By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
July 2, 2007
As some celebrate latest trigger, others urge moving away from nuclear proliferation
LOS ALAMOS -- The only thing stopping Los Alamos National Laboratory from being the country's permanent center for production of nuclear warhead triggers is lack of a new building, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Monday at the lab.
Domenici was on hand to celebrate recent federal certification of the lab's latest trigger, which is called a pit. Los Alamos plans to make 10 pits this year, and eventually increase production to 30 to 50 per year.
Asked for his position on making Los Alamos the permanent pit production center, Domenici said, ``Well, I think we might be just ... playing with words. I think we are, with the delivery of this.''
Domenici noted the ongoing battle between the House and the Senate over paying for a $95.5 million nuclear chemistry building, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Facility, where pit work would occur.
``The only thing that would keep them from being the permanent pit manufacturing center would be if we don't get the physical facilities,'' Domenici said. ``We're building a building which the House has not funded, without which, I don't see how we can run this program.''
Domenici supports spending $256 million on pit manufacturing at Los Alamos in the 2008 fiscal year. He does not support funding the Consolidated Plutonium Center, which could move that work to another state.
Los Alamos is among five candidates for the plutonium center, but neither the House nor the Senate has agreed to pay for such a facility in the 2008 fiscal year.
The lab's first pit, certified this year in June, is already at the National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant in West Texas, the lab reports. There, according to the lab, it will be placed in a W88 nuclear warhead for the Navy. Monday's pit was the second to be certified, lab director Michael Anastasio said.
``It doesn't mean that we're engaged in an arms race like we had during the Cold War -- quite to the contrary,'' Domenici said. ``Today we signal that the United States wants to protect itself, its allies with a much smaller, more efficient and cost-effective stockpile.''
Opponents to the pit mission at Los Alamos held a separate news conference to urge new jobs for the lab, focused on nuclear nonproliferation, global warming and renewable-energy programs.
Bob Peurifoy, a retired vice president of Sandia National Laboratories, said the country's current stockpile is too large, and that the pits are working fine.
``They don't need to be replaced at this time because they are not broken,'' Peurifoy said by telephone. ``I'm not in favor of jumping in and replacing something just to have work.''
Monday's counter news conference featured Physicians for Social Responsibility, the New Mexico Conference of Churches, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Los Alamos Study Group, groups that oppose making new pits at Los Alamos.
``Nuclear weapons development is just not needed,'' Mike McCally of Physicians for Social Responsibility said. ``... DOE laboratories and Los Alamos in particular are not focused on the urgent needs of the 21st century. Laboratory programs focused on energy, environment, nuclear proliferation, global warming, would be a cause for celebration.''
The Rev. Barbara Dua of the New Mexico Conference of Churches said the lab should embrace a new global reality that nuclear weapons were never the right path for the country, and that the United States should take the moral lead to partner with other countries and work toward nuclear disarmament.
``All of us speaking today share a strong conviction that to celebrate the production of this plutonium pit is dangerously misguided,'' the Rev. Barbara Dua said.
Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group does not support the pit mission at Los Alamos, but he questions giving Los Alamos a new mission. ``You can't change the mission of the lab by wishing it so,'' he said. ``The lab has certain skills. It's a fantasy to think that there can be a big new green mission for Los Alamos.''
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.