Transcript of radio commentary that aired May 28, 2003, on KUNM public radio 89.9 fm in Albuquerque.
By Arjun Makhijani
Nearly fourteen years after the Berlin Wall fell, the United States has made another pit – not what’s left over after you’ve eaten a mango or a peach – but the deadly plutonium explosive core of a hydrogen bomb. Fabrication was done at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory and completed in April. The lab has a capacity to make 20 plutonium pits per year, and could make 50 to 80. Apparently, the government thinks that’s not enough. It has announced that it wants to build a “Modern Pit Facility” that could make up to 500 per year. That’s a sign that the United States may want to have as many as 20,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenal – enough to destroy the world many times over. The bad old times are back.
Officials have said new pits need to be made for safety reasons. But there are no nuclear safety issues associated with pits as they get older, as Los Alamos’s own historical records show. The chance of accidental detonation tends to go down, not up with age.
The dangers lie in making the pits. The old plutonium bomb plant was at Rocky Flats, near Denver. It was a mess. It was shut down after an FBI raid in 1989 and allegations of illegal mid-night plutonium waste burning that are as yet unresolved. The plant is being torn down but the area will live with some of the toxic and radioactive plutonium contamination forever. Much of the worst waste, with plutonium in it, has been coming to New Mexico.
There are global risks as well. A new mass manufacturing plant for bomb cores would be a violation of U.S. commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, made as recently as May 2000. It would promote a break down of restraints that prevent other countries from breaking the treaty themselves. The non-nuclear military power of the United States is overwhelming compared all others. Everyone knows it. U.S. insistence on a huge new bomb plant is an incitement to others to go nuclear themselves.
Many people in the communities where it might be built are attracted to such projects because they create jobs in a time when well-paying jobs are tough to come by. Those of us who think that processing plutonium, which would harm the country and the world, is not the way, should also make a real commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder in a struggle for more national resources into communities like Carlsbad, New Mexico, and Aiken, South Carolina, for jobs that will be healthful locally and safe globally. I am ready. I will be touring New Mexico with Sue Dayton of Citizen Action, Albuquerque, between May 27 to May 30 to show that commitment.
If you want more information about the Modern Pit Facility, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and similar topics, visit the website of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, www.ieer.org. This is Arjun Makhijani.