Dec. 15, 2006 – A movement is mounting to foil a controversial federal program to "modernize" the nationâ€™s nuclear weapons arsenal. The Bush administration says its plan will lead to a "smaller, safer and more-secure" stockpile, but opponents call it a blueprint for a new atomic arms buildup.
The US Department of Energy, in partnership with the National Nuclear Security Administration, opened a 90-day public comment period on their plan in mid-October. Since then, scores of people have turned out at public hearings to condemn "Complex 2030," which critics call a dangerous and misguided policy driven by the weapons industry.
Complex 2030 is the National Nuclear Security Administrationâ€™s (NNSA) vision for transforming the US nuclear weapons complex by the year 2030. Part of Complex 2030 includes the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, a controversial proposal already under pursuit by NNSA that would redesign the existing nuclear weapons stockpile.
On Thursday in Washington, DC, before the final public hearing on the plan, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability rebuked Complex 2030, saying the multi-billion dollar plan was rife with "flaws and dangers." Opponents speaking before the public hearing included environmentalists, scientists, military experts, religious leaders and anti-nuclear groups.
"Undertaking Complex 2030 would communicate to the rest of the world that even the sole conventional military superpower needs new and improved nuclear weapons for its security, thereby encouraging other nations to acquire them to the detriment of international security," retired Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr, told reporters at the National Press Club in DC on Thursday. Gard is now a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Under the Complex 2030 proposal, the Bush administration calls for a new plutonium facility that could manufacture up to 125 nuclear weapons per year.
"What is required instead," Gard continued, "is to take actions to diminish the role and utility of nuclear weapons in our nationâ€™s security and comply with our nationâ€™s obligation to make a good-faith effort to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons."
Under the Complex 2030 proposal, the Bush administration calls for a new plutonium facility that could manufacture up to 125 nuclear weapons per year. The Department of Energy (DOE) would choose among existing nuclear facilities competing to build the new plutonium center.
The administration is also moving forward quickly with its Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program to redesign existing nuclear weapons. The objective, according to the NNSA, is to modify the weapons so they will be more reliable and secure, as well as easier to maintain and produce. NNSA spokesperson Julie Smith told The NewStandard that the agency may choose between two competing designs for the new warheads as early as next week. Smith said the RRW program would still need congressional approval.
"The Complex 2030 plan is diverting attention from the need to begin nuclear reductions and eventual elimination of our nuclear stockpile."
Responding to criticsâ€™ concerns about Complex 2030, Smith said the NNSA "manages the nuclear weapons stockpile, so we need to do what we need to do to make them safe, secure and reliable."
But others say they do not believe the plan is benign.
"The Complex 2030 plan is diverting attention from the need to begin nuclear reductions and eventual elimination of our nuclear stockpile," Rebecca Griffin, deputy with the California-based Peace Action West, told TNS. Griffin added that the US should be focusing on disarmament obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), an international agreement which the US signed in 1968.
At a November 13 public hearing in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Erik Johnson, a father of five, called the Complex 2030 documents "disturbing."
"I view these weapon systems of complexes across the country as death-making camps," Johnson said, according to hearing transcripts posted on the Complex 2030 website. "And the people who work there are in the business of perpetuating terror upon this Earth."
Out of nearly 20 area residents joining Johnson to give remarks, only one supported Complex 2030: the president of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council, which represents workers at DOEâ€™s nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 nuclear plant.
Across the country in California, residents of the densely populated city of Livermore, home to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also spoke out against Complex 2030. Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CARE), an anti-nuclear group, said the outpouring of opposition represents a public referendum of sorts opposing more nuclear weapons.
"Try-Valley CAREs thinks that it might be a good idea to have a national laboratory in Livermore, to have scientists and engineers and technical support people," Kelley told TNS. "What we object to is the nuclear weapons work, both in terms of local pollution and in terms of the fact that we think itâ€™s not leading toward global security."
Kelley said Livermore Labs could be turned into a civilian science center that leads the world in research on alternative energy, global warming, green manufacturing technology and nuclear weapons clean-up programs.
A government task force estimated the cost of Complex 2030 to be between $155 and $175 billion dollars. DOE is in the first "scoping" phase of Complex 2030, in which it is gathering public input to consider before drafting an Environmental Impact Statement. The comment period ends January 17, 2007.