By Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
If there are serious waste cutters in D.C., I wonder why I haven’t heard them ask a simple question: Why is the government planning to build a $7.5 billion bomb plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee they don’t need?
Before you roll your eyes at the typical anti-nuke rhetoric, get this. The study that says they don’t need a $7.5 billion dollar bomb plant was prepared by…wait for it—the National Nuclear Security Administration. That’s right, the same government agency that says they are going to build it.
For $200 million or less, they can modernize the current facilities to meet environmental, safety and health standards and meet mission requirements. Not good enough, because contractors can smell money.
Since the new bomb plant—the Uranium Processing Facility—was first proposed in 2005, its price tag has gone up 1200%. No, that’s not a typo. The cost in 2005 was $600 million; last year it soared to $6.5 billion; last week it leaped again—to $7.5 billion according to the Army Corp of Engineers.
So Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Socialists, Independents—anybody serious about cutting spending? Seriously. This is low-hanging fruit.
Last week the National Nuclear Security Administration issued its final Record of Decision on the new bomb plant for Oak Ridge. After studying several alternatives, it chose the $7.5 billion one. Even though—government’s own figures—a smaller facility would be adequate to meet mission requirements and would be—government’s own words—“environmentally preferable.”
The new bomb plant in Oak Ridge is sized to produce 80 thermonuclear “secondaries” per year—though the government documents say they need to make less than 15 a year to assure the safety and reliability of the US nuclear stockpile. Insiders say 5-10/year is plenty. So why the bigger bomb plant? Because they want it soooooo bad.
If none of this makes sense to you, it’s because it doesn’t make sense. It’s a government pork project. For sixty years they’ve spent our tax dollars like teenagers who don’t have to put gas in the tank. It’s time for the adults—if there are any in Congress—to shut the wallet. “Do what you can with what you have” would be a nice motto.
If the U.S. wants to maintain a nuclear stockpile of 1,500 warheads, it can do it without a new bomb plant. If the U.S. truly wants to dissuade other countries (like Iran) from pursuing nuclear weapons, making major investments in new production capacity in the United States is exactly the wrong way to do it.
Any Congressperson out there who wants to get serious about fiscal responsibility, or just give a nod to fiscal sanity, should take a peek at the nuclear weapons budget. Ask yourself why, when the whole country is tightening its belt, the folks in Oak Ridge are out shopping for bigger trousers.
If the country needed it for security or defense, that might be one thing. But we don’t—and don’t take my word for it. Take the National Nuclear Security Administration’s word for it—they’re the ones who build the bombs.
Ralph Hutchison is the coordinator of OREPA.