Open letter to Tammy Baldwin ad in MJS & Cap Times

An Open Letter to Senator Tammy Baldwin


Here's a copy of the full-page ad that will run in Sunday's WI State Journal, and half page in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 Buy the paper, read the ad, clip it out, and then send it to Tammy Baldwin's office with a personal note. 
More info:
Tom Boswell 608/718-7312 [email protected]
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I’m a midwife on Madison’s north side, and the F-35s will harm the families I care for


The fighter jets will intensify noise and chemical pollution that threaten the health of babies and parents.

Illustration by Shaysa Sidebottom.

I live in one of the neighborhoods that would be most impacted if F-35 fighter jets should bed down at Madison’s Truax Field. I bought my home in Eken Park five years ago and was drawn to the racial and economic diversity of this neighborhood......



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Tell Lockheed Martin to Begin Conversion to Peaceful Industries

Lockheed Martin is by far the largest weapons producer in the world. From Ukraine to Yemen, from Palestine to Colombia, from Somalia to Syria, from Afghanistan and West Papua to Ethiopia, no one profits more from war and bloodshed than Lockheed Martin.

Sign this petition to Lockheed Martin to urge immediate conversion from weapons manufacturing to peaceful industries for economic, environmental, and survival reasons! We will be delivering this petition to Lockheed Martin's headquarters and various other Lockheed Martin locations as part of the Global Mobilization to #StopLockheedMartin (April 21-28, 2022).

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F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA – March 23, 2022

F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA – March 23, 2022

Read the full complaint: Safe Skies EPA Administrative Complaint – Mar.23.2022


For Immediate Release (PDF)
March 23, 2022
F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA

Today Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin submitted an Environmental Justice Complaint to the USEPA Administrator Michael Regan under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The complaint asks the EPA to intervene in the Air Force decision to deploy a squadron of F-35A fighter jets to the Wisconsin Air National Guard at Truax Field in Madison.

Safe Skies contends that the Civil Rights Act has been violated by the Air Force, and state, county and local leaders, because the greatest negative environmental impacts of the jets will fall on the low-income families and families of color that live adjacent to the Dane County Regional Airport and Truax Field. The Air Force prepared Environmental Impact Statements evaluating five potential sites for the jets and selected the only two where there would be “disproportionate impacts to low-income, minority populations, and children.” The sites selected for the F-35 jets were Madison and Montgomery, Alabama.

The complaint names the following parties for their participation in the violation of Title VI: the Wisconsin Air National Guard and Adjutant General Paul Knapp; the State of Wisconsin and Governor Tony Evers; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its Secretary, Preston Cole; Dane County and County Executive Joseph Parisi; Dane County Regional Airport and its Director, Kimberly Jones; and, the City of Madison and its Mayor, Satya Rhodes-Conway. Safe Skies contends that State, County and local leaders are complicit in promoting environmental injustice and environmental racism due to their approval, support or acquiescence in locating the squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field.

The Biden Administration has “pledged an aggressive, broad-based approach to achieve environmental justice.” The president has formalized his commitment “to make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.”

“Safe Skies Clean Water is asking President Biden and his administration to stay true to their word,” said Safe Skies leader Steve Klafka. “This complaint gives the Biden Administration an opportunity to do the right thing by low-income and people of color in Madison.”

There are more than 60,000 people who live within three miles of Truax Field, as well as 17 K-12 public schools, ten private schools, 13 nursery and child care centers and a school for children with special needs less than a mile from the airport runway. According to a 2018 neighborhood study by the City of Madison, kids in the Truax area are struggling even before they start school, with only 48 percent considered “kindergarten ready.” One of the schools destined to suffer the worst noise impacts is Hawthorne Elementary, where most children are low-income and of color. According to city staff, almost every impacted area with the greatest noise exposure belongs to a census tract with rates of persons of color well above city and county-wide averages.

Melina Lozano teaches at Hawthorne Elementary School, less than a mile from the county airport and Truax Field. Lozano feels the training flights by existing F-16 fighter jets already disrupt the education of her students and will worsen with the proposed F-35 jets. “As a public school educator, I have seen first hand how much the F-16 fighter jets affect student learning. Teaching stops when students are distracted by the loud jets flying over the school throughout the day. Students lose track of the lesson and their learning is interrupted. Most of our students come from low-income and families of color that already struggle to succeed. The education of our students will suffer further due to the Air National Guard plans for louder and more frequent F-35 fighter jet training.”

