New Mexico Members of Congress Vote for Exorbitant Nuclear Bomb While State Is Ranked as the Worst for Children

Yesterday all three House members of the New Mexican congressional delegation voted against an amendment that would cut money added to a wasteful nuclear weapons program. In April the Obama Administration asked for $537 million in fiscal year 2014 for a “Life Extension Program” for the B61 Cold War nuclear bomb, 45% above the 2013 level. The House Appropriations Committee added $23.7 million to that bloated request, which the amendment would have cut. Overall, the B61 Life Extension Program has exploded in estimated costs to where each warhead will cost twice their weight in gold just to “refurbish” (which does not include original production and ongoing maintenance costs).

 The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., testified during floor debate:

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.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.,

…supported the full $551 million for the B61 Life Extension Program because it is a national security priority. “This funding is important for Los Alamos and Sandia labs’ effort to ensure the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and cuts to that funding impact the ability to keep it secure,” Luján said.

Rather just ensuring safety and security the program will radically improve the bomb, giving it new military capabilities by turning it into a precisely targeted smart bomb and mating it to future bombers for supersonic stealthy delivery. Currently the main mission of B61 bombs is as tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries, a relic of the Cold War. Improved B61’s fly in the face of Obama’s newly declared goal of reducing the presence of battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, even as he proposes to negotiate with the Russians for further arms reductions. Moreover, if security is really the issue, the sure solution that saves taxpayers money and encourages nonproliferation is to withdraw the nuclear bombs from forward deployment in Europe, where a few years ago protesting peace activists were able to infiltrate within a few hundred yards of them.

Ironically, the B61 Life Extension Program may actually undermine our own national security by introducing major changes to existing bombs. Our stockpile has been extensively full-scale tested, and repeated studies have found our nuclear weapons to be even more reliable than previously believed. The Los Alamos and Sandia Labs propose to create a “frankenbomb” by mixing and matching four variants of the B61 bomb into a single new modification. Common sense dictates that the last thing we should do while seeking to maintain confidence in our reliable nuclear weapons stockpile is to introduce major changes that can’t be tested.

Our New Mexican congressional delegation represents a state that was just ranked as the worst of all fifty for the well-being of its children, where more than 25% live in poverty. In stark contrast, Los Alamos County, dominated by the lab, is the second richest county in the entire USA. Nuclear weapons programs are a poor producer of jobs, where for example according to the government’s own documents a new $6 billion plutonium facility was not going to produce a single new permanent job at Los Alamos Lab.

Contrary to the claimed economic benefits of the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, New Mexico as a whole continues to fall from 37th in per capita personal income in 1959 to 44th in 2011. Nevertheless, the Labs have always had inordinate influence over New Mexican politicians. One extreme example is the recent starling revelation that in between unsuccessful Senate campaigns former Rep. Heather Wilson was paid more than $450,000 by the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs for “consulting” contracts that had no written work requirements.

The nuclear weapons labs have voracious appetites for federal funding, with their directors simultaneously acting as the presidents of the executive board of the for-profit limited liability corporations that run the labs (those private LLCs pay 2/3’s of the directors’ annual compensation of around one million dollars). Business will boom with never-ending Life Extension Programs, and Sandia and Los Alamos are not satisfied with just one Life Extension Program for the B61. They already plan yet another one 20 years from now that initial figures indicate would be even more expensive. In fact, the labs plan a never-ending cycle of Life Extension Programs that intentionally seek to implement major design changes for all existing types of nuclear weapons in our stockpile, costing at least $60 billion (while the doubling of costs has so far been the rule).

Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “Congressman Ben Ray Luján should ask himself the question what good does a Cold War nuclear bomb that the for-profit labs want to endlessly tinker with do for New Mexican children? Pork for the labs should not drive nuclear weapons policies, especially when it’s of little if any tangible benefit to average New Mexicans. Luján should, instead, dedicate himself to boosting funding for programs that would really help our children but are facing painful sequester cuts, such as education, medical care and food assistance. Those investments would really brighten their future, and help raise New Mexico from its shameful position as the worst state for kids.”

# # # 

See House rejects effort to trim $23.7M in funding for B61, Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, July 11, 2013.

For New Mexico’s ranking as the worst state for kids see Kids Count Data Center http://datacenter.kidscount.org/updates/show/20-2013-data-book-rankings
For the scope and schedule of perpetual Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons see NNSA’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan
http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

A Compromised START

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is a staunch supporter of arms control treaties, particularly since they can be confidence building steps toward the long term goal of creating the nuclear weapons-free world articulated by President Obama.

