Friday, January 26, 2007
Inject Some Sense into LANL Mission?
Santa Fe New Mexican Editorial, Friday, January 26, 2007
Jeff, Pete, push back that Doomsday Clock
For Northern New Mexicans, whose cheek-by jowl existence with the nuclear-bomb business has an economic upside as well as a moral and environmental downside, there was irony in recent news:
* The Doomsday Clock, a grimly gimmicky, if well meant, artifact of the Nuclear Age, was set forward two minutes by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago.
The clock was thought up in 1947, and was originally set for seven minutes to midnight — midnight being when our planet is engulfed in nuclear holocaust. Later, the clock came to reflect other ways humanity might destroy itself, including the many forms of environmental suicide.
The minute hand has gone back and forth 18 times, according to the scientists’ views of the prospects for atomic attacks by one nation or another.
This month, the organization declared that it’s five minutes to midnight — the most perilous period since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Citing concerns over a “second nuclear age” involving lunatic regimes in Iran and North Korea, and poorly secured nuclear materials in Russia, not to mention the threat of terrorism and too-little, too-late responses to climate change, the scientists warn that our little globe is in deep doo-doo.
And while nuclear-weapons advocates can point to the other perils, their handiwork remains at the top of the list.
* Yet here’s the Bush administration carefully hyping the need for a new bomb: a Reliable Replacement Warhead so we won’t have so many of those old ones around as backup blasters in case the first ones we fire are duds.
America isn’t hearing a whole lot about this latest round of busy-work for our national labs, says The New York Times — but it’s making our European allies nervous, and as a result it’s not helping our arguments against nuclear-weapons development by Iraq and North Korea.
As the Times tells it, the latest multibillion-dollar project is being advanced in the wake of Republican rejection of then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “bunker buster” bomb.
So, went the pitch for relia-bomb, we’ve got all these “pits” — the plutonium triggers being put together at Los Alamos National Laboratory — lying around getting old. That’s not a big deal, said a group of scientific advisers late last year; those pits are good for another 50 years.
Wella-wella, what about all the other stuff that goes into those thousands of weapons of annihilation we’ve been stockpiling since the days of the Red Menace?
Betcha they’re in danger of dilapidation. We’ve just gotta have a whole new generation of nuclear sabers to rattle at real or imagined enemies ...
Meanwhile, meaningful talks about arms reduction go off the global table.
This is the situation inherited by Jeff Bingaman, once again chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — the one that oversees our national laboratories.
His fellow New Mexicans should urge Bingaman to begin wringing more sense out of LANL’s mission. The brainpower up on “the Hill” is enormous — but too much of it is misguided. Those scientists and engineers should be playing a lead role in reducing our nation’s — and, eventually, the world’s — dependence on fossil fuels.
Bingaman, and fellow New Mexican Pete Domenici, the energy committee’s ranking Republican, are in excellent position to launch a Manhattan Project for alternative energy.
Science for non-bellicosity might be a foreign concept to some of LANL’s vested interests — but when our nation already is capable of wiping out life as we know it, its military mission should yield to its potential for civilian betterment.
Let our state’s senators take a lead in pushing back the big hand on the Doomsday Clock.
P.S. (by Pat): Harper's Index reports that the US Government spent $7.8B (adjusted for inflation) in 1979 on energy research and development, but only $1.5B in 2006--a factor of five less. Had we been spending at that earlier rate, we would have spent by now about 1/3rd the amount we've poured into the rathole of Iraq. Bottom line: Time for a new mission for LANL ... and regime change for the country.