Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The U.S. Department of Energy; nuclear by nature, forever?

by Ann Garrison

On March 11, 2009, Barack Obama's Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, announced his support for a new generation of nuclear power , but Terry Macallester, writing five days later, on March 16, 2009, in Common Dreams, warned that these new power plant designs could, by 2075, produce enough plutonium to make a million nuclear bombs, and cause nuclear anarchy.

The next day, March 17, 2009, New York Times ran Stephanie Cooke's well-reasoned, but, nevertheless curious, op-ed about Barack Obama and Steven Chu, beginning thus:

"PRESIDENT OBAMA has made clean and efficient energy a top priority, and Congress has obliged with more than $32 billion in stimulus money mostly for conservation and alternative energy technologies like wind, solar and biofuel. Sadly, the Energy Department is too weighed down by nuclear energy programs to devote itself to bringing about the revolution Mr. Obama envisions."

It seemed a bit strange, or disingenuous, of Stephanie Cooke, to suggest that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, former head of Berkeley's Lawrence Livermore Labs, really wants to "avoid getting dragged down by the nuclear undertow," since Chu, a physicist, has openly advocated a nuclear renaissance.

Now we need an honest update on the Reliable Replacement Nuclear Warhead (RRW)

Bush's former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now Obama's, and he has often pitched for continuing to develop the Reliable Replacement Nuclear Warhead:
Chu headed Lawrence Livermore Labs while it led development of the design for the Reliable Replacement Nuclear Warhead (RRW), a new strategic tactical nuclear weapon, under Bush.  The RRW would have, and still may be, the first new nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal in many years.   Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) worked on the RRW, first in competition with Livermore, and then, under the direction of Livermore, then headed by Chu, from 2006 until 2008, when Congress defunded further development, The London Guardian reported recently that RRW developers in the U.S. had simply moved to Britain's Aldermaston nuke bomb factory, to work alongside British scientists in finishing the design, with British and who knows what other, funding, quite likely slush funding.  There are quite a few very slushy funds scattered throughout the military and intelligence departments of the U.S. national security state.

It's virtually inconceivable that the U.S. could have continued development of the Reliable Replacement Nuclear Warhead without Chu's knowledge, either before or after he became Secretary of Energy, which is to say, of Nuclear Power, Weapons, and Waste, because, before becoming the top nuclear power and weapons official in the U.S., he  headed the lab overseeing the RRW design.  And he most certainly knows now, since this 02/09/2009 London Guardian exposé.    There seems, however, to be no evidence that he has made any evidence to halt the RRW's ongoing development at Aldermaston.

Chu's official statement on the RRW says that, "Under this budget, development work on the Reliable Replacement Warhead will cease," but "under this budget" sounds like a very convenient way of taking credit for Congress's vote to defund RRW's development, without acknowledging that he's overseeing its continuation, covertly, in cooperation with Britain, at Aldermaston.
Did Congress simply get fed up with funding the development of a new nuclear weapon, in hard times, or, did they decide it was a lousy, hugely  toxic, and dangerous idea, discouraging to the goal of world peace, which most of the world embraces, honestly or not?

Cooke seems either to have skipped research into Chu's background, even so recent as his 03/11/2009 embrace of next generation nuclear power. Or, she may have intended, for whatever reason, to greenwash, and apologize, for Obama and Chu's nuclear predilections, by saying that there's just no changing the U.S. Department of Energy and its nuclear DNA, no matter how one might want to.

Or, she may even have meant to encourage whatever renewables interest Obama and Chu may have, with flattery.  This might be a logical, persuasive rather than confrontational strategy, but, nevertheless, these important question still hangs:

How are Steven Chu and Barack Obama involved with the U.S.-British, Reliable Replacement Nucleaer Warhead development in Britain, now, even though this obviously began after Congress defunded the new nuclear weapon, and before George Bush left office? They essentially have to pick up where George left off, to complete it, or abandon it, as much of the world, including many of us in the U.S.A., which they would.

Do they have any intention of shutting it down, over, no doubt, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's objections? And, who is managing and funding this nuclear weapons development now, at Britain's Aldermaston. And, to what strategic purpose?

This is serious business, designing and building the first new nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, in years.   Not a decision that U.S. and British national security state cabals should make without public approval or oversight.

The U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear by nature?

Cooke, again, writing in the NY Times, was most certainly correct that, in the unlikely event that Chu choose to emphasize solar, wind, and other forms of renewable power over nuclear, he would have to recreate or even rename, the U.S. Energy Department, because it is and always has been, above all, the Department of Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons, and, Nuclear Waste; it grew out of the Atomic Energy Commission, created to oversee the creation of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear power infrastructure after the end of World War II.

There are more nuclear, and coal-fired, power plants in Barack Obama's Illinois than in any other state in the union; and Chicago-based, the largest nuclear power corporation in the U.S., gave Obama's campaign over $200,000 in bundled contributions.

By convening a "panel on nuclear waste," to choose the best way to dispose of waste generated by the next generation of nuclear reactors, Obama's Energy Secretary, Steven Chu unfortunately implied that there is a "best way, " or, rather, a rational way.  But, whatever their panel's conclusion, Obama and Chu have at least promised that it will not mean the nuclear disposal of the magnificent Carrie Dann's sacred mountain.   Turning Yucca Mountain into a High Radiation Nuclear Waste Dump had been a pillar of the Global Nuclear Energy Project since its inception under Bush; Carrie, the Western Shoshone, and the rest of the Native Southwest fought to save their sacred mountain for 22 years, so this was a huge victory, even as the Navajo and other Native Americans continue to battle uranium mining leases expanded by the Energy Department under George Bush.

Is the Energy Department nuclear by nature, now and forever, amen?

Stephanie Cooke aptly said that the U.S. Department of Energy has "nuclear weapons in its DNA"; it grew out of the Atomic Energy Commission, created to manage and build atomic weapons after World War II, after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and nation states raced to build and place their own weapons on the global nuclear chessboard.       

"Today, the department’s main task is managing the thousands of facilities involved in producing nuclear weapons during the cold war, and the associated cleanup of dozens of contaminated sites. Approximately two-thirds of its annual budget, which is roughly $27 billion, is spent on these activities, while only 15 percent is allocated for all energy programs, including managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and researching and developing new technologies."

The name of the Energy Department seems incidental to the central questions:

1)   How will we develop and  energy resources, now, to what purpose?    

2)   Will our energy resources sustain life and future generations?

With these questions in mind, however, I'll gladly agree that "the Energy Department must be relieved of duties that aren’t related to energy"---i.e., that it must be relieved of its primary task, nuclear weapons handling, which Obama's Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag has suggested moving into the equally misnamed, but, better understood, Department of Defense (DOD).

This is a good idea, a damn good, and most excellent idea. Obama's OMB Budget Director Peter Orszag should be applauded for championing such rare honesty and focus in Washington D.C. Let's do indeed pass the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to the "Defense Department" and, finally turn the Energy Department into the Real Energy Department, and hopefully even: the Renewable, Sustainable Energy Department, mandated to build renewable energy and sustain life. Yeah Peter Orszag!!! The new Chief of the OBM is not only intelligent but rational!!! He's tacking the logical contradiction of an "Energy Department" whose primary task is management of our nuclear weapons arsenal. This is the best idea I've heard out of Team Obama yet.

We've still got these problems, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, overseer of Lawrence Livermore Labs during the design of the Reliable Replacement Nuclear Warhead (RRW), and the covert continuation of the RRW development, at Aldermaston, but perhaps they could both, at least be moved over and locked up at DOD, with the rest of the nuclear weapons, to give Energy a chance.

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