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2006-03-02

U.S. Enters New Nuclear Age as Bush Seeks Funds for New Generation of Nukes

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A new nuclear age appears to be on the horizon. President Bush recently asked Congress for $27 million to help jumpstart the country’s first new nuclear weapons program in two decades. As we broadcast from New Mexico–the center of the country’s nuclear weapons program–we speak with Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. [includes rush transcript]

"We are on the verge of an exciting time."

Those were the recent words of the nation’s top nuclear weapons executive, Linton Brooks. Here in New Mexico–the center of the country’s nuclear weapons program–a new nuclear age appears to be on the horizon. Bush recently asked Congress for $27 million to help jumpstart the country’s first new nuclear weapons program in two decades. The money will be used to fund a competition between the Los Alamos and the Lawrence Livermore laboratories to find and design a new generation of nuclear bombs to replace the country’s entire nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile in another major development in the country’s quest for new nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Britain conducted a joint underground nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site last week. Anti-nuclear activists including the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan denounced the test, the first in nearly two years. In Hiroshima, the peace watchtower at the Peace Memorial Museum — which displays the number of days since the last nuclear test — was reset to zero.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined here in our Albuquerque studio at KNME by Greg Mello. He is Director of the Los Alamos Study Group. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

GREG MELLO: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, a number of developments to ask you about. First, I want to start with President Bush in India right now and the latest news on this international nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan.

GREG MELLO: Right. President Bush would like to use nuclear technology as part of a geopolitical strategy and views India as a country we can do business with in nuclear technology, specifically, and more broadly, of course. This is part of a discriminatory approach to nuclear weapons that is undermining our attempts to roll back potential proliferation in Iran and North Korea. It’s hard for us to win friends while we are pumping up India’s nuclear program, allowing it to go forward, turning a blind eye, meanwhile out here in new Mexico, preparing to manufacture a new generation of nuclear weapons, and then coming down so hard on Iran, and which, you know, Iran can enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I don’t think there is any ambiguity about that. But the United States cannot make a new generation of nuclear weapons under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, it is?

GREG MELLO: Yeah. We are planning on it. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this new generation and what it means here for New Mexico?

GREG MELLO: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, some have said that if New Mexico were to secede from the United States, it would be the world’s third greatest nuclear power.

GREG MELLO: Right. There is about 2,500 nuclear weapons just five miles from here, just a little south of the main runway.

AMY GOODMAN: Where?

GREG MELLO: At Kirtland Air Force Base at the Albuquerque Sun Port, the main airport there. And the $27 million that the administration is requesting for a new warhead program, which it calls the "Reliable Replacement Warhead," is really just the tip of the iceberg. The acronym R.R.W. appears 60 times in the nuclear weapons budget, sprinkled around in different line items, and those line items can be redirected toward or to support the so-called R.R.W. or Reliable Replacement Warhead program. So, the actual budget is quite a bit more.

The intent is to redirect the Stockpile Stewardship program, or to say it another way, to use the fruits of the Stockpile Stewardship program to get ahead and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal, not just directly in terms of the explosives, the nuclear explosives or warheads, but to initiate a broad pattern of innovation so that the warheads can keep pace with innovation in the delivery systems and with targeting and with, well, arming, firing, fusing, you know, so that — basically so that nuclear weapons can continue to evolve and remain a central part of the goal of so-called full spectrum dominance.

AMY GOODMAN: You are saying that the new generation of nuclear weapons that the Bush administration is pushing forward violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

GREG MELLO: Absolutely. And in that treaty, we are required to successfully negotiate complete nuclear disarmament. This has been a U.S. law since 1970. As recently as 2000, the United States — well, in a consensus statement at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, we agreed to proceed with nuclear disarmament in a series of 13 steps that would actually implement that disarmament requirement. The Bush administration has repudiated those 13 steps, and the subject of nuclear disarmament and our Article 6 requirement to do so under the N.P.T. is not something the Bush administration wants to talk about, especially in the context of Iran. And the — what we would like, we would like to hold Iran to a very high standard under the N.P.T. Ourselves, we would not want to talk about what we’re doing there.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mello, who runs Los Alamos? Who runs the national lab?

GREG MELLO: Right now, it’s the University of California, but a consortium of four companies —- well, three companies and the University of California just won the contract, and so we are in a transition phase. I think it’s June 1, the transition is to be complete. So, soon, Bechtel, Washington Group International -—

AMY GOODMAN: These are corporations?

GREG MELLO: These are corporations, yeah. BWXT and the University of California will run Los Alamos National Laboratory. They have what could be a 20-year no-bid contract. It’s about — right now, it’s about $2.2 billion per year, so it’s a $40 billion no-bid contract if they do what they are told.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s the significance of this?

GREG MELLO: Well, we’ve never seen this kind of profit motive in the nuclear weapons business up to now. They can make more than — well more than $1 billion, more than $1.5 billion, in fees in management awards. Plus they get an entrée or leg up in the nuclear power business, which they expect to be growing. Los Alamos has for years, along with Sandia National Laboratory here, had a program to promote nuclear power worldwide. And it sounds quite similar to what was incorporated in the President’s State of the Union address.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. and Britain, this nuclear test that they conducted at the Nevada test site, can you explain what they did? Was this a surprise?

GREG MELLO: No, it wasn’t a surprise. I can’t explain exactly what they did, because I’m not sure, but the basic idea is that Britain is poised to make a decision about upgrading its Trident warhead system, its submarine-launched missiles, which are the only kind it has. The United States is also involved in upgrading its Trident warheads. The two warheads are very close together. The two programs are intermeshed. Lockheed, which runs Sandia here, is a partner in running the British nuclear weapons program, as well, so they are institutionally enmeshed, and, of course, they’re politically enmeshed, as we know. So, what’s going on here is that the Brits’ and the United States’ nuclear weapons program don’t want to get out of synch. If we upgrade, they’ll upgrade. I think they don’t want to be left with — left behind technologically. So we have kind of an arms race going on.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds. But the significance of this, and, for example, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki speaking out?

GREG MELLO: Yeah, the significance of this are basically that we are eroding the norms against nuclear weapons worldwide. The rest of the world knows all about this. And we can’t achieve a diplomatic consensus against nuclear weapons if we undermine international strong, the existing strong international norms against nuclear weapons, but if we insist on their legitimacy, we insist on being able to threaten them — threaten with them, then from the Bush administration’s perspective, all that’s left for them are military options to deal with proliferation, so our options are decreased.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mello, I want to thank you very much for joining us, of the Los Alamos Study Group based in New Mexico right here, where we are broadcasting.

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