Bomb Making at Oak Ridge: Inside the Secret City
By RON JACOBS
On February 26, 2008 a public hearing was held at the city that bills itself as “the Secret City”–Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This meeting was but one of eight held around the country at the nation’s nuclear weapons labs. The purpose of the hearings was to discuss what the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) calls “Complex Transformation.” Established by Congress in 2000, the NNSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that is responsible for maintaining and expanding the military application of nuclear energy. Behind its terminology are four proposals regarding the development of nuclear weapons. In a perfect example of governmental doublespeak, even the proposal labeled the “No Action Alternative” calls for the continued construction of nuclear bombs. The primary difference between this proposal and the other three proposals is simple. The so-called “No Action Alternative” lists the number of new bombs to be built annually as classified. The other proposals, with the names “Distributed Centers of Excellence,” “Consolidated centers of Excellence,” and “Capability Based Alternative” call for anywhere from fifty to one hundred fifty new bombs to be built each year. I haven’t done the math, but that is one hell of a lot of Hiroshimas.
The hearings themselves are being held under the auspices of the various plans and their environmental impact. Of course, the impact this is referring to is not the impact of the weapons should they be used, but the impact that their storage and manufacture would have on the environment and its inhabitants in the areas around the eight sites. Either way, the outcome is wracked with implicit danger and death. When one reads the draft Environmental Statement, they discover that it looks at two possible actions. The first would restructure facilities that use plutonium and highly enriched uranium to produce components for the nuclear weapons stockpile (SNM facilities). The second would restructure research and development (R&D) and testing facilities. The two actions differ in their magnitude and timing. The restructuring of SNM facilities would take 10 years or more and address issues such as where to locate these facilities and whether to construct new facilities or renovate existing ones for these functions. As regards the R&D facilities, NNSA wants to restructure these facilities in the near-term, independent of decisions it may make as to restructuring of SNM facilities. Furthermore, the proposals offer the following choices that would be incorporated into the two overall actions mentioned above. The first, called Distributed Centers of Excellence, which would continue the uranium mission at Y-12 with the new Uranium Processing Facility; the second. titled Consolidated Centers of Excellence, would consolidate uranium and plutonium missions at a single site; the third, labeled Capability Based Alternative, would involve reduced capability and limited new facilities. The fourth would leave things as they are.
All of the proposals would build a new plant in Oak Ridge for the development and construction of new nuclear weapons. The current plant, known as Y-12, employs around 4000 individuals. Consequently, the future of the plant is important to the locals, especially given the otherwise lackluster employment opportunities in the region. This unfortunate dynamic creates a situation where folks defend that very same thing they oppose in other nations like Iran-the development of nuclear weapons. One could go even further and draw a parallel between the nature of communities whose continued existence depends on nuclear weapons and those communities in other warmongering nations of the past whose citizens were employed in the development of weaponry and other instruments designed to destroy whole peoples.
One element of the proposals discussed February 26th is something the NNSA calls the “Life Extension Program.” Now, this program has nothing to do with extending the life of any human. It does however have plenty to do with extending the life of the NNSA bureaucracy and, even more ominously, the “lives” of existing nuclear weapons. According to a November 2004 press release from NNSA, the purpose of the program is to extend the warhead’s life by 30 years and to provide structural enhancements. In other words, to maintain and expand the weapon’s lethal capabilities. Other elements of the various proposals besides those mentioned include consolidating plutonium and other nuclear weapons materials stockpiles and the designing of new bombs. All of this is proposed in spite of the 1970 US signature on the non-proliferation treaty.
Read it here.