The Environmental Impact Statement estimated there would be 2,766 people and 1,318 households living within the 65-decibel noise contour the FAA considers incompatible with residential housing. These people would qualify for noise mitigation funds for relocation or noise insulation. However, based on the experience of residents in the Burlington, Vermont region, mitigation would not be complete until 2060.

The Air Force and Wisconsin Air National Guard are responsible for contamination of area groundwater but they have failed to fully investigate the extent of the contamination or develop a plan for its removal. Fish contaminated by PFAS are consumed by local residents. The taxpayer cost for Dane County’s squadron of F-35s jets will be $2,206,000,000, but does not include funds for PFAS cleanup. Construction has begun to accommodate the F-35 jets on land with groundwater contaminated with PFAS thousands of times greater than proposed state standards.

Maria Powell, Executive Director of Madison Environmental Justice Organization, applauded Safe Skies submission of the complaint. She said: “The Air Force and Air National Guard plan to bring F-35 fighter jets to Madison will double down on a long history of environmental injustice and racism which surround the Dane County airport. An environmental justice inquiry by the federal EPA is long overdue. For decades, city and county officials have looked the other way as low income and families of color have been exposed to the airport’s noise and water pollution. Officials have failed to address PFAS pollution spewing from the airport, burn pits, military base, former Truax Landfill and Burke sewage plant into Starkweather Creek, the Yahara Chain of Lakes, and the fish consumed by many low-income subsistence anglers. The current race and class-based disparities in pollution exposure have not been addressed, and the arrival of the noisier F-35 fighter jets will only worsen these unacceptable living conditions. We hope the EPA responds aggressively to the Safe Skies complaint and stops the blatant environmental racism promoted by the Air Force and Air National Guard.”

Safe Skies has asked the EPA to intervene and stop the arrival of the F-35 jets. If the jets cannot be stopped, a community remediation program must be immediately developed to address the environmental impacts on Madison residents. To address noise impacts this program would include funds for the government to purchase impacted homes, relocation of residents, and soundproofing of impacted homes, schools and businesses. To address existing PFAS contamination of water resources, construction for the new jets would stop until there is a comprehensive program to investigate and clean up PFAS contamination. The plan would pay for water filtration on homes, schools, and public and private wells. There would be a clean fish exchange program for contaminated fish caught in Starkweather Creek and the Yahara Chain of Lakes.

Co-sponsors to the environmental justice complaint include numerous local religious, environmental and educational organizations representing the residents who are concerned about the health and safety of the Madison community. These include Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison Environmental Justice Organization, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, Madison Teachers Inc. and the Madison Board of Education. They call out the Air Force, as well as state, county and local leaders, for promoting environmental injustice and racism.

The environmental justice complaint was prepared for Safe Skies by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The full text of the complaint is attached and is also available on the organization’s website:

For more information, contact:

Steven Klafka, P.E., BCEE, Environmental Engineer
Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin
[email protected]

Nicholas J. Schroeck, Director, Environmental Law Clinic
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
[email protected]

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Living Under Warplanes with Documentarian Nina Berman

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F-35 and the Military Industrial Complex in Madison WI

An article by the editor of Tone Magazine, an online magazine in Madison, concerning the F-35 and the military industrial complex.


The military-industrial complex in Madison

Those applying this foundational concept to the F-35s debate have a point. 

 Yes, it's fine to talk about the military-industrial complex in Madison

Illustration: Digital collage of an F-35 jet flying over Starkweather Creek. Money is burning in the jet fuel stream and waves of bright toxic green emanate from the F-35. Illustration by M.Rose Sweetnam.

What do we talk about when we talk about people talking about the military-industrial complex? 


Those most deeply involved in activism on the issue have articulated a complex and intertwined set of reasons why basing the jets here would be a bad idea—especially its impact on water quality, housing, and childhood development. They use the phrase "military-industrial complex" often enough, but their analysis goes beyond shorthand. Their motivations are much more immediate than simply taking a moral posture against militarism in the abstract.

