OREPA RESPONDS TO DISINGENUOUS LETTER FROM COUNTY LEADERS
On May 9, 2012, the Knoxville News-Sentinel published a letter from the Mayor of Anderson County and the County Executive of Roane County rallying support for the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, TN. In the letter, Mayor Iwanski and County Exec Woody declared themselves “very knowledgeable” of the Oak Ridge Department of Energy Reservation which sits partly in Anderson and partly in Roane County. Having set aside ignorance as their excuse, the officials assert an “urgent need” for the UPF—though in fact, there is little documented “need” for the UPF which, at the earliest, will not be operational until after 2020.
Three paragraphs in, though, Iwanski and Woody get to the point: “Opponents of the new UPF are simply misleading the public in referring to this facility as a ‘bomb plant.’ In fact, our nation has not built a new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years.”
While the second sentence in this paragraph is debatable—some argue that the current modifications to the W76 under the Life Extension Program which introduce new military capabilities to the warhead, thus rendering it essentially a “new” warhead, documented by its new designation, the W76-Modification 1—the first paragraph is simply a lie. Opponents of the UPF are, in fact, entirely correct in referring to the UPF as a “bomb plant.” The primary mission of the UPF will be to produce thermonuclear secondaries and cases for nuclear warheads. The county officials may issue denials until the cows come home, but the documents provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration are clear and forthright—it’s a bomb plant.
Here’s how the NNSA describes it in the Y12 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement; this description is of the Alternative that was eventually adopted in the Record of Decision:
“Under Alternative 4, NNSA would maintain a basic manufacturing capability to conduct surveillance and produce and dismantle secondaries and cases…[The] UPF would maintain all capabilities for producing secondaries and cases, and capabilities for planned dismantlement, surveillance and uranium work for other NNSA and non-NNSA customers. This UPF would be capable of supporting a production level of approximately 80 secondaries and cases per year…”
It is worth noting that elsewhere in the Site Wide EIS, the NNSA acknowledges it can meet its mission requirements with a UPF that produces 10 secondaries and cases/year—it chose, however, a facility with 700% excess production capacity, and a Supersized pricetag to match.
OREPA doesn’t play local politics. Our interests have never been about money or power—we pursue a clear goal that we believe is in the public interest. In this case, we believe the future of Oak Ridge lies in a dismantlement mission—the days of large-scale weapons production are in the past. Since the beginning of the UPF process OREPA has argued for a dedicated dismantlement facility at Y12 to take full advantage of the skill set of Oak Ridge workers and provide long-term employment assurance for the maximum workforce.
Our response to the county leaders is not part of a political power play—rather, since they chose to smear OREPA, and their smear is utterly and completely without merit, we decided to call them on it. We believe everyone has an interest in the truth, and that leaders in particular must be held to an unyielding standard of honesty. They owe it to their constituents, the public and themselves.
OREPA sent this letter on May 16, 2012 to Mr. Iwanski and Mr. Woody. The first three paragraphs, slightly edited, were posted as a response in the comments section of the News-Sentinel following the publication of the letter.
Mr. Myron Iwanski
100 N Main Street, Rm 200
Clinton TN 37716
Mr. Ron Woody
P O Box 643
Kingston TN 37763
17 May 2012
Community leaders carry the burden of balancing many interests as they carry out their official duties, and the balancing act is not always easy. Many projects proposed for a community come with benefits and costs, not always easy to calculate, and people may disagree on the ultimate merits of a proposal. Clearly, there are many ways to look at the Uranium Processing Facility proposed for Oak Ridge, but to suggest that it is not a bomb plant, and to omit the primary function of the UPF from the lists of “work completed will include,” as you did in your May 9 letter to the Knoxville News-Sentinel is fundamentally dishonest.
Since the UPF was first proposed in 2005 every document produced by the National Nuclear Security Administration has been straightforward and clear: the primary mission of the UPF is to produce secondaries and cases for nuclear weapons—the work Building 9212 does today. To suggest anything else is to abandon the fundamental requirement for honesty that you owe yourselves and the people you represent.
If you want to rally support for a facility that produces weapons of mass destruction in your community, be honest with yourselves and your community about it. Just say, “We will build weapons of mass destruction for money.” You can be proud of it or ashamed of it, you can proclaim it or prefer to keep it secret—that’s between you and your conscience. What you cannot do in good conscience is deny it.
Your letter asserts the UPF makes good economic sense, but you are wrong in the largest sense and in the long run. The NNSA’s Ten Year Plan is clear—existing facilities can be and are being upgraded to meet current environmental, safety and seismic standards for something less than $200 million.
The idea that piles of construction money being shoveled into your communities requires you to support this proposal is short-sighted—significant percentages of that money go out of our region because Anderson and Roane counties have failed to establish requirements for local procurement in DOE/NNSA contracts. When the UPF is completed, workforce layoffs, in addition to the construction workers, are estimated at 25-40% of the current Y12 workforce. This is not forward-thinking leadership. What’s more, drawing on scarce national resources to build a Supersized (700% greater capacity than NNSA says its needs) and Superpriced bomb plant is indefensible in today’s economic climate. Even in your communities, you know many ways that money could be better spent—education, housing, health care, job training.
