The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Laboratory

By SUZIE SCHWARTZ, Norteños for Peaceful and Resilient Futures

We welcomed Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester’s recent actions: the blessing and unveiling of a sign of peace at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe declaring, “The possession of nuclear weapons is immoral,” and his call for difficult conversations about nuclear disarmament. Also, tomorrow, January 22,  many celebrations will be held to mark the first anniversary of “entry into force” of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law along with chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, here in Northern New Mexico, little is ever mentioned about the fact that we are in the heart of the new US led Cold War and the accelerating nuclear colonization of our state with Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) assignment to undertake industrial-scale plutonium pit production. “Pits” are the evil hearts (triggers) of the modern nuclear warhead necessary to detonate nuclear bombs. By statute, LANL is supposed to build one War Reserve plutonium pit in 2023, at least ten in 2024, twenty in 2025, with full blown production commencing in 2026 of at least 30 pits per year.

Plans are in the works for Taos County youth to play a key role in building the infrastructure LANL needs to accomplish its sinister assignment.  According to a 2020 LANL press release, New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council and LANL have partnered with the Taos Municipal School District to create building trades courses for high school students.  These courses are designed to funnel high school graduates directly to LANL to work full-time jobs as paid apprentices, and after that, as well-paid journeymen construction workers at LANL. 

Here are some of the difficult conversations Archbishop Wester is urging us to have:

• What do today’s children know about nuclear weapons?

• Are they being told that this construction is needed to support and house new nuclear weapons operations?

• Once construction is complete, presumably by mid-decade, will our kids be out of a job?

• Will they be able to find comparable high paying jobs in our rapidly changing world?

• How do our kids feel about the carbon footprint of commuting nearly four hours per day?

 • Do they know about the enormous amounts of electricity and precious water LANL needs for its pit operations?

• What makes us so poor that our school district, businesses, non-profits, and local governments feel they have no choice but to partner with the nuclear weapons industry?

• How do we measure the currency of people’s lives, especially the lives of our youth who are inheriting a really big mess from us?

• Must we measure prosperity by money, profit, and growth?

• Can we consider a different measure of prosperity where we value the skills and gifts of devotion we bring to our communities through vocations and actions that nurture, regenerate, and sustain all of life, human and non human alike?

• What kinds of educational programs do we need to foster in our changing world where we are increasingly experiencing the vulnerabilities and effects of centralized grids—from energy production, to water, food, clothing, and building materials?

• Should we be creating vocational choices for our young people that make sense for their future instead of carbon intensive nuclear weapons jobs? Are we smart enough, wise enough, to think outside the narrow box of today’s extractive and divisive economies that are based on growth, money, energy, and mass consumption? Can we instead imagine and create a new paradigm that is generous, distributive, regenerative, and resilient where all can thrive within the means of our life-giving planet?

• Do nuclear weapons jobs have any place in such a transition or contribute to the greater good of the community in any way?

• Do we really believe what we are being told about the need for nuclear weapons modernization using the tired, obsolete multi-billion dollar excuses of the “nuclear deterrent” and national security?

Nuclear weapons and the war economy have no place in any resilient future we create. The new normal is never going to be the old normal, no matter what we wish for.

I often wonder, as we collectively proceed ever so incrementally and cautiously along our current path, heedless of the urgency of our emergency and the desperate need for swift action, what the children of the future will think of their ancestors’ legacy. Because they will know that we knew our house was on fire and we barely tried to put it out. 

Hopefully they will exist.


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