Judging from the Bush administration and most of the popular media, the countries we most have to fear when it comes to the producing of nuclear weapons is North Korea and Iran.
Conveniently overlooked in all their furbelow is the reckless and expensive way the US treats the production of such weapons of mass destruction. Examples abound.
Recently the former chief United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, expressed his alarm that this nation's unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements was sabotaging worldwide efforts to curb nuclear weapons. "If it takes the lead, the world is likely to follow," he said. "If it does not take the lead, there could be more nuclear tests and new nuclear arms races."
Blix's observation came in the introduction to a 225-page report by an international commission financed by Sweden. The panel, with members from a dozen or more nations, listed 60 recommendations for nuclear disarmament. Its conclusion, however, pointed out that treaty-based disarmament was being set back by "an increased US skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery.
"Over the past decade, there has been a serious and dangerous loss of momentum and direction in disarmament and nonproliferation efforts," it said. "Treaty-making and implementation have stalled, and, as a new wave of proliferation has threatened, unilateral enforcement action has been increasingly advocated."
The commission also urged all countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to reduce their arsenals and stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons. The United States has not ratified the test ban treaty, and in 2002 it withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
"While the reaction of most states to the treaty violations was to strengthen and develop the existing treaties and institutions," Blix added, "the US, the sole superpower, has looked more to its own military power for remedies," the result being that "the nuclear weapons states no longer seem to take their commitment to nuclear disarmament seriously."
The commission said there were 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 12,000 of them deployed.
Last May federal inspectors reopened an investigation into charges that the contractor that cleaned up Rocky Flats threw away massive amounts of new tools and equipment to collect $170 million in bonuses for its fast and efficient work. Workers have alleged that the materials, some of them in unopened packaging and worth millions of dollars, were tossed as part of the company's strategy to quickly clear the former nuclear weapons plant 16 miles west of Denver.
The action came following an April 22 Rocky Mountain News report on the complaints of several former workers at the site who said the contractor, Kaiser-Hill, engaged in the hurried disposal of usable tools and supplies. "After further consideration, we have decided to reopen this matter," said Marilyn Richardson, spokeswoman for the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General.
The News reported that workers said they saw a wide range of equipment pitched into waste containers for burial at disposal sites in Utah and Nevada. Items included motors, paint sprayers, jackhammers and drills, along with myriad plumbing and electrical supplies. The story quoted one worker, 30-year employee Barb Smith, describing the level of waste as "the ugliest thing I'd ever seen."
Onsite workers said that they had witnessed rampant waste particularly in the latter phases of the cleanup, when managers didn't want to lose time trying to find proper homes for so much material. Kaiser-Hill's contract with DOE was built around speed. In its second cleanup contract with the agency, signed in 2000, Kaiser-Hill earned rewards based on how much its costs came in under the target budget of $3.96 billion, and for beating a March 2006 deadline for finishing the job.
The News reported that most of the $170 million in bonuses the company earned were for coming in under the target budget by more than $400 million. But those cost savings, much of which came through cutting payroll, were tied directly to cleaning up the site quickly, a DOE official familiar with the contract previously explained to the News.
Steven Weber, a former Rocky Flats worker who first complained to the inspector general's office about what he believed were wasteful practices in 2004, said he is suspicious about the OIG's desire to reopen the case. In his view, the agency never investigated the matter in the first place. That's because during the OIG's initial investigation, inspectors never interviewed Weber or other Flats workers about their allegations, he said.
When the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered a lower court to review information that members of a federal grand jury want to discuss the 1989-1992 probe of Rocky Flats, it revived the hopes of jurors who have sought to go public with details of their investigation into potential environmental crimes at the nuclear weapons plant.
The grand jury had recommended indicting two corporations and eight people involved with Rocky Flats. The plant, about ten miles northwest of Denver, made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons from the 1950s until it was shut down in 1989.
Prosecutors refused to sign the indictments, instead working out a plea bargain involving an $18.5 million fine.
Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, but 18 of the 23 members of the Rocky Flats panel have long sought permission to speak out. US District Judge Richard Matsch in March 2004 denied their request to release information, and they appealed. But in May a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit said Matsch should reconsider and set out some guidelines for determining what information may be released.
Readers of this column will recall two years ago when a Citizens' Investigation team published a nonfiction book, The Ambushed Grand Jury [Apex Press, New York: 2004], documenting the Department of Justice's and Department of Energy's coverup of widespread contamination at the former nuclear weapons plant (see www.Ambushedgrandjury.com).
They were later joined by Jon Lipsky, the former FBI agent who had originally investigated the environmental crimes at Rocky Flats, in an effort by activists to stop the former nuclear weapons plant from becoming a wilderness refuge and public recreation area. Plans called for the transformation of Rocky Flats' 6,240 acres, 16 miles upwind from Denver, into such an area after the US Fish and Wildlife Service was scheduled to take control of the property in 2006.
In their 280-page The Ambushed Grand Jury, authors Caron Balkany (an antinuclear activist and volunteer lawyer) and Colorado cowboy Wes McKinley (who served three years as the foreman of a special grand jury convened in 1989 to hear charges of nuclear crimes by the US government and its defense contractor, Rockwell International) unravel the government's nuclear crimes at Rocky Flats plant, and show how a band of persevering individuals courageously caught the government red-handed.
A.V. Krebs publishes the online newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner. He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist