Report calls for complex shake-up

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By Roger Snodgrass

A new report released this morning by a network of nuclear watchdogs proposes to reduce radically the nuclear weapons stockpile and shrink the weapons facilities from eight to three locations.

Left standing in the 10-15 year plan would be the two New Mexico laboratories and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Under the report’s recommendations, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Nevada Test Site would be transferred out of the weapons program by 2012. The Kansas City Plant would cease weapons activities by 2015, transferring non-nuclear components production to Sandia National Laboratories, which would shutter its California operations. Savannah River site would end its weapons activities by 2020 and Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., by 2025.

Under the plan, LANL would reduce weapons and plutonium R&D. Pit production would be placed on “cold standby,” weapons environmental testing would be reduced, while stockpile certification capabilities would be maintained for surveillance and certification. High-end explosives would be transferred to Pantex.

The Pantex Plant would significantly expand its operations dismantling weapons and increasing its capacity for pit storage.

The 152-page report offers an alternative to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s current plan for complex transformation which called for increased budgets in order to save money later and continued to rely on all eight facilities.

That prescription was delivered in the last weeks of the Bush Administration and based on a programmatic environmental impact statement and a Nuclear Posture Review conducted in 2001.

The contributors to the new report, called the Nuclear Weapons Consolidation Policy Network, include Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Project on Government Oversight, along with local watchdog groups near Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Kansas City Plant and Pantex.

Their sweeping changes are premised on an extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, now set to expire at the end of the year.

Negotiations are now scheduled to resume in July.

The report calls for “a verifiable treaty with a new limit of 500 total warheads in the active and reserve stockpiles of each nation and commensurate reductions in delivery vehicles for strategic weapons.”

Among the many other recommendations, the report recommends that the U.S. strategic posture eliminate the “pre-emptive strike” threat that the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review.

The authors were led by Robert Civiak, a former Office of Management and Budget Examiner for the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Weapons Program. Civiak renews a call that he has recommended before, of “curatorship” of the nuclear stockpile, with a very conservative program of maintaining nuclear weapons without “life extension” upgrades.

The authors project that their suggestions would cut the weapons complex budget, currently around $6 billion per year, to $2 billion.

An associated news release from Nuclear Watch New Mexico endorses the concept of diversification at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which would take on the primary responsibility for the “curatorship” of the shrinking weapons stockpile.

None of the recommendations for mission transfers should be carried out without appropriate environmental impacts having been assessed and due process for all affected communities.

The report recommends de-emphasizing nuclear weapons science and technology at Los Alamos, repurposing supercomputers for climate change research and significantly expanding the laboratory’s role in non-proliferation, energy efficiency and environmental cleanup.

The policy network’s report comes out in advance of a report by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry, along with former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger as vice chair.