* Military Study urges irrational streak in nuclear policy.

* DOE wants to leave oldest nuclear waste in ground.

* Santa Fe City Council bars WIPP transport on St. Francis.

* The United States should threaten nuclear retaliation with an "irrational and vindictive streak," in order to discourage would-be attackers, according to an internal military study made public this week. The study, "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," was written by the Strategic Command of the Defense Department, a multi-service agency responsible for the nation's strategic nuclear arsenal. An arms control group obtained the study under the Freedom of Information Act and published it Sunday in a report on U.S. Strategies for deterring attacks by antagonistic nations. "It hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool- headed," the 1995 study says. "That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."

The British-American Security Information Council cited the report as an example of the Pentagon's attempt to maintain a mission for its nuclear arsenal after the disappearance of the Soviet threat, fighting--and winning--an internal bureaucratic battle with liberal Clinton administration officials who favor a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons. The report shows how the U.S. has shifted its nuclear deterrent policy from the former Soviet Union to so-called "rogue states" such as Libya and Iraq, using Cold War language to defend the relevance of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to such potential attackers.

In 1997, President Clinton's U. S. nuclear policy directive upheld the assurance that the United States will refrain from first use of nuclear weapons against signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a list that includes Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea. The policy includes certain exceptions, however, that would allow responding with nuclear weapons to attacks by nuclear-capable states, states not in good standing under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or states allied with nuclear powers. Iraq, viewed by the U.S. as violating international atomic weapons restrictions, could be such an exception. During the recent crisis in Iraq, there have been many references to a "bunker-busting bomb" that could be used by U.S. Forces. This may possibly be the recently deployed earth- penetrating weapon designed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, use of which would overturn 50 years of nuclear weapons non-use. Advocates of arms control are worried that states without nuclear weapons who signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty will abandon it if they see the existing nuclear powers preserving and finding missions for their weapons.

* The latest plan from the U.S. Department of Energy, called "Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure," proposes that the Los Alamos National Laboratory keep 85 percent of the wastes buried from 1944 to the early 1970s in the ground. According to the new plan, LANL won't be able to clean up some of its oldest waste dumps for at least 10 years, possibly forever. The new plan delays the end of the cleanup, projected for 2005, until 2008, and says the federal government will have to watch some waste-burial sites indefinitely. The early wastes were packed in cardboard and plywood boxes, thick plastic bags and steel drums, and then dumped from trucks into trenches and shafts. Lab officials say that digging it out would be too expensive and possibly unsafe. Environmentalists say the government is evading responsibility for the Cold War's radioactive garbage. In the new plan, cost estimates for caring for the oldest waste through 2070 have dropped from $3 to $1 billion. At the same time, LANL will spend approximately $10.6 billion to dispose of new wastes created by ongoing weapons work and research. "It's a budget gimmick," said Jay Coghlan, program director at Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety of Santa Fe. "This will short-change cleanup at LANL while continuing to pour money into weapons programs." Environmentalists expect to fight the plan, because it will leave some of the most dangerous wastes in the U. S. nuclear weapons complex in place. Dozens of waste burial trenches and shafts, holding enough radioactive hazardous waste to fill more than 28,000 dumpsters, will either remain untouched, or be "capped" with clay, to prevent rain and snowmelt from seeping radioactive waste into the ground water.

* Early Thursday morning on February 26, the Santa Fe City Council rescinded an agreement with DOE officials, and an ordinance limiting the time when the federal government could transport nuclear waste through the heart of the city--but the Department of Energy says it will abide by the original agreement anyway.

The council also approved 2 resolutions barring nuclear waste from being trucked along St. Francis Drive, until the completion of a two-lane relief route later this year.

The DOE plans to begin shipping waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico as soon as the plant is given permission to open, said George Dials, the DOE's project manager for WIPP. In a letter this week, Dials told the council that even if they withdrew from the agreement "it will not change our plans to begin shipping these wastes once we receive the final certificate of compliance from the EPA. "

When asked whether shipments of materials which have waited at LANL for 40 years could wait a few months more, until the completion of the bypass, Mr. Dials said no. He did, however, agree to consider an alternate route if it was properly designated.

Councilors said that rescinding the agreement would send a strong message to Washington. "It's not too late to say we made a mistake," said Councilor Patty Bushee, who sponsored the original ordinance in October, limiting transuranic waste shipments on St. Francis. "We knew then we needed to do something. I think we're doing the right thing now. " Santa Fe city attorney Mark Basham said that under federal regulations, "it appears that the DOE could do what it wants to do. But there also appears to be a chance to challenge the DOE on the grounds that what they are doing amounts to environmental action. "

Back to News Index