Readers of this blog might get the mistaken idea that most of my journalistic attention is focused on climate, but for the last 17 years nuclear weapons have been my primary professional preoccupation. In that regard, it has been a remarkable week.
Sunday night, Congress approved a spending bill that ended months of uncertainty surrounding the possibility for deep budget cuts in the U.S. nuclear weapons program. For those not familiar with New Mexico’s political and economic geography, we are home to two nuclear weapons labs, and some 10,000 New Mexicans are directly employed in nuclear weapons work:
The main message of that first-day story was parochial – budget and jobs. A story has to be about one thing. But one of the most important decisions – small in dollar terms but large in international implications – was the cancellation of the “reliable replacement warhead”, which would have been the first new U.S. nuclear weapon since the end of the Cold War. So after burying that theme on day one, I tried to make clear what it meant on day two:
The most dramatic bit happened on day three, as the National Nuclear Security Administration rolled out its plans for a new U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing complex for the 21st century. The marquee bit was the designation of Los Alamos, here in New Mexico, as the future home of plutonium manufacturing for U.S. nuclear weapons.
This decision is quite literally the culmination for me of 17 years of reporting I have done on this subject. Back in the early 1990s, it was widely argued that Los Alamos would eventually get the plutonium mission, which is central to manufacturing nuclear weapons. I tried to sketch out the background here:
- “Los Alamos Ready, Not Willing to Build N-Bombs” (note that the quote is a headline from a 1992 story – Los Alamos is today apparently very willing)