Monday, September 12, 2011

New Nuclear Weapons Plant for Kansas City, Mo.?

Begin forwarded message:
David Sladky < >
September 9, 2011 7:26:56 AM CDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
[ppmo-discuss] The Latest Nuclear Weapons Plant
September 8, 2011
The Latest Nuclear Weapons Plant
Should the U.S. government be building more nuclear weapons? Residents of Kansas
City, Missouri don’t appear to think so, for they are engaged in a bitter fight against
the construction of a new nuclear weapons plant in their community.
The massive plant, 1.5 million square feet in size, is designed to replace an earlier
version, also located in the city and run by the same contractor: Honeywell. The
cost of building the new plant—which, like its predecessor, will provide 85 percent
of the components of America’s nuclear weapons—is estimated to run $673 million.
From the standpoint of the developer, Centerpoint Zimmer (CPZ), that’s a very sweet
deal. In payment for the plant site, a soybean field it owned, CPZ received $5 million.
The federal government will lease the property and plant from a city entity for twenty
years, after which, for $10, CPZ will purchase it, thus establishing the world’s
first privately-owned nuclear weapons plant. In addition, as the journal Mother Jones
has revealed, "the Kansas City Council, enticed by direct payments and a promise
of ‘quality jobs,’ . . . agreed to exempt CPZ from property taxes on the plant and
surrounding land for twenty-five years." The Council also
agreed to issue $815 million in bond subsidies from urban blight funds to build the
plant and its infrastructure. In this lucrative context, how could a profit-driven
corporation resist?
Kansas City residents, however, had greater misgivings. They wondered why the U.S.
government, already possessing 8,500 nuclear weapons, needed more of them. They wondered
what had happened to the U.S. government’s commitment to engage in treaties for nuclear
disarmament. They wondered how the new weapons plant fit in with the Obama administration’s
pledge to build a world free of nuclear weapons. And they wondered why they should
be subsidizing the U.S. military-industrial complex with their tax dollars.
Taking the lead, the city’s peace and disarmament community began protests and demonstrations
against the proposed nuclear weapons plant several years ago. Gradually, Kansas City
PeaceWorks (a branch of Peace Action) pulled together the local chapter of Physicians
for Social Responsibility, religious groups, and others into a coalition of a dozen
organizations, Kansas City Peace Planters. The coalition’s major project was a petition
campaign to place a proposition on the November 8, 2011 election ballot that would
reject building a plant for weapons and utilize the facility instead for "green energy"
The significance of the Kansas City nuclear weapons buildup was also highlighted
by outside forces. In June 2011, against the backdrop of the Obama administration’s
plan to spend $185 billion for modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex
over the next ten years, the U.S. Council of Mayors voted unanimously for a resolution
instructing the president to join leaders of the other nuclear weapons states in
implementing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s five-point plan for the elimination
of all nuclear weapons by the year 2020. It also called on Congress to terminate
funding for modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and nuclear weapons
systems. Addressing the gathering, the U.N. leader declared that "the road to peace
and progress runs through the world’s cities and towns," a statement that drew a
standing ovation.
Even more pointedly, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican’s ambassador to the
United Nations, appeared in Kansas City in July 2011. According to the National Catholic
Reporter, Chullikat "came to this Midwestern diocese because it is the site of a
major new nuclear weapons manufacturing facility, the first to be built in the country
in thirty-three years." In his address, the prelate remarked: "Viewed from a legal,
political, security and most of all—moral—perspective, there is no justification
today for the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons." This was the moment, he
declared, to address "the legal, political and technical requisites for a nuclear-weapons-free
world." Highlighting Chullikatt’s speech, the National Catholic Reporter declared,
cuttingly: "The U.S. trudges unheedingly down the nuclear path. Now more than ever
we need to attend to the messages of the often marginalized peacemakers in our midst."
Actually, peace activists in Kansas City looked less and less marginalized. Nearly
5,000 Kansas City residents signed the petition to place the proposition rejecting
the nuclear weapons plant on the ballot, giving it considerably more signatures than
necessary to appear before the voters.
Naturally, this popular uprising came as a blow to the Kansas City Council, which
put forward a measure that would block the disarmament initiative from appearing
on the ballot.
At an August 17 hearing on the Council measure, local residents were irate. "You
cannot divorce yourselves from the hideously immoral purpose of these weapons," one
declared, comparing the city’s subsidy for the weapons plant to financing Nazi gas
chambers "for the sake of ‘jobs.’" Referring to the Council’s charter, which provided
for the appearance of propositions on the ballot when they secured the requisite
number of signatures, the chair of PeaceWorks asked: "Are we a government of laws
or of . . . corporations and special interests?"
Since then, the situation has evolved rapidly. On August 25, the City Council voted
12 to 1 to bar the proposition from the ballot. The next day, the petitioners went
to court to block Council interference. Honeywell, CPZ, and their friends dispatched
a large legal team to Kansas City to fight against the citizens’ initiative, securing
a court decision that might delay redress for years. In response, Peace Planters
seems likely to speed up the process by crafting a new petition—one that would cut
off city funding for the plant.
Whatever the outcome, the very fact that such a struggle has emerged indicates that
many Americans are appalled by plans to throw their local and national resources
into building more nuclear weapons.
Lawrence S. Wittner
is emeritus professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His
latest book is
Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement
(Stanford University Press).

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