Abolishing nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health on February 1, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Consider what is said here  by Alice Slater, Ron McCoy and Greg Mello. They want a treaty that would make nuclear weapons illegal. Favored by ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), this is now before the UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG).

Alice Slater
Jan 30 (1 day ago)
Dear Friends,
Some correspondence from the ICAN list about why we need to work on a treaty to ban the bomb, just as we have banned chemical and biological weapons, thus
filling the legal gap in the NPT and ICJ decision, at the upcoming UN Open Ended Working Group even in the nuclear weapons states, from Greg Mello of Los Alamos Study Group in response to Ron McCoy of IPPNW. Hope you will all get involved at some level. The way things are heating up now, with nuclear weapons forever, we have to do something and this is an excellent opportunity. A genuinely meaningful next step!! See http://www.icanw.org Alice

From: Greg Mello [mailto:gmello@lasg.org]
Sent: Saturday, January 30, 2016 8:55 AM
To: Alice Slater

Subject: Fwd: RE: [ICAN] Perspectives on the 2016 OEWG, now beginning

A ban treaty would be the natural culmination of the decades of brilliant civil society work that have brought us to this point.

Such a treaty would be voluntary and non-coercive, yet ever more normative as more countries joined. It would grow in importance only in the most democratic manner. It would affect nuclear arsenals in an indirect and therefore flexible manner, and only according to the evolving unique security circumstances of each state. It would not conflict with any existing or future disarmament or nonproliferation agreement or treaty, but rather would support them all. It would not add new obligations for NPT non-nuclear weapon states that are not in nuclear security relationships, which is most of the countries in the world. All these states have nothing to lose in a ban — apart from whatever nasty forms of leverage some nuclear weapon states (like the U.S.) and their allies might try to apply.

A ban would stimulate and empower civil society in many countries, with benefits across humanitarian issues.

Here in the U.S., a ban treaty would tremendously empower everything we are doing against nuclear weapons. I would like to explain this further because many people think that a ban would have no effect on U.S. policy, given that the U.S. won’t sign it.

Nuclear policy in the U.S. is not made in a smooth, top-down, confident manner. There are many reversals and problems. The nuclear weapons establishment has many adversaries inside government and outside, not least its own bureaucrats and fat-cat contractors, who struggle to hide the scandals and ongoing fiascos. Key mid-career people are quitting early at facilities we know from job frustration, taking their knowledge and experience with them. Retirements left one plant (Y-12) without knowledge of how to make a critical non-commercial material at industrial scale. At the only U.S. nuclear weapons assembly plant, in Texas, snakes and mice infest one or more key buildings, which date from World War II. Rain comes through the roofs and dust through the doors. In Oak Ridge, huge pieces of concrete have fallen from ceilings and deep cracks have appeared in a structural beam in a key building. All this infrastructure may, or may not be, fully replaced. It is contested in many cases, difficult, and expensive.

At Los Alamos, the main plutonium facility has been largely shut down for almost three years because of inadequate safety and staffing. Approximately seven attempts have been made since 1989 to construct a new factory complex for producing plutonium warhead cores — all have failed. It might just be that nuclear weapons production, in the final analysis, is not compatible with today’s safety and environmental expectations and laws. Transmission of nuclear weapons ideology and knowledge under these conditions is a difficult challenge.

A growing ban would reach deep into the human conscience, affecting everything, including career decisions. It would affect corporate investments as well as congressional enthusiasm for the industry. I have spoken with nuclear weapons CEOs who know it is a “sunset” field with only tenuous support in the broader Pentagon, despite all the nuclear cheer-leading we see. Modernization of the whole nuclear arsenal is very likely unaffordable, even assuming current economic conditions hold (they won’t).

A ban would also affect the funding, aims, and structure of the U.S. nonprofit universe and think-tank “ecosystem,” as well as media interest and coverage.

Beyond all this, I believe a ban would also help decrease popular support in the U.S. for war and war expenditures in general. Why? There is a tremendous war-weariness in the U.S., right alongside our (real, but also orchestrated) militarism. A growing ban on nuclear weapons would be a powerful signal to political candidates and organizations that it is politically permissible to turn away from militarism somewhat, that there is something wrong with the levels of destruction this country has amassed and brandished so wildly and with such deadly and chaotic effects. Ordinary people here in the U.S. are seeing greater and greater austerity and precarity. They work extremely hard and have less and less to show for it. Polls (decades of them) show the public has never really supported the scale of nuclear armaments we have. One 1990s poll disclosed that most Americans think we have more than ten times fewer warheads than we actually do, more like the U.K., France, and China! Our economy is in bad shape and our infrastructure is visibly declining, sometimes with fatal results. A ban could help this benighted country recognize its folly, at least to some degree. It would be a wake-up call signalling that widely-held U.S. assumptions about our place in the world might need just a teensy bit of adjustment.

I hope this helps fill in the picture somewhat for those far away who may not see why a ban would be powerful here in the U.S.

