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United States’ H-Bomb Addiction

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In 2008, the Obama Administration made eye-popping headlines by announcing a 10-year, $80 billion nuclear weapons development program. In 2009, Mr. Obama promised to pursue a “world without nuclear weapons,” but that was then.

By 2010, new warhead plans had grown to an estimated $355 billion, decade-long cash cow that amounts to a cool $1 trillion over 30 years. The colossal expense has already been generally adopted by the House and Senate in military authorization bills — according to the Sept. 22 New York Times.

One of three new production sites just opened — a $700 million non-nuclear parts plant run by Honeywell in Kansas City, Missouri. The other factories include a uranium fabrication complex at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and a plutonium processing works at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. The latter two programs have run up such enormous cost increases that even the White House has blinked.

Plans for LANL’s plutonium production — originally expected to cost $660 million — expanded into a $5.8 billon golden goose. The project was suspended in 2012, and engineers went to work at cost cutting. At Oak Ridge, the uranium processing “canyon” rocketed from a $6.5 billion proposal to a $19 billion war contractor’s wet dream. The White House halted the scheme this year, and the lab is reworking plans for fixing its 60-year long nuclear meth habit.

New H-bomb production is advertised as “revitalization”, “modernization”, “refurbishment” and “improvements”. The buzz words are used by corporate weapons contractors and their congressional lapdogs who speak of the “40-year-old submarine warhead” (known as the W-76), or who feign concern over “fires, explosions and workplace injuries” that are “deplorable” because the equipment “breaks down on a daily basis”, the Times reported.

The War System always neglects to mention that 15,000 plutonium warheads are currently maintained at Pantex, Texas and are good for 50 years, according to The Guardian, Sept. 29. The trillion dollar nuclear bomb building plan is to produce up to 80 new warheads every year by 2030.

The military currently deploys almost 5,000 nuclear warheads — on submarines, land-based missiles, and heavy bombers. This, even though Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel signed a report (before he was appointed to his current job) that found that only 900 nuclear warheads were “necessary.” Hagel’s report recommended abolishing 3,500 warheads now in ready reserve, saying warhead numbers are much larger than required.

Independent observers, watch dogs and think tanks have argued for decades that the arsenal can be drastically reduced and made less dangerous: a) by not replacing retired warheads; b) by taking deployed warheads off “alert”; and c) by separating warheads from missiles and bombs. This separation would lengthen warning-to-launch times, thus easing international tensions and ending the terrifying likelihood of accidental or unauthorized launches.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, which bird dogs the Cold War lab, says the reason new H-bomb production is being considered at all is simply private greed. For-profit corporations now run all the government’s nuclear weapons labs, ever since they were privatized in 2006. Mello says, “The nuclear weapons labs are sized for the Cold War, and they need a Cold War to keep that size.”

Further, in a report leaked last year, the Navy itself questioned the need for producing any new warheads. (The Navy controls at least 1,152 warheads spread across its 14 Trident submarines.) And James Doyle, a 17-year veteran scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (who was fired this past July 8 for independently publishing a scholarly article defending nuclear disarmament), told The Guardian, “I’ve never seen the justification articulated for the 50-to-80- pits per year by 2030.”

Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, was shocked by the President’s double talk, telling the Guardian, “Obama’s proposed 2015 budget is the highest ever for nuclear weapons research and production. And at the same time, they’re cutting non-proliferation budgets to pay for it.”

The $1 trillion doesn’t include a few hundred billion more for new nuclear war-fighting systems like:

*The $80 billion cost of building 12 new ballistic missile submarines to replace the Navy’s Trident fleet. Sen. Richard Blumenthall, D-CT, told the New London Day Sept. 23, “The essence here is this boat will be the strongest, stealthiest, most sustainable of any in the history of the word.” “Sustainable”? Well yes; like bankruptcy or suicide.

*The Air Force’s $44 billion plans for a new nuclear bomber called the Long-Range Strike Bomber Program (LRS-B). The Air Force reportedly wants 80-100 of them at roughly $550 apiece. The chilling rationale for these billions was provided by Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, Chief of Global Strike Command, who said Sept. 16 at in Washington, DC, “It will be essential as we move forward to have a bomber force that can penetrate any place on the globe and hold any target on the planet at risk.”

*The planned replacement of 450 Minuteman 3 ICBMs known as the “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent” — set to be deployed in existing silos after 2030 — that a RAND study said would cost between $84 and $219 billion.

John LaForge writes for PeaceVoice, is co-director of Nukewatch—a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group—and lives at the Plowshares Land Trust out of Luck, Wisconsin.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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