Former general and Republican president Dwight Eisenhower popularized this concept, warning that lavish military budgets would enrich a "permanent armaments industry of vast proportions," create political imbalances, and leave society with fewer resources to invest in basic human needs. Most Americans didn't listen very well. 

We do have to take Eisenhower with a truckload of salt here. He helped create one part of the complex that plays a significant role in Madison, after all. Military agencies provide tens of millions of dollars in funding to researchers at UW-Madison every year, an awkward fact of life that stems directly from Eisenhower signing the legislation that created the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Eisenhower’s administration also oversaw the expansion of the surveillance state and covert military operations, from CIA-backed coups in Guatemala and Iran to the groundwork of the ultimately disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Not to mention his role in American meddling in Southeast Asia, which would curdle into extensive covert and overt military action.  

But you can see why the moral and practical force of Eisenhower's "cross of iron" speech still resonates:

This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than thirty cities.

It is: two electric power plants, each serving a town of sixty thousand population.

It is: two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is: some fifty miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than eight thousand people.

This—I repeat—is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Militarism, education, healthcare, food, housing, civilian infrastructure, all bound up in one massive and delicate balance. It suggests a sort of "it's all connected!" thinking that has long been unfashionable in our political culture. Still, as we debate fighter jets past and present, we are seeing the trade-offs play out in real time. The over-investment in weapons does leave other needs unmet, and causes plenty of new problems. The Madison area's schools and healthcare systems are struggling under the pressure of a COVID-19 pandemic, we don't have a solid game plan for affordable housing, and we have thousands of neighbors who, as Ike put it, "hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."


When the "military-industrial complex" framing comes up in pro-jet arguments, it becomes not just an object of ridicule but an oversimplified straw man. A recent cartoon in the Wisconsin State Journal sets up a scenario where the anti-F-35 crowd is putting people out on the street and standing in the way of new housing development just to make a point, willing to let others suffer if it gives them a hit of smug moral superiority. Cartoonist Phil Hands (he of cursed dick) doesn't actually use the phrase in the cartoon, but writes in the accompanying text that "Madison leaders would rather play politics with the 'military industrial complex' and F-35s than deal with Madison's lack of affordable homes." 

The cartoon depicts an archetypal be-turtlenecked old white hippie with a graying ponytail talking down to a homeless man in the rain, saying: "On the bright side, at least you don't have to live in an affordable apartment near the flight path of the F-35s." One could get into a whole thing about the bizarre racial inversions in Hands' cartoons, but suffice it to say that a lot of the folks at the forefront of anti-jet activism in Madison are in fact poor and working-class people of color. The sort of person he's drawing here seems a bit more like someone who owns a $400,000 house on the near-East Side and flips out about the occasional outdoor concert.

Framing the anti-jet crowd as callous housing obstructionists lets some key people off the hook. Namely those who have been cheering on the F-35s and downplaying the risk, without considering that it may be extremely impractical and economically short-sighted to base fighter jets in a rapidly growing urban area that badly needs to create more housing. Madison has boned itself on this. At whose expense? People who already have a hard enough time finding decent housing they can afford. At the expense of a North Side that will no doubt change, but deserves a chance to change on its own diverse, gloriously marshy terms. 

Military and business leaders promise jobs and an economic boost for the Madison area. They have traded up for a very expensive wrench that will now be hurled into every decision-making process about development in the flight path for the foreseeable future. And however much people quibble about and minimize the noise F-35s will create compared to the F-16s already based at Truax, the impacts of this sort of thing are already here and already costing us.

Dane County officials are already pursuing litigation over PFAS pollution, a problem deeply intertwined with both civilian and military aviation. You already can't take a walk along Starkweather Creek without seeing warning signs about the contamination. More costs are likely to fall on local governments, as state and federal governments don't have anywhere near an adequate handle on this issue. The business lobby and the courts have limited state environmental regulators' ability to control PFAS thus far, which will make any kind of accountability an uphill battle. At the federal level, too, we are playing catch-up. There are significant obstacles to suing the military over PFAS contamination.


We in Wisconsin and Dane County aren't equipped to deal with the environmental damage that has already happened related to fighter jets, much less the pollution we risk going forward. The pro-jet folks would have us proceed without real plans or capabilities for handling the downside. We already struggle to maintain the health of our local watershed—the bodies of water that give the area so much of its appeal and are a mighty economic asset in their own right. And to these challenges we have added the legal and scientific unknowns of PFAS.

