The United States of America, first among nuclear weapons states, was also first in line to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969. The Treaty was ratified by the US Congress and entered into force in March, 1970. Article 6 of the Nonproliferation Treaty commits the United States to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures leading to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
This is our word—and also our law, since the US Constitution says, in its own Article 6, known as the Supremacy clause, that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States…and all Treaties made or which shall be made…shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”
Those are old words, but more recently our President affirmed them when he committed the United States to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons in 2009.
This week, reports indicate the President is preparing to sign a directive which will take a step in that direction—authorizing negotiations with Russia to further reduce nuclear stockpiles to somewhere around 1,000 nuclear warheads each. The details are not clear; the document has not been released publicly. So we don’t know if similar reductions are slated for our redundant “strategic reserve” of 3,500 thermonuclear warheads.
Those are the words.
Contrast them with this further news from Washington, DC, today, February 11, 2013. A source who has seen the draft budget circulating on Capitol Hill reports “the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge will get a $1 billion boost in funding.”
And that, friends, gives the lie to all the pretty words—One billion dollars for the flagship facility of the next generation of the US nuclear weapons production complex. The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Oak Ridge is being designed not to dismantle retired warheads but to build warheads. With a capacity of 5-10 warheads per year, the UPF could maintain the current stockpile, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
But it’s not being built to have that capacity. It’s being designed to have the capacity to produce 80 thermonuclear secondaries and cases per year, and the dismantlement part of its mission has been deferred for 20-30 years. According to NNSA, the reason for the excess production capacity is to permit building new design nuclear weapons.
There are lots of reasons for not increasing funding for the UPF.
• after spending the first half billion, the design team announced it had to start over because the building wasn’t going to be big enough to house all the equipment it needed;
• no one knows the total pricetag—it is listed as TBD, which stands for “blank check.” Original cost estimates were $600 million to $1.5 billion. They’ve already spent $600 million and the total guesstimates now range as high as $7.5 billion.
• Y12 management has proven itself incompetent in the past and is now in total chaos—DOE has announced the removal of the current contract team to be replaced by a new team, but the decision has been officially challenged. One employee at the plant said last week, “I don’t know who is signing my paycheck.” The General Accounting Office has said NNSA lacks the capacity to manage major projects, and NNSA continues to prove them right.
• significant safety questions remain unresolved, including some first raised by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in 2007.
But perhaps the most important reason is this: “We gave our word.”
Those who are tempted to discount integrity as an important part of our national character might recall that there was a reason we gave our word—leadership in disarmament by the major powers is crucial to the effort to constrain the spread of nuclear weapons to other states—like Iran.
In briefings on Capitol Hill in December 2010, US Arms Control Ambassador Robert Grey said the US will have “credibility zero” in international nonproliferation talks if it modernizes its nuclear weapons stockpile and production infrastructure.
If the US Congress provides $1 billion for UPF funding, it is throwing good money after bad and making a mockery of fiscal responsibility. But more importantly, it is reneging on our commitment to the world and undermining our efforts to constrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Sometimes the simplest truths are the clearest. If we can do it, so can North Korea and Iran.
It’s time to call President Obama to account. It’s not enough to talk the talk, Mr. President; you have to walk the walk.