. Nuclear Complexes

A new report released Wednesday by the Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy Network urges the federal government to reduce the nation's weapons complexes to just three sites as a move towards achieving the nuclear arms-free world that President Obama recently spoke about.

"The continued existence of large nuclear weapon stockpiles in the United States, and in other countries, does not increase our security, but instead makes it more precarious.  The time for a new approach to nuclear weapons is long overdue," the report read.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, one of the authors of the report, said he believes the network's recommendations might be better received in light of Obama's speech last Sunday in Prague.

"We have a different declared direction ... (that) makes our recommendations a whole lot more possible than they were before" Coghlan told the Associated Press, adding that the group advises reducing nuclear weapons work to essential operations only.

The only rationale for nuclear weapons is to deter an attack on the United States, the group said in its report, entitled "Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex."

The nation needs no more than 500 nuclear weapons, or roughly ten percent of current estimates of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, the report said.

In his speech, which came just hours after North Korea launched a rocket, President Obama said the United States has a responsibility to lead the world in the elimination of "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War."

Obama said the U.S., the only nation to ever use a nuclear weapon, would host a summit within the next year to discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In the weeks ahead members of the policy network will discuss their proposal with the Obama administration and members of Congress.

Crucial components of the plan include stopping the addition of new military capabilities to existing weapons, halting the design of new weapons and reducing research.

Instead, the network recommends merely maintaining and repairing the stock of current weapons when necessary.

"If the carburetor fails, I don't want to go to General Motors and have them design a new carburetor. I want to go to a mechanic," wrote Robert L. Civiak, the report's main author.

In a statement, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said the nation must ensure its weapons are safe, secure and reliable as long as it maintains a nuclear deterrent.

An AP report cited NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera as saying that weakening the unique nuclear mission of each site "would be detrimental to national security and extremely costly to the taxpayer."

The network advocates consolidating nuclear weapons operations by 2025, and calls for surveillance and testing to be conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, with engineering at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and storage and dismantling at the Texas-based Pantex complex.  All three facilities are within 280 miles of each other.

The network also recommends the elimination of funding for a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos and a uranium processing facility at the Y-12 plant in Tennessee.

A plant in Kansas City, MO that procures nuclear weapons components should be canceled, the group said.

These recommendations would reduce the current nuclear weapons complex budget by about two-thirds, with most of the savings coming within ten years, according to Christopher Paine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the report's authors.

The group emphasized that it seeks the redirection, not elimination, of the NNSA.  It also calls for weapons labs in Tennessee, California and South Carolina to expand their non-weapons work in areas such as alternative energy research.

Last December under the administration of former President George W. Bush, the Department of Energy (DOE) approved its own initiative to limit the most hazardous nuclear material to five sites, and to consolidate the management of the nation's nuclear weapons. The department recommended limiting plutonium, highly enriched uranium and production of tritium to just five sites.  Currently, there are seven such sites.


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