This is sold to us as the pragmatic, wise, sober, cool-headed road. They say none of this will get bad, we can mitigate the sound impacts, and anyways, look, the military says it's fine. Never mind that the F-35 has gone through a series of costly delays and design problems. It's a bad bet even to a lot of people who are otherwise fine with dumping trillions of dollars into the military. You don't even have to have a problem with the military-industrial complex to criticize the F-35 program—in this case, it really is not military-industrial complexing all that effectively. 

When people balk at the "military-industrial complex" framing of the issue, it's because Americans often feel the need to convince themselves that their views are entirely pragmatic, above the fray of ideology and politically charged concepts. Invariably, self-styled pragmatists like Hands do have their own share of assumptions and frameworks—whether they care to examine those is another question. But the folks opposing F-35s tend to come to it from a deeply practical perspective. And a concept is useful when it is staring you in the face.

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You Can't Live With Them!



You can’t live with them!”  WSJ reporter, Logan Wroge, recorded these words of Franklin Grahlf, a US Navy veteran, on the first anniversary of the “UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Franklin Grahlf was exposed to atomic radiation when his Navy crew, with no protective gear, was ordered to sail to “ground zero” to investigate the consequences of an atomic weapon test in the Bikini Atoll.


Franklin, 99, has lived a long life.  But he has had multiple bouts of cancer and the loss of two children, who he feels were affected by his radiation exposure.  His plea is that “the countries of the world need to get rid of nuclear weapons.”


In 1983 the Madison City Council passed an ordinance declaring the city a “nuclear free zone" In 2019 the Council passed a resolution calling for this nation to "live up to US obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty by seeking to eliminate all nuclear weapons ....” 


Yet Madison now is accepting a squadron (20) of F-35s that will eventually be capable of transporting two nuclear warheads. Whether or not these B61-12 bombs are ever onsite, Madison will become a potential target in a nuclear confrontation.


What happened?



Jane H Kavaloski

Madison, Wisconsin 


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Veterans For Peace Urges US to Rejoin Iran Deal and Negotiate With North Korea

January 22 marked one year since the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which the U.S. has refused to sign, became a binding treaty. To commemorate that anniversary and in anticipation of the impending release of the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, Veterans For Peace (VFP), a non-governmental organization that exposes the costs and consequences of militarism and war and seeks peaceful, effective alternatives, issued its own Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

The Pentagon’s 2018 NPR says the United States can use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.” This would allow the U.S. to engage in the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Anti-nuclear activists are pushing Joe Biden to reverse Donald Trump’s policies set forth in the 2018 NPR, including the first-use policy. Moreover, first use of nuclear weapons violates international law. It would also spell disaster for the survival of the planet.

VFP’s 10-page NPR replaces the goal of “full spectrum dominance” over the globe with “full spectrum cooperation.” It calls on the U.S. to implement a verifiable No First Use policy, take nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert and remove the sole authority of the president to launch a nuclear war. VFP urges the United States to begin good faith negotiations with the goal to eliminate all nuclear weapons and take immediate measures to decrease the risk of an accidental nuclear war. It also calls on the U.S. to sign the TPNW.

The TPNW prohibits the transfer, use, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. States party to the treaty pledge “never under any circumstances” to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Eighty-six countries have signed the treaty and 57 have ratified it, which makes them parties to the accord. Once it had 50 parties, the TPMW entered into force on January 22, 2021.

But the five original nuclear-armed countries — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — boycotted both the treaty negotiations and the vote. North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and India, also nuclear-armed countries, did not participate in the final vote.

“The danger of a devastating nuclear war is greater than ever,” Gerry Condon, a Vietnam-era veteran and former president of VFP, told Truthout. “We cannot leave the future of the planet in the hands of the generals, the cold warriors and the weapons manufacturers who have brought us one terrible war after another.”

The U.S. Is Violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Although the United States is a party to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it continues to violate the provisions of that treaty. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said in a 2005 release by the Institute for Public Accuracy, “The U.S. government is not adhering to Article VI of the NPT and we show no signs of planning to adhere to its requirements to move forward with the elimination — not reduction, but elimination — of nuclear weapons.”