If your argument is national security, listen to the experts—the NNSA says it can fulfill its mission requirements in existing facilities which can be brought up to code for $200 million. If your argument is maximizing the benefit to the work force from your communities, do the math—500 construction jobs for nine years versus 1,250 jobs lost forever.
I understand the knee-jerk reaction is “that’s a lot of money, we need that plant.” But it comes at a significant cost which merits your careful consideration before you join the rush to build. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has taken the unusual step of airing in public its concerns that significant safety features are still not included in the design of UPF, and NNSA admits it did not comply with DOE standards and Orders. The DNFSB has said current plans are not protective of the public safety—why is OREPA the only organization who seems to be concerned about this? These are your communities! Fundamental questions about the design safety of this plant should be paramount among your concerns—yes, even more important than money. You can adopt an “I’m sure they’ll take care of it,” attitude, but history is not on your side—you host a Superfund site in your counties, after all, created by this same bureaucracy. Another option would be to ask—who among us made the decision to skip the Preliminary Safety Design Report? What does this say about the safety commitment of the personnel involved in this project? Does this not at least make you curious about the sincerity of the “Safety is job one,” refrain we hear from NNSA/DOE?
When it was announced last month that Watts Bar Unit 2 would cost $2 billion more than planned and take an extra 2 years to complete, Senator Lamar Alexander said, “It’s important to do this right.” Is it less important in your communities to do safety right—in your haste to join the rush to build, are you willing to remain silent when the Safety Board is waving a red flag?
Leaders looking to the future might ask what the future national security needs of the nation will be. The trajectory for weapons production is clear and the commitment of the country, supported by people as diverse as Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger, Admiral William Perry and Secretary George Shultz, is to continue to reduce the size of the US stockpile which is, right now, at 1956 levels. A report released May 15, 2012 by General James Cartwright, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the US can maintain sufficient deterrent with a stockpile 80% smaller than we have now. What will happen to all those retired warheads, and the ones to follow?
The plan is for them to be dismantled, and Oak Ridge and East Tennessee should be lining itself up to be the go-to facility. But we aren’t, because our leadership is not seizing the opportunity. We have a fifteen-year backlog of retired secondaries awaiting dismantlement at Y12, and when I asked Bill Brumley years ago why they weren’t being dismantled his answer was quick and simple—I’d love to, but there’s no money. The truth is, Oak Ridge lacks the capacity to significantly reduce the backlog, let alone handle the demand that is to come. The UPF, and I believe you know this, is not being designed to support a significant increase in dismantlement operations—it is being designed as a production facility, outfitted with equipment for production, not dismantlement.
Throughout the UPF process, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance has argued for a forward-thinking mission for Y12. We believe a modernized Y12 should be creating capacity for the work that nation will need done as we move toward significantly reduced stockpiles, and we have called for funding a dedicated dismantlement facility. This is only proposal that looks to sustain the workforce in Oak Ridge at current levels or greater. Strong leaders might find within themselves the capacity to take a serious look at our proposal, even though you might find it hard to imagine yourselves agreeing with OREPA. We may not be popular, but we have a strong track record of being both accurate and right. Unlike many of the people who engage you on this issue, our vision is not clouded by the prospect of financial gain—we stand neither to gain nor lose financially from decisions made about the UPF or a dismantlement facility, except as taxpayers, of course.
The two of you are in a position to call your communities, and your colleagues in Washington, DC who are making budget decisions, to recognize the future and to mount a campaign to position Y12 to have a key role, with all the funding that accompanies it, in that future. It’s a win/win situation.
Rallying around the rush to build the UPF, ignoring safety concerns, will result in a lose/lose situation. If your letter to the newspaper is any indication, it’s already started—you’ve already lost your commitment to the truth.
Ralph Hutchison, coordinator
Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
Myron Iwanski and Ron Woody, Anderson County mayor and Roane County executive
As the top elected officials for Anderson County and Roane County, respectively, we are very knowledgeable of the issues associated with the Oak Ridge Department of Energy reservation, which is in both of our counties. We are aware of the urgent need to build the new Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex and are fully supportive of this project.
The Y-12 complex plays a very critical role in our national security. The missions performed at Y-12 involve much more than maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Work completed in the UPF will include dismantlement and disposition, material recycling and recovery, nuclear nonproliferation, producing fuel for naval reactors and supplying medical isotopes that will be used in cancer treatment.
Opponents of the new UPF are simply misleading the public in referring to this facility as a “bomb plant.” In fact, our nation has not built a new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years.
The current Y-12 facility for processing uranium is rapidly coming to the end of its productive life. The building is 70 years old, and there is a great need for a modern facility with safety features and structural capacity to withstand potential natural and man-made hazards.
A new UPF also makes economic sense. After construction, Y-12 will continue the nation’s uranium processing and national security mission in less space with lower cost. In addition to operating at less cost, other benefits of the UPF project include reliable, long-term, consolidated enriched uranium processing capability, improved security posture, improved health and safety and a highly attractive return on investment for the U.S. taxpayer.
We support the construction of the new UPF not only for the benefit of the work force from our counties but also for the critical national security of our country.
May 9, 2012