Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bush Wants More Nukes

In elementary school in the 60s in small-town Iowa we had what were referred to as "disaster drills." They involved calmly leaving the classroom in single file, going to the basement and into the fallout shelter with every other person in the school building. I'm not sure what we were supposed to do once we all got in the shelter as we there was no room to move about or even sit. The "disaster" for which we were practicing was a nuclear attack.

It always seemed quite silly to me. Even at the tender age of 7 or 8 I knew we had nothing to worry about. I didn't know it was called MAD (Mutually Assured Distruction), but I KNEW the president and the leader of the Soviet Union were too smart to actually ever fire a nuclear weapon as it would mean the death of both countries. Plus, we lived down-wind of Omaha, Nebraska, home of the Strategic Air Command, which was most certainly a primary target. There would be no surviving a nuclear war.

This knowledge did not worry me. I KNEW there would never be a nuclear war. I KNEW it was all rhetoric and posturing. There was a war in Southeast Asia, but it was being fought with conventional weapons. And yes, a couple of boys from that small town in Iowa died in that war. And I knew them. One attended the same church as I, the other was a neighbor with a brother my age.

Then Reagan became president, and for the first time I believed nuclear war was possible. For the first time in my life I believed the president actually wanted to "press the button." Evidently, many elementary school children did as well. Newspapers and networks ran stories about the depression and anxiety that afflicted many children under the age of 12. And many pundits wondered how 7-year-olds could be so in tune with the concept of a nuclear holocaust.

For those of you who grew up during the Cold War, here we go again. For those of you too young to remember it, "you're about to get a taste of the Reagan administration, only dumber."

Many of our nuclear weapons are quite old, the "youngest" one having been built in 1989. So last year, the Bush administration started up the "reliable replacement warhead" (RRW) program, in which aging nuclear weapons would be replaced by more "reliable" ones.

An LA Times story, which received little attention, reports the Bush administration's RRW program is only the tip of the nuclear weapons iceberg:

The Bush administration Wednesday [April 5, 2006] unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the nation's decrepit nuclear weapons complex, including restoration of a large-scale bomb manufacturing capacity.

The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation's massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War.

Until now, the nation has depended on carefully maintaining aging bombs produced during the Cold War arms race, some several decades old. The administration, however, wants the capability to turn out 125 new nuclear bombs per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires older bombs that it says will no longer be reliable or safe.

Read the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) press release. According to the NNSA, the purpose of the new program is "to establish a smaller, more efficient nuclear weapons complex able to respond to future challenges."

The plan includes a "consolidated plutonium center", where the nation's plutonium would be kept for research, as well as weapon manufacturing purposes. The LA Times article continues:
Under the plan, all of the nation's plutonium would be consolidated into a single facility that could be more effectively and cheaply defended against possible terrorist attacks. The plan would remove the plutonium kept at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 2014, though transfers of the material could start sooner. In recent years, concern has grown that Livermore, surrounded by residential neighborhoods in the Bay Area, could not repel a terrorist attack.

But the administration blueprint is facing sharp criticism, both from those who say it does not move fast enough to consolidate plutonium stores and from those who say restarting bomb production would encourage aspiring nuclear powers across the globe to develop weapons.

So does "take apart old bombs and streamline the system" mean the U.S. will once again participate in nuclear proliferation?
The plan was outlined to Congress on Wednesday by Thomas D'Agostino, head of nuclear weapons programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department. Though the weapons proposal would restore the capacity to make new bombs, D'Agostino said it was part of a larger effort to accelerate the dismantling of aging bombs left from the Cold War.

D'Agostino acknowledged in an interview that the administration was walking a fine line by modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons program while assuring other nations that it was not seeking a new arms race. The credibility of the contention rests on the U.S. intent to sharply reduce its inventory of weapons.

So, this is a case of the U.S. saying "do as I say, not as I do" to Iran, and North Korea, and Syria, and any other nation that desires a nuclear weapon program.

Time to start building your fallout shelter. Time for elementary school children to once again practice "disaster drills."