VFP calls on the U.S. to implement a verifiable No First Use policy, take nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert and remove the sole authority of the president to launch a nuclear war.

In the years since, the United States has actually moved in the opposite direction. The Obama administration advanced a policy, which Donald Trump and Joe Biden continued, to develop leaner and meaner nuclear weapons. The proposed U.S. budget calls for nearly $2 trillion over the next 30 years to build two new bomb factories, planes, missiles, submarines and redesigned warheads.

The Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review Is Geared Toward Preventing War

Ken Mayers, a VFP national board member, said in an email to Truthout, “When we considered all the Nuclear Posture Reviews since the first one in 1994, we concluded that they all leaned towards war. We decided that veterans should speak up and push our government to correct that posture by standing up for peace. That is the consistent theme of the VFP Nuclear Posture Review.”

It urges the Biden administration to take the following steps (which I summarized with some additional explanations below):

  1. Implement a No First Use and No Launch on Warning (“Hair Trigger Alert”) policy that entails separating warheads from delivery vehicles;
  2. Decommission Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silos and weapons because they can only be used as a first strike weapon;
  3. Replace the president’s exclusive authority to launch a nuclear attack with a safer, collective process that is less likely to lead to a rash decision to launch nukes;
  4. End Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (a U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense system to shoot down short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles), as well as other anti-ballistic missile systems;
  5. Sign and ratify the TPNW;
  6. Actively initiate and pursue negotiations with an aim toward reducing international tensions and a goal of effecting a major reduction in nuclear arms and promoting strategic stability;
  7. Summon all of the nuclear-armed countries to the table to negotiate a path toward nuclear disarmament, as required by the NPT;
  8. Join with China and Russia to negotiate space-ban and cyber-ban treaties;
  9. Ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” anywhere around the globe;
  10. Reimplement the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and eliminate all missile “defense” systems;
  11. Reimplement the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which required the U.S. and the USSR to eliminate and permanently renounce all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that had ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers;
  12. Work with U.S. allies to remove U.S. nuclear weapons that are stationed in the following NATO countries: Germany, Italy, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands;
  13. Recall to the United States all submarines armed with nuclear weapons, ground the nuclear bombers, and dismantle the missile sites;
  14. End the “nuclear modernization program,” which includes new nuclear weapons research, design, expansion, refurbishment, laboratory testing and sub-critical testing. Pass the Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act (HR 2850), which would redirect the funds to non-carbon, non-nuclear energy systems in order to reduce the impact of climate change and provide benefits to society;
  15. Appropriate adequate funding to clean up nuclear production and testing facilities, uranium mines and mills, and nuclear waste sites in the U.S. and Pacific nuclear test areas. Develop facilities and technologies to handle radioactive materials; and
  16. Create economic conversion plans to assist nuclear industry workers in making a transition to constructive employment.

VFP Urges Biden to Rejoin Iran Nuclear Deal and Negotiate Peace Treaty With North Korea

As the United States continues to violate the NPT, it maintains a provocative posture toward North Korea (which has nuclear weapons) and Iran (which doesn’t).

Veterans For Peace proposes that the Biden administration implement a five-point plan to revive U.S.- DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea) talks to end the expensive “forever” U.S. war against the DPRK. The plan includes: an agreement to implement the U.S.-DPRK Joint Statement from the Singapore Summit; negotiation of a peace treaty to replace the outdated 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement; an end to all joint exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, Japan and other countries against the DPRK; the lifting of all sanctions against the DPRK; and the cessation of all threats against North Korea and removal of the U.S. missile system from South Korea.

Meanwhile, VFP is calling on Biden to concretely shift course in relation to Iran. The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. But one year into his presidency, Biden still has not rejoined the agreement despite his campaign promise to do so. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran pledged not to enrich uranium above the level that could be used for a bomb, in return for the lifting of U.S. sanctions. After Trump renounced the JCPOA, he reimposed punishing sanctions on Iran. VFP urges Biden to lift the sanctions and re-enter the JCPOA.

VFP’s Nuclear Posture Review is a critical document, which, if implemented, would go a long way toward protecting the world from a nuclear war. The Biden administration has the power to move effectively toward nuclear disarmament.

