Nuclear weapon production in New Mexico?

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Blogging at Washington Monthly, Zachary Roth writes:

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that plans for a new nuclear weapons program will continue, despite the finding that existing stockpiles will remain reliable for almost the next century.

One of the reasons that the program–known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead program–looks set to move ahead, even though it doesn’t actually appear to be, you know, necessary, is that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M) chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees our weapons labs. Two of those labs–including the largest, Los Alamos–happen to be in New Mexico, so every new program going to those labs means federal dollars for Domenici’s state. Unsurprisingly, Domenici has already applauded the decision to go ahead with the RRW program.

But as I reported in the March 2006 issue of The Washington Monthly, the problem goes deeper. Since we stopped building new weapons in the early 1990s, the weapons labs, run by the Department of Energy, have had little to do. Thanks to the efforts of pork-obsessed members of Congress like Domenici, they’ve continued to receive billions of federal dollars, often for projects that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. And for much the same reason, we continue to operate eight costly sites, even though some of them literally do little more than move radioactive nuclear material from one spot to another.

Now that Domenici will no longer be calling the shots on the committee, there may be an opportunity to rationalize our weapons complex, by consolidating the various sites into one or two locations, and cutting some of the extraneous programs that serve as little more than federal jobs projects for red states. And here’s an idea: If the new Congress wanted to think really big, it could have DOE use the money and resources it saved to spearhead our efforts on energy independence.

In the comments section, somebody asked what Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico’s other senator and the incoming chairman of the Energy Committee, thinks. So, I called up his D.C. office. Here’s the statement they sent:

“I hope the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the findings of this report early next year so that we can determine whether we need the new Reliable Replacement Warhead,” U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman said.

“Regardless of the outcome, I believe LANL is not the best choice for a permanent pit production facility.” Bingaman said.

It looks as though Bingaman is looking for a defense/appropriations standpoint on the issue, which is putting the feasibility and necessity of the project under a microscope. Nonetheless, as the Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck writes, “You know your nuclear weapons project is in trouble when the senator from the state where the warheads are gonna be built questions whether it’s a good idea.”

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