Message to Congress: The Cold War is Over

Commentary by KAY MATTHEWS

Senator Tom Udall
Senator Tom Udall

In a July 10 bulletin Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group alerted us that Representative Ben Ray Lujan voted against six proposed amendments to the House Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have moved funds from the National Nuclear Security Agency’s (NNSA) nuclear “Weapons Activities” account to renewable energy, energy reliability, and energy efficiency accounts. The day after this vote all three New Mexico House members voted against an amendment that would have cut a proposed increase to an already bloated executive request to fund the “Life Extension Program” for the B61 Cold War nuclear bomb maintained at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

In Mello’s bulletin he gave Lujan a slight break with the caveat, “Our two senators would come down on Ben Ray like a ton of brinks if he strayed from the path of funding nuclear warheads to the maximum extent possible.”

Senator Martin Heinrich
Senator Martin Heinrich

Now that Pete Domenici, New Mexico’s go-to guy for all things nuclear, has retired, both Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have taken up the nuclear gauntlet. In the Senate Udall fought to preserve funding for the B61 Cold War bomb, which is currently a tactical nuclear weapon in NATO. The yet to be determined multi-million dollar funding (the Senate hasn’t voted yet on the bill but the Obama administration asked for $537 million) will turn the bomb into a precisely targeted smart bomb that, according to Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s public alert, can be “mated to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery.” Udall threatened to vote against the entire Energy and Water Appropriations bill if a proposed slash of $168 million wasn’t included (an amount that would be added to the funding bill contingent on B61 project managers meeting certain cost and schedule requirements).

In its alert Nuclear Watch quoted Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill, sponsor of the amendment that would have cut the proposed increase to the B61 bomb: “At a time when we are slashing funds for disease research at the NIH [National Institute of Health], failing to fund our crumbling infrastructure, and underinvesting in our children¹s education, we are increasing funding to keep hundreds of nuclear bombs in operation that we will never use. The Cold War is over.”

Representative Ben Ray Lujan
Representative Ben Ray Lujan

This is what Steward Udall tried to tell us in 1993. One of the people who commented on the La Jicarita website on July 11 regarding Eric Shultz’s article “Voices of Anti-Nuclear Solidarity,” pointed to an article in the New York Times that talked about Udall’s work to pass legislation to compensate nuclear workers injured or killed in the development or testing of the atomic bomb, compensation that his son Tom has also worked for as the industry continued to sicken people long after that. But Steward Udall, former Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administration, said some things in that article that must give his son pause: “There is nothing comparable in our history to the deceit and the lying that took place as a matter of official Government policy in order to protect this [nuclear] industry. Nothing was going to stop them and they were willing to kill our own people. . . .The atomic weapons race and the secrecy surrounding it crushed American democracy. . . . It induced us to conduct Government according to lies. It distorted justice. It undermined American morality.”

Does Tom Udall believe that the  “deceit and lying” his father spoke about is gone from today’s nuclear industrial complex embodied by LANL and Sandia? As Joseph Masco says in his book Nuclear Borderlands, The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico, “ . . . the first achievement of the Manhattan Project was not the atomic bomb, but the institutionalization of a system of government secrecy, enabling a curtailing of democratic process when it comes to U.S. national security policy.” He quotes an anti-nuclear activist:

Secrecy has multiple uses. It cordons off workers, keeps them under control, it keeps out the public, it creates a priesthood, it protects against inquiry, and can hide lousy work. Only those who are allowed into the system would actually know enough to actually criticize it, so the budget can’t be attacked. The end result of all this is that secrecy is used to define the debate. We hear this all the time at the lab, about the “gulf of ignorance” that separates us from the scientists with the real knowledge. But everything to do with nuclear weapons is “born secret,” meaning that it is classified without review, and the boundary between what is secret and what is not secret is also secret. (emphasis added)

Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham
Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham

Our congressional delegation votes for the B61 Cold War bomb; it voted for the billion dollar Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) that is now “comatose”; it will vote for the newly hatched pit facility proposed to take the place of the CMRR. It will perpetuate the secrecy that “curtails the democratic process” and continue to justify its actions in the name of “national security” and New Mexico’s economic dependency at the national trough. In light of the recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s mega-database of our e-mails, postal service mail, and phone calls, the congressional claim of “national security” instills more fear than security. The trickle-down neoliberal economic justification is so blatantly belied by the facts—25 percent of New Mexicans live in poverty; the state fell from 37th in per capita personal income in 1959 to 44th in 2011; and we now rank worst of all the states in the well-being of children—that it’s nothing more than a sick joke.

Many Hispano and Native American lives have been inextricably entwined with the nuclear industry as workers at LANL or in the uranium mines in the Grants mineral belt and Four Corners region; some of them view it as an opportunity for steady employment that maintains community stability while others see it as a colonial, occupying force that has broken our traditional ties to the land and poisoned our communities. As the Cerro Grande Fire and subsequent conflagrations (Las Conchas Fire in 2011) raged throughout the Jemez Mountains onto Lab property, and the Department of Energy proposed to consolidate the production of plutonium pits at LANL to a level never before undertaken, the potential impacts on the lives of all norteños has dramatically increased.

Representative Steve Pearce
Representative Steve Pearce

Anti-nuclear organizations, mostly extant since the 1980s, have worked diligently to keep the public informed, participate in regulatory hearings and negotiations, lobby Congress, file lawsuits, and form partnerships with Hispano, Pueblo, and Navajo groups to made sure their efforts incorporate complicated cultural concerns. The press has published story after story about Lab fiscal mismanagement, safety violations, labor and civil rights disputes, security breaches, and retaliation against whistleblowers while books have been published that delve deep beneath the layers of normative acceptance of the Lab’s presence in our lives.

Yet the New Mexico congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat alike, never waivers in its carte blanche support of the “behemoth on the hill” and its nuclear mission. Their talking points about potential “new” missions there in alternative energy research and other kinds of technological advances, as well as their support for more clean-up dollars, are hollow words when the votes are taken.


  1. Report details criticality infractions at LANL PF-4 [Los Alamos Monitor July 20, 2013 FYI: “A Criticality accident is an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction. It is sometimes referred to as a critical excursion or a critical power excursion and represents the unintentional assembly of a critical mass of a given fissile material, such as enriched uranium or plutonium, in an unprotected environment.” []

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