“The U.S. could lead the world to eliminate all nuclear weapons. If we take the first steps, others will follow. That will only happen with a major shift in U.S. foreign policy, however,” Condon said. “We need to push our political leaders to peacefully adjust to a multi-polar world that it no longer dominates. Only then will we have real peace and security.”

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“Astonishment and Stupefaction” at $90-Billion Industrial Double-Cross for Australian Submarines

By John LaForge, Counterpunch, Dec. 3, 2021


President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison declared Sept. 15 that they would rebrand their military alliance “AUKUS” and then announced that they had wrested from French warship builders the multi-billion dollar contract to build at least eight Australian nuclear-powered submarines following secret negotiations.


The shocking announcement was a sucker punch to France’s submarine industry, cancelling without warning a $90 billion agreement signed in 2016 to build diesel-powered subs for Australia. The head of French military contractor Naval Group, Pierre Eric Pommellet, spoke of “astonishment and stupefaction” at being told the nearly $90 billion dollar submarine contract with Australia was being torn up, the Guardian reported Oct. 7.


Reacting to what appears to be a case of industrial espionage among fierce global rivals — France had reportedly already spent $2 billion on the agreed diesel-powered attack submarines — Paris recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the United States, and its foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the cancellation betrayed “the letter and spirit” of cooperation between France and Australia.


In the face a dozen severe, urgent, and daunting global crises — climate change, increasingly extreme weather events, deforestation, desertification, over-fishing, mass migration, disease control and prevention, and resource depletion among others — Australia’s decision to throw $90 billion into the black hole of uranium fuel handling, nuclear reactor operations, and endless radioactive waste management, when diesel-powered warships are cheaper and safer, could not be more bewildering.


Australia has not built a submarine for 20 years and because of the plan’s immense complexities, supporters admit that its technical hurdles are enormous, and critics say they “could be insurmountable,” the New York Times reported November 9. “I don’t think this is a done deal in any way, shape or form,” Marcus Hellyer, an expert on naval policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the Times.


Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said during an Oct. 19 visit to Washington, DC, “To have a nuclear reactor in a submarine in a vessel operating safely is a very difficult thing to do,” alluding to the deadly accident rate among nuclear submarines, the Guardian said.


Grossi said that the onus is on US and the UK to ensure that weapons-grade radioactive material and technology was transferred to Australia in a way that did not risk nuclear weapons proliferation. But such risks can only be exacerbated by Australia’s embrace of military propulsion reactors, because US and UK nuclear submarines run only on highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel, and HEU can be made into nuclear weapons. A new low-enriched uranium fuel system must be developed for the Australian subs, or the country will gain access to weapons-grade uranium.


Australia’s decision to promote nuclear militarism — when the country has no nuclear power expertise, no reactor industry or uranium fuel rod program, no radioactive waste control system, and no infrastructure for radiological disaster response — is shockingly counterintuitive.


Andy Stirling, Phil Johnstone in the November 9 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted that building, maintaining, and operating reactor-propelled submarines depends on “expensive access to specific skills, supply chains, regulatory and design capabilities, educational and research institutions, and waste management and security infrastructures.”


“Australia is not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,” PM Morrison said September 15. But Friends of the Earth Australia’s spokesperson Jim Green told Australian Broadcasting Corp. news that the country’s “nuclear power lobby” had “been quick off the mark,” and was already using the submarine announcement to push for further involvement with the uranium fuel cycle, including nuclear reactors and radioactive waste storage. In the realm of nuclear power and waste generation, all Australia has now are dozens of uranium mines.


“No country in the world has got a repository to dispose of high-level nuclear waste, and the only repository in the world to dispose of intermediate-level nuclear waste, which is in the United States [the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico], was shut for three years from 2014 to 2017 because of a chemical explosion.”


Australia could still reverse its blindingly expensive, dirty, and risk-intensive decision before adding to the naval parade of sunken billions and wasted lives. It should reject this deal with the nuclear devil and refuse to deliberately generate radioactive waste materials that will permanently pollute our shared environment, the oceanic commons.


— John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and co-edited with Arianne Peterson Nuclear Heartland Revised: A guide to the 450 land-based missiles of the United States.

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