A Victory for Good Government

When 19 Senators write the administration to demand funding for a pet project, they usually get what they want.  But not this time.  This time common sense, fiscal realities and the hard work of dozens of Ploughshares Fund grantees combined to kill a wasteful and unnecessary nuclear bomb factory.

With the September 22 approval of the six-month Continuing Resolution for fiscal year 2013 appropriations, Congress has zeroed out a multi-billion dollar plutonium bomb plant.  The plant, known as the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement (CMRR) facility, was to be built at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.  Originally expected to cost under $400 million, its budget had exploded to an estimated $6 billion. The congressional move indefinitely delays plans for the bomb factory’s construction and almost certainly kills the project.

The Senators, in a gambit as old as politics, threatened to oppose critical arms control measures if the plant wasn’t built.  Donning the cloak of national security, they claimed “This facility, which supports our nuclear stockpile and warhead life extension, is critical to the credibility of our nation’s nuclear stockpile which has deterred our enemies and kept the peace for decades.”

“Baloney,” said analysts and activists at many of the organizations Ploughshares Fund supports -- including Nuke Watch New Mexico, the Project on Government Oversight, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Union of Concerned Scientists and Friends Committee on National Legislation.  They wrote, lobbied and argued that the plant was unnecessary and encouraged Congress to cancel it.

Congress listened and acted. Good government prevailed.

As long as we have nuclear weapons, we will have to keep them safe and secure.  But this should never be an excuse to pour money into pork projects or build up the infrastructure for nuclear war.  The existing facility at Los Alamos can make 20 plutonium pits – the cores for nuclear weapons – each year.  The CMRR would have quadrupled that to 80 pits a year – a nuclear surge capacity the nation does not need.

As the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a grassroots network of 35 local, regional and national organizations, said:

The United States does not need the capacity to make more than 20 pits each year.
 Numerous studies have certified that the pits in our current arsenal have shelf lives of 100+ years.  For over a decade U.S. nuclear weapons policy has been one of “stockpile stewardship” rather than new weapons design.  As we strive to prevent new nuclear nations, we must lead by example by not developing new nuclear weapons.

The government will have to replace or refurbish the existing facility at Los Alamos, but it can do so at much lower cost, and without expanding an already massive nuclear arsenal. Those plans are already in motion. They cost 90-percent less and are not nearly as destabilizing and wasteful as the CMRR would have been.

This victory is a small part of our overall campaign to reign in the out-of-control nuclear weapons complex.  It is a sign that our nonpartisan efforts are working.  The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee zeroed out funds for this boondoggle. The Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee did, too.  The nuclear spenders in the Senate grumbled, but they did not prevail. 

This will be seen in this country and beyond as a sign that the tide is turning against unlimited funding for nuclear weapons.  Budget pressures now give us a new policy lever to modernize America’s national security strategy.  It is a sign of good things to come.



Photo by Los Alamos National Laboratory