Reading Room

Tri-Valley CAREs to Policy Makers: Cut Nukes, Do Cleanup

from Tri-Valley CAREs' May newsletter, Citizen's Watch

by Marylia Kelley, Roxanne Johnson, Alan Horvath, Joanne Dean-Freemire and Sally Light

A five member delegation from Tri-Valley CAREs, and friends from around the globe, "invaded" Washington, DC from May 3 - 6 to educate Congress and the Administration about the need to control the spiraling Dept. of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons budget and use the savings to speed the cleanup of contaminated sites. It was the tenth annual "DC Days," sponsored by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. Our group's Sally Light, Roxanne Johnson, Alan Horvath, Joanne Dean-Freemire and Marylia Kelley participated. Here are a few of their stories.

Marylia's report: nukes, budget cuts & subcrit delays. U.S. nuclear weapons policy is at a crossroads. Some officials understand we are losing historic opportunities to move toward disarmament, while others still spout "nukes forever" rhetoric. Possibly the most surreal moment came when the National Security Council's Bob Bell told us we should be grateful the U.S. recently deployed an advanced earth-penetrating nuclear bomb. We were sitting in Bell's office around Ollie North's old conference table at the time. True story.

For the most newsworthy moments, I offer three. While we were in DC, the Senate Armed Services and House National Security committees met to "mark up" the $4.5 billion requested in FY1999 for "Stockpile Stewardship." The Senate committee cut $164 million from the program, while the House axed $350 million- a step in the right direction! Second, I found most officials receptive to funding real cleanup at DOE sites like the Lab, though there is growing skepticism that DOE can do the job. Third, I met with Chairman John Conway and other technical staff at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Livermore Lab's plutonium operations have been shut down since last summer. While there is an incremental "restart" schedule underway, it seems the shot date for the Livermore-designed subcritical nuke test "Bagpipe" will be delayed until August.

Roxanne's impressions: CTBT & the big picture. The highlight for me was going to the constituent breakfast for Barbara Boxer. In particular, I had a good conversation with her defense aide (after some people from Taco Bell had cornered him), and expressed gratitude that Senator Boxer was supportive of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as well as disappointment that she has not come out against the NIF.

"DC Days" left me with a new understanding of nuclear weapons production, design, waste, cleanup and stewardship. I met other ANA members and began to see how everything fit into the big picture. It was good to see so many people all working toward the same goal. There is a sense of understanding what is happening in other peoples' backyards.

Alan's comments: gov't & START. I found more people in our government to be proud of than I had expected. I was heartened by top staff at the Senate Armed Services Committee who told us without prompting that we need the Russian Duma to ratify START II as soon as possible, and we both need to get on to START III. Even this "den of hawks" acknowledges that we are spending far too much on weapons. More heartening still was the comment by the same staffer: "No one has any intention of letting DOE walk away from cleanup. Ever."

On the not so nice side, I was astonished by the number of nuclear environmental disasters in this country, and by the magnitude of death and disease surrounding them. We absolutely must find a way to make this politically inescapable. And, speaking of the inescapable, DOE's headquarters is right across the street from the Smithsonian. There ought to be pickets there 365 days a year. That will take our message to heartland America!

Joanne's view: good & bad. "DC Days" was an exhausting, energizing, frustrating, satisfying experience. Some of my meetings went better than expected, some worse. Most resulted in an exchange of information, and some led to commitments. DOE and the Lab appear to be lobbying hard for new weapons facilities, like NIF, repeating the "safety" and "reliability" rationalizations continuously. One Senator reacted to the idea that the program isn't necessary to maintain our present weapons as if hearing it for the first time. The trip was an education in the workings of government, and home-staying with local DC activists made it most pleasant.

Sally's story: internat'l flavor. I was unexpectedly called upon to be an interpreter for Fatima Kobzhasarova, an activist from our sister organization in Chelyabinsk, Russia. I helped facilitate two meetings for her and her colleague, Natalia Mironova, at ANA's annual awards ceremony. Thus, my experience took on an enjoyably international flavor. All in all, I encourage our members to go to at least one "DC Days." It lets officials know we mean business, empowers us individually and as a whole and brings DC into focus-it is no longer a distant abstraction.