ACT NOW TO STOP CONSTRUCTION FUNDING FOR THE BOMB PLANT
THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO STOP THE NEW BOMB PLANT IS WRITE LETTERS.
President Obama has asked for $430 million for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y12 in Oak Ridge, TN. It’s part of the President’s FY 2016 budget which he sent to Congress in April. His budget request increases nuclear weapons spending by 30% over 2015 amounts.
Estimates of the total cost of the UPF started at $600 million – $1.5 billion back in 2005. After an estimate from the Department of Defense that put the price tag at $19.8 billion, NNSA decided to break the project up into pieces (to disguise the total cost), continue some operations in dangerous buildings for another 20 years, and push the new, dramatically revised project forward without revising their Environmental Impact Statement—at least so far.
Despite a law that requires the Department of Energy to provide Congress with out-year cost projections on major projects, this year’s budget did not include those numbers— it just said future costs were “TBD.” TBD is an acronym for “To Be Determined,” which translated for contractors means “Blank Check.”
What else could you do with $6.5 billion?
Well, if you were into education, you could build 4 brand new schools in every county in Tennessee with a pricetag of $14 million each. That’s a nice school! Or how about 80 more teachers (at an annual payroll cost of $60,000/teacher) in every county in Tennessee for 10 years.
The new bomb plant could pay for lunch for 382 million school children! A typical Habitat for Humanity home in Tennessee costs around $46,000 to build—we could build more than 118,000 of them with the bomb plant money.
Or, if you want to address Oak Ridgers’ concerns about jobs, we could consider investing in the future. Nuclear weapon production needs will continue on their downward trajectory; as a consequence, we will need additional capacity to dismantle warheads and downblend the highly enriched uranium that comes out of them. And Y12 is the place that needs to happen—so you can ask Congress to pass a budget for 2016, not 1983—fund a new dismantlement facility in Oak Ridge, not a bomb plant.
Here are key writing points for your letters:
STOP THE RUSH TO BUILD
The Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan office of Congress, has issued two reports with significant implications for the UPF.
The first, in November 2010, criticized the National Nuclear Security Administration for incorporating immature technologies into the design of the UPF. At least six new technologies planned for the UPF will not have reached DOE’s own standard, Readiness Level 6, by the time construction passes the point of no return. The GAO is concerned that, should one of these technologies turn out not to work, the UPF will have to undergo extensive and expensive re-design.
A February 2012 GAO report found the NNSA lacks appropriate accounting systems to manage big construction projects. The GAO singled out the UPF as an example. The GAO recommended careful federal oversight- of NNSA’s modernization of the nuclear security enterprise saying it will be “critical to ensure that resources are spent in as an effective and efficient manner as possible.”
In April 2012, The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board sent a strong letter to NNSA criticizing the failure to include fundamental safety issues in the design of the UPF. The Safety Board’s letter says NNSA is relaxing safety standards and said: “The Board has determined that safety is not adequately integrated into the design.” The Board also found the criticality safety controls NNSA is using “will not provide adequate protection for site workers and the public.”
In October 2012, NNSA announced that it had spent $500 million to design the UPF and noticed, as they reached the 90% design completion mark, the building was too small for all the equipment it would need to hold. The space/fit issue is driving the cost of design over the $1 billion mark. There has been no Congressional investigation and no attempt to hold NNSA or its contractors accountable for the “space/fit” issue; Congress just keeps shoveling money to the same incompetent managers.
The UPF is being designed with a major security vulnerability built in—it is an above-ground facility located in a narrow valley between two low, heavily wooded ridges. It is an easy target for an attack. In July 2012, an 82 year old nun and two men over age 55 cut a fence, went over the ridge, through three more fences, and painted peace slogans and poured blood on the walls of the uranium storage warehouse for more than twenty minutes before they were noticed and apprehended. The UPF will sit right beside the building the Plowshares activists defaced and will be just as vulnerable.
These reports indicate a conservative approach which slows down construction (rather than accelerate it) would be prudent and responsible—it would allow for proof of technology before we irreversibly commit to it. Congress should require NNSA to resolve safety issues and to constrain runaway budgets on major projects—no more blank checks to NNSA. No more putting safety on the back burner while they rush to build.
NO SUPERSIZED BOMB PLANT
The National Nuclear Security Administration says the new Uranium Processing Facility will have the capacity to produce 80 new thermonuclear secondaries per year. But how many do they need?
Of course, abolitionists would argue zero.
The current policy of the United States is that we are moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons, but in the meantime, “as long as there are nuclear weapons” the US will maintain its stockpile in a safe, secure, reliable form. This is called Stockpile Stewardship and Maintenance. In addition, the US is performing Life Extension Upgrades on warheads.
In its Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement, the NNSA states that it can perform its surveillance and maintenance missions, along with limited life extension operations, with a production capacity of 10 secondaries per year.