However, we fear that arms control treaties will be turned on their heads to become in effect armament treaties for the American nuclear weapons complex. We think our fears are now concretely realized by the Obama Administration’s “modernization plan” attached to yesterday’s submittal of New START to the Senate for ratification.

As you probably know, the Obama plan is to increase funding for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs from $6.4 billion in FY10 to $9 billion by FY 2018, which is a 76% increase above the Cold War annual average of $5.1 billion. We think that is obviously a serious step backwards on the road to a nuclear weapons-free world, especially when the labs seem intent on introducing new military capabilities to existing types of U.S. nuclear weapons.

There have been calls for unconditional public support of New START. Yet current political realities are that New START will be heavily conditioned by both the Obama Administration and the Senate to include the revitalization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

In concrete terms, this means dramatically increased funding for huge new production plants for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components, respectively the Los Alamos CMRR-Nuclear Facility, the Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility and the new Kansas City Plant.

It also means future aggressive Life Extension Programs that will substantially modify the nuclear explosives package, a serious threshold that we have not yet crossed (and which could effectively recreate the Reliable Replacement Warheads that NNSA sought but Congress rejected, but by another name). We also need to remain aware of the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, but which nevertheless profited the nuclear weapons labs and complex by some $100 billion to date under the Stockpile Stewardship Program to compensate for the loss of underground full-scale testing.

We don’t question that appeals for public support of New START should go forward. But as NGOs we are also entrusted with public responsibility to provide a fuller picture.

We argue that certain conditions for New START ratification, such as increased funding for new production facilities, LEPs and stockpile work, should be publicly explained, and lead to qualified instead of unconditional support of New START ratification.

Obama Bails Out Arms Reduction Treaty by Dramatically Increasing Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday President Obama submitted the new bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to the Senate for ratification. At the same time he submitted a modernization plan required by Congress that “includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the [U.S.] nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.” Given that two-thirds of the Senate is required for treaty ratifications a large political fight was always expected over a second attempt at ratifying the previously rejected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, last December all 40 Republican senators plus one independent wrote to President Obama demanding modernization of both the stockpile and complex as a condition for New START ratification. Meanwhile, the prospects for ratification of the CTBT (first proposed by Prime Minister Nehru of India in 1954) look increasingly dim.

In response to Republican demands, the Obama Administration plans to increase funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by more than 40% from $6.4 billion in FY 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. In turn, $9 billion is 43% above the average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for analogous Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.

The one-page unclassified summary of the modernization plan declares

U.S. nuclear weapons will undergo extensive life extension programs in the coming years to ensure their safety, security and effectiveness. Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent requires that the United States operates a modern physical infrastructure and sustain a highly capable workforce.

That may seem intuitively logical on the face of it, but NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are subtly changing the frame of debate to favor their own interests. Independent scientists have repeatedly found that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable and can be so maintained by existing life extension programs. Past NNSA budget requests repeatedly invoke a “reliable” stockpile, but its FY 2011 request is full of references to an “effective” stockpile.

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino claimed at a recent presentation to international delegations at the United Nations for the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that the U.S. is meeting its disarmament obligations in good faith. At the same time, he repeatedly stated the U.S.’s need to maintain an “effective” stockpile. When asked what effective meant he replied it meant having confidence in the nuclear weapons stockpile underpinned by the right mix of infrastructure and people.

In order to extract increased funding, NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to shift the debate over maintaining the stockpile from technical arguments over warhead safety and reliability to subjective arguments over maintaining an exorbitant research and production complex and workforce. This will not only cost enormous sums of money, which is what the labs seek, but will also perversely undermine confidence in the stockpile because of planned changes, including new military capabilities, that will be made to existing, previously tested weapons. Giving the nuclear weapons labs a blank check contradicts Obama’s declared national security goal of a future nuclear weapons-free world. Instead, he should be redirecting the labs into dramatically increased nonproliferation programs, cleanup, and meeting today’s national security threats of nuclear terrorism, energy dependence and climate change.

The one-page unclassified summary of the Obama modernization plan for the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.

The average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for DOE defense programs is derived from Atomic Audit, The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Steven Schwartz, et.al., Brooking Institution Press, DC, 1998, Table A-2, p. 561 (adjusted for inflation).

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino’s presentation to the NPT Review Conference

For more background, please see “Labs Seek “Stockpile Modernization” Through Test Ban Ratification – Updating” of Treaty “Safeguards” to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Of particular interest are cited Los Alamos Lab viewgraphs that state “Technically: there is little difference between a ratified CTBT, and the current testing moratorium” and “There are several ways to sustain capabilities… Get more money.” The point is that the nuclear weapons labs are fully aware that treaty ratifications are an opportunity for them to secure more funding, as they did in the build up to the 1999 ratification process that rejected the CTBT.

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