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Know the West

New nukes aren't necessarily evil

  A friend brought us her copy of the Sept. 1, 2003, edition of High Country News, knowing that I would be interested in the article on Carlsbad’s bid for the new pit facility. Never have I seen a clearer illustration of the aphorism that where you stand depends upon where you sit. My viewpoint may be colored by my employment history: I received my officer’s commission from the Navy in 1961 and have been connected with the nuclear weapon program ever since. The nuclear genie doesn’t seem altogether evil to me. Regardless, there are aspects of your story that are at best misleading.

Start with the Rocky Flats plant history. Indeed, there were devastating fires. To the best of my understanding, no plutonium contamination outside the facility boundary resulted from any of them. Yes, workers were exposed to hazardous materials; undoubtedly, some of them became ill in consequence. Is there any other manufacturing activity that has been free from occupational health issues? And the famous (or infamous) FBI raid was based upon allegations that were never proven, then or in the 15 years since, despite the complete dismantlement of the facility and full FBI access to all documents. What the raid DID accomplish was the unilateral abandonment of the nuclear weapon production program, even though preserving the quality of the U.S. stockpile was predicated upon newly manufactured replacement weapons.

Would a new pit facility be more damaging? Hardly. It would not be operating under Cold War imperatives. Even at peak production, it would produce only a fraction of the Rocky Flats output. And we all know that the oversight by DOE and other government agencies, not to mention concerned citizens’ groups, would be far more extensive. Something will have to change in the world political picture before pit production would approach the top figure quoted in your article.

Which brings us to one of the issues of the article: whether anyone but Carlsbad should have input into the process. That’s a phony issue, as the Energy Department representative recognized; whether pit production resumes depends upon the will of Congress and the administration. Is it a bad thing to resume production, assuming that the new warheads will simply replace old? I don’t think so.  I think that, if we are to have a nuclear stockpile at all, it should be modern, safe and reliable. I’ll leave the issue of whether a stockpile is needed to wiser heads than mine.

Franklin Halasz
Albuquerque, New Mexico