Wednesday, March 12, 2008
LANL Officials Defend Bomb Proposal
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
Los Alamos National Laboratory officials went on the offensive Tuesday, supporting a proposal to make the nation's plutonium bomb parts at the lab.
The proposal is in the nation's best interest and the lab's, Los Alamos associate director Terry Wallace said during a public hearing on the proposal.
Wallace's appearance was part of a broad effort, as lab heavy hitters testified at the hearing and made the news media rounds, including a drive time talk radio appearance on KKOB-AM (770).
The unusual public relations initiative comes as the National Nuclear Security Administration takes public comment on a far-reaching initiative that would make Los Alamos the nation's permanent plutonium manufacturing center for the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Giving Los Alamos the plutonium manufacturing assignment is part of a plan to create a small-scale capability to build new nuclear weapons, something the United States cannot currently do.
Tuesday's hearings were the latest in a series of 20 being held around the country. A final decision on whether to go ahead with the plan is expected later this year.
Federal officials say they are creating a capability that may not be needed, but that is critical for U.S. nuclear security if new threats emerge, or if weapons in our current nuclear arsenal need to be replaced.
Critics say it is unneeded, and national security needs can be met using parts salvaged from existing nuclear weapons as they are dismantled.
Opposition to the federal bomb plant plan was on display at Tuesday's hearing, held at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
"Say 'no' to the continued production of nuclear weapons," said Marlin Good of Albuquerque Mennonite Church.
Good called continued work on nuclear weapons "immoral and unjustifiable."
Such testimony is common at hearings like Tuesday's, which offer one of the few government-sponsored venues for the public to directly engage government officials on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
But the appearance by the Los Alamos team was unusual. The usual pattern for such hearings is for members of the anti-weapons community to hold forth while lab officials largely stay away.
Lab officials said they were tired of what they view as "myths" being perpetrated, including a widespread but mistaken belief that the proposal calls for an increase in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
"That's not true," said Glenn Mara, head of the lab's nuclear weapons work.
"We're at a major crossroads," Mara said during a meeting with the Journal's editorial board. "It is time for the public to be as informed as I can make them."
Greg Mello of the anti-weapons Los Alamos Study Group, one of the lab's leading critics, had a different view of the public relations offensive.
Nuclear weapons officials realize that a new president in less than a year, along with the retirement of the weapons program's chief congressional defender, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has created a "now or never" situation for the weapons program.
"What you're seeing now is a desperate effort," Mello said.