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Ban the bomb.

George Bush has taken the credit--whether he deserves it or not--for presiding over the end of the Cold War, which threatened the world with nuclear annihilation for more than forty years. Whether he wanted to or not--and he surely didn't--he also presided over the shutdown of nuclear-weapons production in the United States.

It wasn't what he had in mind. But, as Admiral James Watkins, Bush's Secretary of Energy, has said, "I never got my arms around" the fundamental problems at his agency.

What with one thing or another in the past several years, the Department of Energy hasn't been manufacturing any new bombs. You remember: The plant at Savannah River, South Carolina, lost the knack of producing weapons-grade plutonium. Radioactive waste turned up in all sorts of places it wasn't supposed to be, at the dump site in Maxey Flats, Kentucky. The folks who ran the bomb factory in Rocky Flats, Colorado, kept getting hauled into court for breaking environmental laws. And whistle-blowers exposing safety violations threatened to outnumber complacent employees at the nuclear reservation in Hanford, Washington.

Scientific and managerial bungling, criminality, and coverups--that's what has characterized the weapons program. Take just two of those sites. At Maxey Flats, the 1962 scientific study calculating risk determined that it would take 24,000 years for the radwaste to migrate one-half inch. In fact, it took ten years for it to migrate two miles.

At Rocky Flats, the Federal grand jury hearing evidence compiled against the Energy Department, which owns the plant, and Rockwell International, the contractor that operated the plant, recommended criminal indictments of three DOE officials and five Rockwell executives. But the U.S. Attorney, a political appointee, refused to sign the indictments and settled for a slap on the Rockwell corporate wrist. No indictments, no grand jury report, said the Federal judge, another political appointee.

But the twenty-two jurors were angry. They prepared their indictments anyway and drafted a report. Nineteen of them signed it. The judge sealed the report and warned jurors not to speak publicly on pain of contempt proceedings. At least one leaked the report, a lengthy excerpt of which appears in the December issue of Harper's, and an oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives plans to hold hearings on the plea bargain the grand jury found much too lenient.

House investigators have already reported that "[the] Justice [Department] apparently gave up millions of dollars in potential criminal and civil penalties," and cited "allegations that the headquarters of the Justice Department quashed ... prosecutions" of top Rockwell executives.

The time is ripe for change. Advice for a new President and a new Energy Secretary: Clean up the mess you inherited. Stop trying to get the bomb factories back into production and just shut 'em down. Then start dismantling, instead of refurbishing and maintaining, the nuclear arsenal.
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Title Annotation:cleaning up U.S. weapons manufacturing sites
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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