So building a plant with a capacity of 80 production units/year when you need a capacity of 10 is an excess capacity of 700% every year.
As a practical matter, it makes no sense to overbuild the UPF to such a degree, especially when budget money is tight. As a policy matter, the investment in new production infrastructure is seen as provocative by the rest of the world (think Iran and North Korea).
In a world run by fiscal conservatives, you might think this is a no-brainer: ten is cheaper than eighty. And after NNSA ran into space problems, you might think someone would suggest downsizing operations to fit. If so, you would not be the kind of conservative Tennessee sends to Congress; our delegation supports the bloated, super-sized, super-priced UPF.
The NNSA argues that it does not cost much more (15%, they say) to design for 80/year capacity than it would to design for 35/year. But—the NNSA does not say how much the cost differential would be between 80/year and 10/year, and even if we “only” save 15%, when the total pricetag is $11.5 billion—that’s almost 2 billion dollars! Before we overbuild, let’s see a true cost comparison to a “right-sized” facility.
NO SUPERPRICED BOMB PLANT
The work the National Nuclear Security Administration claims it needs to do to maintain the nuclear stockpile and perform Life Extension Upgrades is currently being done in existing facilities in Oak Ridge. But they are old—hence, the UPF.
Still, in a time when we need to tighten every belt we can, it seems the NNSA is shopping for new pants—with a wider waist.
In 2008, the NNSA prepared a Ten Year Plan for the Y12 complex in Oak Ridge, and in that plan it says it can upgrade current facilities (Building 9212 is the building in question) to meet seismic, environmental, health and safety standards for around $120 million. That’s a lot less than $8 billion for a new bomb plant (the Army Corps of Engineers’ estimate in July 2011).
NNSA not only can upgrade the existing facilities—it is doing it. Last year $76 million was spent to upgrade utility systems and purchase and install new equipment. The upgrades are required because the UPF, originally scheduled to come on-line in 2016, will not be fully functional until 2024. By then, we will have already completed all currently scheduled Life Extension Upgrades on all exisiting nuclear warheads in the US stockpile.
Yes, you read that right. We are paying twice for the same job, and the job the UPF is being designed to do will already be done by the time it is finished. NNSA says they will need to do additional Life Extension Upgrades, in perpetuity, on the thermonuclear secondaries at Y12.
We say—before we spend $6.5 billion, let’s have an independent study of secondary lifetimes—when a comparable study was done several years ago on the plutonium pits, the JASON report found NNSA was wrong when it said the pits had a life expectancy of 40 year. It was at least 85 years, said the JASON, and probably longer.
Let’s also have—before we spend $6.5 billion— a real accounting of the condition of Building 9212 and the cost to upgrade portions of it (the operations can be dramatically downsized to meet future needs) to meet codes.
ALIGN SPENDING WITH US POLICY
Our current nuclear policy is to move to a world free of nuclear weapons. The START Treaty calls for reductions in the stockpile, and the President has promised further deep cuts in the stockpile. Even those experts who think the United States needs a nuclear deterrent agree it takes far fewer than 1500 warheads. If you graph the future of weapons production, it is a line with a downward trajectory.
The President also promised to maintain the stockpile safely and securely while the US moves to zero. We may not like it, but that’s the current policy. So if Congress is aligning spending with policy, it will not fund major investments in huge, oversized production facilities.
Every retired nuclear warhead has to be dismantled, and the US lacks the capacity to dismantle all the warheads we have—there is a 15 year backlog at Y12 in Oak Ridge of retired secondaries awaiting dismantlement. This year’s budget cuts dismantlement funding again, to $56 million, which is probably less than the Department of Energy spends on office supplies. We need to expand dismantlement capacity and increase the pace of dismantlement.
We believe a fiscally responsible, forward looking budget should align with US policy. Funding for production should be reduced, not increased. And funding for dismantlement and downblending should be increased to meet current and future mission requirements.
WHERE TO WRITE
Letter to the Editor are crucial. Mention your Senator’s name so the letter will be clipped by his/her staff and delivered to the Senator. Most papers prefer letters of 300 words or less, and you can submit them on-line through the paper’s web site.
Write your Senator, and a couple of others:
Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) • 455 Dirksen Senate Office Building • Washington, DC 20510
Your Senator • United States Senate • Washington, DC 20510
Senator Bob Corker (TN) • Dirksen Senate Office Bldg, SD-185 • Washington, DC 20510
Senator Carl Levin (MI) chair of Senate Armed Service Committee • 269 Russell Senate Office Building • Washington, DC 20510
Your Representative • US House of Representatives • Washington, DC 20515
MULTIPLY YOUR EFFORT
If you know three other people who might write letters, make the phone calls.
If you connect with people on Facebook or Twitter, start writing on walls and tweeting.
If all you can do is write a letter yourself, or call a Congressional office, do it NOW!
If you think you could do more if you had a speaker come to your community, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or 865 776 5050.