US Insane Nuclear Policy
Letter to My Senator

by Manuel García, Jr.

September 22, 2003


[Author's Note: The letter below was sent on September 17, 2003 to Senator Dianne Feinstein, (Democrat) of California. She worked unsuccessfully to eliminate funding for the development of new nuclear weapons, which are proposed to be of "low yield," (under 5000 tons TNT equivalent, about 1/3 of 'Hiroshima') and to be carried on "earth penetrating" missiles, so as to be "bunker busting" bombs. I understand that the Senate overrode her objections (and those of other like-minded Senators) in a vote today (17 September 2003). People who want more information on the technical details of the proposed weapons program, and the implications to non-proliferation and foreign policy, should look at the news stories (e.g., San Francisco Chronicle), and at Senator Feinstein's web site. The public record of the recent debates on the floor of the Senate would be a rich source of information on this topic.]

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Thank you for your vigorous efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, by resisting the push by the Bush Administration to fund the development of new, low-yield nuclear "earth-penetrating" bombs.

I am a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- speaking only for myself, most assuredly -- and I know all your arguments against this new arms race are absolutely correct. I have spent twenty-five years (1978-2003) at the Lab, and was fully involved in nuclear testing at Nevada till this was stopped (1978-1992). I have made measurements on probably twenty separate nuclear tests, including the last (vertical) test in 1992.

During my career as an experimental physicist in nuclear testing, I took it as a prime responsibility to study the reasons why nuclear weapons existed, and to gain an understanding of what my social responsibilities were regarding this issue -- in short, was I helping peace and freedom, or working against them? This study was most thorough, including history, psychology, philosophy and ethics, and a variety of social studies that one could simply call "politics."

Out of this came a great deal of self-revelation, and a realistic understanding of the world -- more realistic than my youthful, uninformed assumptions. My significant conclusion as to my responsibility to society was to strive to help create a world in which I would most quickly be unemployed as a nuclear bomb physicist, and to be vocal and truthful about the social impact of nuclear weapons. (1)

I continue to work in the nuclear bomb industry because it is the best legal opportunity I have for meeting my family responsibilities. I wish the US economy were not so unconscionably skewed towards waste-production and subsidies (e.g., "defense spending") that this has to be the case. Few in the nuclear weapons laboratories will ever speak truthfully about the absolute waste and futility of this industry, because they are -- shamefully -- wholly consumed by their desires for personal gain through the lush subsidies lavished on these institutions by the US Government.

So, your efforts to speak out, on the Senate floor, and in public, against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is largely a problem propelled by the United States, are very important -- vital. I want to offer you every encouragement to pursue this campaign with vigor. I need not repeat the technical arguments against spending money to develop new nuclear weapons -- you know them all. But, I would like to list some reasons why I see your efforts as pro-peace, pro-security, anti-proliferant, and socially responsible.

First, your visible example in the Senate may encourage other senators with intrinsically similar sentiments to become emboldened, and join your public effort to stop this politically dangerous, socially irresponsible, and fiscally wasteful effort.

Secondly, your public stance will help publicize the issue, and energize those among the citizenry who understand the significance of the issue, and may be able to bring added public pressure to bear on legislators now silent on the issue.

Thirdly, your arguments will be part of a well-known and accessible public record, and will be available in the future to others who seek to frame articulate arguments against US nuclear weapons proliferation.

I find it difficult to restrain myself to polite terms of description of those who advance this new drive to fund new nuclear weapons development and even renewed testing at Nevada (or even elsewhere?), I find their arguments criminally disingenuous. It is important that articulate advocates of non-proliferation have clear, logical, and compelling counterarguments that engage public consciousness without enflaming public emotion in a counterproductive way.

My technical education (PhD aerospace engineering, Princeton University) and years of work experience (job title: physicist) in the nuclear testing program (till 1993) and in "defense science" (mainly fluid, electrical and plasma physics) have proven to me that the technical claims of nuclear weapons laboratory officials and advocates of new weapons development are inflated, sometimes very significantly so (e.g., "Stars Wars"), being driven by competitiveness in attracting federal subsidies (the actual goal). Whatever the government thinks it is buying, if it pays for new "earth penetrating" or "bunker buster" weapons, it will take much longer, and cost much more than originally advertised, and these bombs (warheads) will be and do much less than initially stated in the "trailers" and "advertisements" that preceded the sale of the new developmental program. Robust chemical explosives (to withstand the shocks and stresses of earth penetration) and accurate targeting (guidance based on Global Positioning Satellite technology) will give much greater reliability (in performance), number of units (lower cost), and ease of maintenance and handling (no radioactivity in storage or delivery, no fallout on the battle scene -- remember our troops).

The higher-level argument against such a weapon development is simply to ask, what right does the United States have to devise purely offensive nuclear weapons?, since firing nuclear-tipped earth-penetrating missiles into occupied underground structures in other countries could only be seen as an offensive -- and imperialistic -- act. These weapons are inherently proliferant, our intent to produce them would provide irresistible pressure in numerous countries to devise their own "defensive" nuclear capability, so as to counter-threaten the United States and their other adversaries. This is insane.

For all the reasons stated, I hope you will continue your vigorous campaign on this issue. I hope this letter provides some degree of encouragement to you. "Peace" and "security" are much more than mere words, or political slogans, they are real physical, social and psychological conditions that allow everyday citizens to pursue the important concerns of raising families, caring for children and the elderly, of being creative and enriching our culture, of engaging in science to expand human awareness, and to devise new advances that relieve human suffering. If these concerns are seen as being of prime importance, then the political leadership of this country would see the use of government (public) funds to develop new nuclear weapons as being irresponsible, immoral, insane, wasteful, and harmful to the public -- to the point of fatality for unknown numbers of our citizens.

The reason I find it difficult to be polite about the proponents of these weapons, is that I can only attribute their motives to the most callous of selfish reasons devoid of any truly patriotic sentiment, or iota of social consciousness and concern for the totality of the American citizenry.

In waging your campaign, you are doing the best that any elected official can do for the benefit of your constituents, and of their nation. Thank you.

Manuel García, Jr.

P.S. I am very proud of my congressional representative, Barbara Lee


1.  My summation of the nuclear weapons laboratories is published at: http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mgarci01.html, in the 7 July 2003 edition of the Swans electronic magazine.  (back)

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Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs.

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Published September 22, 2003
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