Saturday, September 27, 2014

Conflicted and Confounded over Nukes

Let's try to imagine a person moving in opposite directions at the same time. This is familiar behavior in the quantum mechanical world, fathomable by quantum mechanicians. However, to ordinary joes like you and me, such behavior is usually forbidden; i.e., unless, we happen to be acting like politicians.

 But, as for President Barack Obama, can he be both anti-nuke and pro-nuke at the same time? Consider the facts:

 In 2008 Obama ran for President for the first time while expressing his "Goal of a Nuclear-Free World [To] Show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. [However,] America will not disarm unilaterally." Less than a year into his presidency, he addressed an international forum in Prague, saying that his government “will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.”  In 2010, he made a first  step is this direction by signing a treaty with the Russians to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads in the
arsenals of the two ersatz superpowers to below 1550 warheads each, within seven years. However, as a means of ensuring that this agreement would be ratified by  the US Senate, the President promised congressional weapons enthusiasts that he would also lead a program of refurbishing of the  US nuclear weapons establishment; e.g., nuclear weapons factories and R&D centers, "spending $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex" (NYT,) as well as other side-agreements written into the treaty, at Republican insistence, such as that "he would follow through on development of missile defense in Europe, despite Russian resistance" (NYT.)

 The FY 2015 budget recently submitted by the Administration to Congress showed clearly that Pres. Obama intends to make good on his promise to congressional hawks, and then some; e.g., he also intends the replacement of aging nuclear weapons delivery systems, submarines, planes, and missiles, within the next 10-20 years. At the same time, no further reductions in the size of the US arsenal of nuclear weapons seem to be in the offing. For this unfortunate circumstance, says the Administration, we have only the bad behavior of the Russians to blame; i.e., especially as regards their latest actions in the Ukraine.

 As a way of further justifying its apparent new-found enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, the Administration notes the fact that other nuclear weapons states are upgrading and expanding their arsenals of nuclear weapons; viz., the Pakistanis, and the Indians, both according to their own public statements. Of course, the North Koreans are trying to enhance their status as a nuclear weapons power, too, and the Iranians are suspected of trying to move in the same direction. The Administration says that it is the responsibility of the United States, as the sole surviving super-power, to help keep the world safe from more nuclear weapons states, and from more nuclear weapons, by continuing to maintain and improve the reliability of its own arsenal of nuclear weapons.

 Not only does the Administration seem conflicted in its plans for its arsenal of nuclear weapons, but it seems confounded in its plans for the disposition of the chemically toxic waste and radioactive waste produced by its nuclear weapons industry, not to mention the enormous quantity of hi-level radioactive waste produced by the nation's nuclear power plants. As pointed out previously in this blog, the President began his tenure by closing the Yucca Mt repository for high-level nuclear waste, before a single Curie of radioactive material had been assigned there for storage, but after an expenditure of ~$10 billion, for planning and construction. As yet, no other facility for the storage of high-level radioactive waste is so much as in the planning stage.

 The only fully operational storage facility for low-level nuclear waste from nuclear weapons factories is the WIPP site, in Carlsbad, NM. However, the WIPP site is now closed for repair, owing to the occurrence ~eight months ago of a mysterious accident which led to the release of radiation into the local environment. According to DOE, the cause of this accident is still not completely understood.

 Therefore, by way of dealing with this pressing problem, the DOE has announced the reassignment of four senior managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Environmental Management unit. Evidently, even though all of LANL's EM functions are already funded entirely by DOE's EM money, which money does not pass through NNSA coffers, the actual management of EM activities at LANL is performed locally. According to the latest press reports, this situation will now change: DOE's EM management team will now have direct day-to-day control over LANL's EM activities.

 Perhaps this management change will make all the difference, due to the imposition at LANL of DOE EM's highly touted matrix management system, and in spite of the Obama Administration's sharp reduction in money budgeted for DOE EM, in its US 2015 budget.

 Finally, I will only point out once again the debacle of the MOX fuel program. The Administration is closing down this complex program after already having spent ~$10 billion in planning and construction, and years working out technical and political details with the Russians. The safe and secure disposition of weapons grade plutonium, declared surplus by the nuclear weapons program, will once again become a matter of great national concern.

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