By Tom O’Connell
An anti-nuke group is holding protests and a counter-symposium in Albuquerque as defense groups meet here to discuss how to get a piece of President Obama’s projected $1 trillion in nuclear arsenal spending over the next three decades.
Part of that 30-year plan includes a controversial ramping up of the production of “plutonium pits,” or nuclear triggers, at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“Every nuclear weapon and delivery system and support system in the United States is going to be rebuilt from scratch, in some cases, and upgraded [over the next 30 years],” said Greg Mello, director and cofounder of the Los Alamos Study Group. “There is not this much money in Pentagon budge planning accounts, so there’s a competition for funds.”
Dozens of federal nuclear and intelligence officials, reps from Los Alamos National Laboratory and defense organizations from around the world are meeting Monday and Tuesday at the Crown Plaza hotel at the Strategic Deterrent Coalition Symposium.
The Los Alamos Study Group’s counter-symposium, called the “Doomsday Forum,” has events planned for throughout the two days.
Mello’s disarmament group is piggybacking on the conference with its own counter-message, which it is delivering at demonstrations, teach-ins and training seminars.
A flier for the nuke conference, which kicked off Monday, reads: “Tired of NM being a nuclear & military colony? Join our teach-ins, learn, & empower yourself!”
New Mexico: ‘Playground for Nuclear Weapons and Military Ideas’
Mello said he helped found the Los Alamos Study Group in 1989 in hopes of steering New Mexico out of the clutches of the nuclear industrial complex, which he said has turned the state into “a permissive environment, or a kind of a playground, for nuclear weapons and military ideas.”
“We’re very concerned about inequality in the state and the takeover of the state’s politics by military industrial interests that functions as a kind of a political HIV virus that makes the state vulnerable to all kinds of crazy conservative ideas,” said Mello, a former state environmental engineer and regional planner.
The group was just in Geneva, Switzerland, where it met with world diplomats and other NGOs at an open-ended meeting on a disarmament treaty with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
‘The United States Cannot Be Trusted’
“I’m happy to say a majority of countries in the world now favor negotiation of the [disarmament] treaty,” he said. “We are looking forward to helping the diplomatic community understand the dramatically dangerous plan the United States has, and why the United States cannot be trusted in the nuclear weapons field. The message we are taking to the nonproliferation community is that the United States is a tremendous proliferator of nuclear weapons.”
‘A Path Toward War’
The renovation of our nuclear assets doesn’t bode well for world peace, and the state of New Mexico is caught in the middle, said Mello.
Mello’s group is profoundly concerned with the fact that Albuquerque sits on perhaps the country’s biggest collection of aging nukes. Kirtland Air Force Base’s underground munitions storage facility has an estimated 2,000 warheads and bombs, “more than any other place on the planet,” according to Mello.
“Plans which are now in place will damage our strategic ability, and our setting up a new arms race is setting the world on a path toward war,” said Mello.
“What they would like to do is build political consensus to support the $1 trillion nuclear weapons investment package,” Mello said of symposium attendees.
Attitudes toward our nuclear arsenal have evolved radically and dangerously since the end of the Cold War, he said. Now it’s less about keeping the world safe and more about stockpiling and political careerism and contractors’ bottom lines.
“There’s a combination of interests, from local boosterism to pork belly politicians whose careers are dependent on the flow of campaign dollars,” said Mello.
“And then there are the true believers, the ideologues which are found more in Washington but also now in the Air Force…. The rise of the nuclear ideologues in the Air Force and the strategic command is a very dangerous development. The ideas that are current today and will be expressed tomorrow at this conference were not part of American policy or Air Force institutional ideology in the early 1990s. This is new. This is a new phenomenon where nuclear weapons have achieved a status and prestige they did not have after the end of the Cold War.”
The Doomsday Forum kicks off Tuesday with an 8:30 a.m. teach-in hosted by the Los Alamos Study Group in cooperation with UNM Peace & Justice Studies Program and Students Organizing Actions for Peace.
See the complete schedule here.