The hand-wringing in New Mexico has begun in earnest, as the national pendulum appears to be swinging back toward reducing the costs - and perhaps the importance - of nuclear weapons.
The state, everyone knows, is home to two of the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories - Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and Los Alamos National Laboratory west of Santa Fe.
The contest between Congress and the White House for public approval of their plans to reduce federal spending has budget, staff and program cuts at the billion-dollar labs once again on the chopping block.
For many reasons, the nation's nuclear weapons complex - including Sandia and Los Alamos - could be easy targets. But if history is a judge, any inertia for real change could be overwhelmed by the fear that national security will suffer, if the nation significantly reduces its commitment to and funding for nuclear weaponry.
Still, the many lumbering freight trains that are the nuclear weapons complex and its largely hidden programs appear headed for a collision:
Since February there have been reports - reaching a crescendo in recent days - that the Bush administration is prepared to sacrifice over the next two decades as much as a third of the complex, 25-to-30 percent of its work force and perhaps much of the expensive stockpile stewardship program that was based on maintaining the nuclear arsenal without bomb-testing.
Plutonium pit production, long expected to be located at Los Alamos, remains up in the air, with the Pantex nuclear weapon factory in Amarillo considered the major competitor. The pits form the cores or triggers of modern nuclear warheads.
In the latest in a series of negative reports on Los Alamos lab security, funding and safety, a major lab contractor was found to have routinely underestimated work costs, recovering the additional costs through an "other costs" budget category that totaled more than $41 million last year.
Los Alamos in September lost its stockpile of bomb-making plutonium to a cost-saving consolidation plan that will move it to a South Carolina plant.
Increasingly visible opposition is arising to expensive proposals to build new nuclear warheads or even remanufacture existing warheads already in the stockpile in favor of comparatively more simple tune-ups of existing warheads.
It all adds up to confusion and uncertainty - and not just for federal investment in New Mexico and other states that host nuclear weapons facilities.
These states - with New Mexico at the top of the list - have benefited economically from the facilities but also have at times had their environment and safety compromised by the chemical and radioactive work done at them.
In the nation's security interests and in the interests of states such as New Mexico that have had vital interests in the nuclear weapons complex, it's time for the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration to vet their future plans for the complex, in as comprehensive and public a fashion as possible.
The process should begin with an honest, open and nonideological discussion about what U.S. nuclear weapons policy should be and how best to reflect it in our nuclear arsenal, from the ground up.
In the context of this administration's obsession with other nation's weapons of mass destruction, particularly in Iraq and Iran, it is obligatory that we have our own nuclear house in order.