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Security or absurdity: Pandemic or pits?

Currently, the main story on the news is the disjointed and inadequate distribution of vaccines. Vaccinating the country and the world is our most important and immediate national security concern, along with climate change, of which this pandemic is one symptom.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and other national labs, governed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), have the resources and brainpower to address these issues. So what are they currently doing with the bulk of these resources?

Here in northern New Mexico, LANL is gearing up for industrial-scale production of the triggers for nuclear weapons, known as plutonium pits. Billions of taxpayer dollars are funneled into the lab to finance the proposed pit production mission targeted for 2026-30 and beyond. Construction operations and other activities supporting the new pit factory have begun at LANL, even though the contractually required LANL Site Plan on environmental impact and the congressionally required NNSA plan for plutonium pit production have not been provided to the public or, as far we know, to Congress or regional governments.

Ironically, the landmark United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force on Jan. 22, 2021, making nuclear weapons illegal under international law.

So, why continue along this obsolete and immoral path? We’re brainwashed to believe it’s in our national interest when, in fact, it is mostly lining the pockets (vaults actually) of war profiteers, weapons manufacturers and the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

Meanwhile, great effort is focused on STEM education and recruiting our schoolkids into what is known in the world of national laboratories as the “nuclear workforce development pipeline” (an interesting choice of words … aren’t we trying to shut down pipelines?) to work on nuclear weapons “modernization” missions.

Are the labs fully informing young people about the health risks of these jobs? Everyone needs a job, so if the only choices are nuclear weapons or going into the military, the labs may indeed lure young people. But what if the government also facilitated pathways to medical research and delivery, nurses, techs, vaccine production, genomic sequencing for contact tracing and systems for efficient vaccine distribution?

Beyond or between pandemics, we need bio-remediation for cleanup efforts, solar and other renewable energies, adaptive architecture geared to the effects of catastrophic climate change and other technologies addressing our most pressing national security issues.

The government suggested using the military to administer vaccines. Probably not a good plan in this country due to fears about loss of rights and government overreach. Furthermore, vaccinating only the U.S. will not make us safe from the pandemic. Just as we see variants travel across oceans and borders, pandemics will continue to spread until the whole world is included in a massive medical effort. What if we called a ceasefire on wars and a halt to military engagements, and instead our soldiers administered vaccines overseas. What might that do to our standing in the world and regaining respect for our so-called humanitarian “ideals”?

What will it take to make these shifts? Answer: political will. The only way to influence that is through a grassroots groundswell of people demanding it. “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” It’s the only way change happens. “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

These are extraordinary times, and they demand extraordinary measures if we are to survive. Why not step up and demand life-affirming alternatives instead of the absurd waste of time and money, spending decades and trillions of dollars ramping up a new cold war?

To some, this may sound unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky, but if there was ever a time when extraordinary measures were needed, this is one! In the 1940s, we mobilized the Manhattan Project. Why not something similar now to save the world from a deadly pandemic and catastrophic climate change?

Jean Nichols lives in Llano.

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