The case for such a simple, totally flexible, and powerful treaty, with relatively low diplomatic cost for most states, is to our eyes unassailable.

In solidarity,

Greg Mello

On 1/28/2016 11:48 PM, Ronald McCoy wrote:
Dear all,

It is well to be reminded by Greg and Trish of the decades-long machinations of the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and their allies.
Only too well do we know how they manipulated us through the false NPT process. They will once again try to do the same in the OEWG.

The NWS are well aware of the consequences of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds, making them illegitimate and therefore primed for elimination.

Negotiations for a ban treaty cannot possibly be made “universal” when nine states possess nuclear weapons and are not prepared to give them up. We should go direct to formulating a ban treaty, irrespective of the views and ploys of the NWS and their cohorts.

Ron McCoy

On Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 3:11 AM, Greg Mello <gmello@lasg.org> wrote:
Dear colleagues –

As the first session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) begins, I wanted to convey our profound gratitude to everyone who has helped advance the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons and the prospects for a treaty-based ban on (possessing, developing, manufacturing, transferring, and using) such weapons. Tremendous progress has been made.

We can’t be there but wanted to send a few perspectives about this process as it begins.

There are only 15 working days allocated for the OEWG. We can be sure that the nuclear weapon states and their weasel allies will try to de-focus, dilute, delay, distract, and divide our efforts – now, during the sessions, between the sessions, and afterwards.

Some nuclear weapon states, the U.S. in particular, will promise the moon to prevent negotiations that could lead to any effective disarmament measure, including the very dangerous ban treaty. In the 20 years since the NPT was indefinitely renewed, none of those promises has meant anything.

Empty promises flavored with delicious idealism are a specialty of this U.S. administration. “Mirages,” one author called them. “A world free of nuclear weapons” is one of these empty and dangerous platitudes.

There will be plenty of efforts to broaden the discussion, say to “the risks and challenges ahead,” or to induce irrelevant technical discussions (e.g. of verification), or to otherwise rehash terrain traversed repeatedly over past decades.

Another form of distraction is speculation about a treaty to guide the details of a hypothetical future multilateral disarmament process. Newsflash: the nuclear weapon states will not sign such a treaty — not now, or for the foreseeable future.

There surely also will be efforts, well-intentioned and otherwise, that have the effect of running down the clock.

The nuclear weapon states believe their arsenals are fully legitimate – fully supported not just by international law but also by reason, morality, and their own governments’ responsibilities to prevent war. That is how they see it. Why should there be good faith negotiations to get rid of something as legitimate and important as nuclear weapons (in their view)? So there haven’t been any such negotiations, and won’t be.

Nothing significant will be possible in disarmament diplomacy until this perceived legitimacy is removed.

The voluminous testimony, legal analysis, and activism that has been done so well since the Cold War has not accomplished this.

Facts, no matter how brilliantly they are presented, haven’t availed – and won’t.

The dictates of public conscience, no matter how voluminous, prestigious, and authentic the appeals, haven’t availed – and won’t.

Declarations by “the great and the good” haven’t availed – and won’t.

Legal decisions haven’t availed – and won’t.

Mere gestures by states which cost little and bind nobody – U.N. resolutions, for example – haven’t availed – and won’t.

Why? Because none of these excellent activities are consequential – that is, binding – decisions taken by states for the purpose of making nuclear weapons illegal.

Only states can remove the present de facto legitimacy, which is very real to the nuclear weapon states and therefore to everybody, and this can only be done by making nuclear weapons illegal.

States can only accomplish this through law, conventional law, which is to say by a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. By definition, there is no other way.

Nuclear weapons will be legal – de facto legal, and de jure legal as well as morally necessary in the eyes of those who possess them – until they are made illegal.

This work of delegitimation has to be done by non-nuclear weapon states, not by nuclear weapon states. The latter will resist.

Without a treaty on the table, the various well-intentioned and indeed excellent statements by diplomats are really just opinions and postures.

Given the short working time of the OEWG, I hope that all involved will make every effort to help leading states focus on negotiating, or more realistically laying the groundwork for negotiating, a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

Anything else will play into the hands of the nuclear weapon states and their weasel allies – again, by de-focusing, diluting, delaying, distracting, and dividing our efforts.

If the OEWG fails to achieve a clear path to make nuclear weapons illegal, there are other ways forward.

We think the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit (October 11-12, 1986) would be a good time to unveil a ban treaty for signature.

The nuclear weapon states obviously oppose prohibiting nuclear weapons and can play no constructive part in negotiations. These states have never played any constructive part in multilateral disarmament negotiations over the past 25 years, full stop. Their weasel allies generally also have opposed and will oppose practical disarmament measures, for now.

So calls to make negotiations “universal” are quite premature and misplaced.

Godspeed to everybody. Our thoughts and prayers are with those of you who are there.

Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group

Greg Mello
Los Alamos Study Group

DOE wants Los Alamos to do what once was done at Rocky Flats

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on January 16, 2016 at 9:14 am

The following article, dated December 15, 2016, is written by Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch, New Mexico
National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light
For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the choke point preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.

Coghlan further commented, “The real irony is that this Interoperable Warhead has been delayed for at least five years, if not forever, because of its enormous estimated expense and Navy skepticism. Yet this doesn’t keep LANL and the NNSA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade existing and build new production facilities for unnecessary and provocative expanded plutonium pit production.”

Specifically, NNSA and LANL seek to raise the administrative limit on plutonium in the existing Radiological Lab (“RLUOB” in the Safety Board report below) from an original 8.4 grams to 400 grams, and proceed with the “Plutonium Modular Approach project.” In 2012, in the face of exploding costs and rising citizen opposition, NNSA dropped its proposal to build a $6.5 billion Walmart-sized “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project-Nuclear Facility” for expanded plutonium pit production of up to 80 pits per year. There was no technical justification for this expanded production, other than unspecified “Department of Defense requirements.”

These new moves by NNSA and LANL, which will cost around $4 billion before the usual cost overruns, are just another way to achieve their goal of raising plutonium pit production to up to 80 plutonium pits per year. Raising the amount of plutonium in the Radiological Lab will enable LANL to conduct all needed analytical chemistry quality control samples of new pits, as the Safety Board memo says to “primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates.” The Plutonium Modular Approach project will be newly constructed underground facilities for hot operations such as a plutonium foundry, likely beginning with two modules at a billion dollars each. It should be noted that proposed major federal actions require the opportunity for public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been done for what NNSA calls this alternative plutonium strategy. Nevertheless, increased funding for LANL’s plutonium infrastructure will be likely included in the pending federal budget for FY 2017, scheduled to be released Monday February 9.

There is no need for expanded plutonium pit production to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but it is vital for future new-designs that the nuclear weaponeers want. In fact, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to “modernize” and completely rebuild its nuclear forces, despite its pledge in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.


In 1996 the plutonium pit production mission was formally relocated to LANL, with an approved upper limit of 20 pits per year. NNSA has tried four times since then to expand plutonium pit production. This started with a proposed “Modern Pit Facility” capable of producing up to 450 pits per year, with no justification of why that Cold War-like level of production was needed. In all four cases, in response to successful citizen activism, Congress either rejected or NNSA dropped efforts to expand production, in large part because of a pit life study that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman required at Nuclear Watch’s request. That 2006 study by independent experts found that plutonium pits last at least 100 years (with no proscribed end date), more than double NNSA’s previous estimates of 45 years.

Nevertheless, NNSA now seeks for the fifth time to expand plutonium pit production beyond the currently approved level of 20 pits per year at LANL. After having produced 30 pits for the W88 sub-launched warhead (which was in production when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down), there are no current requirements for plutonium pit production to maintain stockpile safety and reliability.

In the meanwhile, funding for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is being cut, while nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with are thriving. As a final irony, these plans to expand plutonium pit production are now being implemented, despite the fact that 1) major operations at LANL’s main plutonium facility have been suspended since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns; and 2) the Los Alamos Lab has no place to send its radioactive plutonium pit production wastes ever since it sent a drum that ruptured and closed down the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is confident that this latest attempt to expand plutonium pit production will fall apart as well, but only as a result of continuing strong citizen activism.

# # #

• Relevant excerpt from Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Weekly LANL Report:

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2015

MEMORANDUM FOR: S.A. Stokes, Technical Director FROM: R.K. Verhaagen and J.W. Plaue

DNFSB Staff Activity: R. L. Jackson was onsite to plan oversight activities associated with Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy. Accordingly, he met with key project staff and walked down the Plutonium Facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, and the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB).

Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy: Late last month, the Deputy Secretary of Energy approved a restructuring of the subprojects covered under the CMR Replacement project. There are now four subprojects: (1) RLUOB Equipment Installation, Phase 2; (2) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 1; (3) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 2; and (4) Re- categorizing the RLUOB to Hazard Category 3 with a material-at-risk limit of 400 g plutonium- 239 equivalent. The first two subprojects enable LANL to cease programmatic activities in the CMR by 2019, while the latter two subprojects primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates. The memo requests an updated project execution plan within 90 days and indicates approval authority will remain with the DOE Deputy Secretary for subprojects 2–4 and with the NNSA Administrator for subproject 1.

In a separate action, the DOE Deputy Secretary also approved the mission need Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach project. This project addresses life extension needs for the existing Plutonium Facility in support of Department of Defense requirements and Congressional Direction. The CD-0 schedule range for project completion is December 2025 to December 2027.

• For an extensive history of successful citizen activism against plutonium pit production see

B-61 nuclear bomb: New design of a guided nuclear bomb

In Democracy, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health on January 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

Go to the linkc for  the short video and news account about this bomb, one that makes nuclear warfare easier and more likely.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/science/as-us-modernizes-nuclear-weapons-smaller-leaves-some-uneasy.html


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