Kansas City Nuclear Weapons Plants

‘KC Peace Planters’ and Sierra Club members advocate for green jobs instead of
deadly contamination.
Photo by Eric Garbison
Summarized by Patty Brown, THB ExCom Contrary to Obama’s rhetoric about working toward a nuclear weapons-free world, the U.S. is spending billions building three new facilities to produce plutonium pit “primaries” in Los Alamos, NM, to manufacture highly enriched uranium “secondaries” in Oak Ridge, TN and to make and/or procure nonnuclear components for nuclear weapons in Kansas City, MO. The Kansas City Plant (KCP) is the most productive of the eight sites in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). It produces 85% of all nuclear weapons components. Their workload, the heaviest it has been in 20 years, is expected to last until 2015.

The facilities for handling plutonium and uranium will cost taxpayers up to $5 billion each. The new KCP is being built and operated by a private developer, CenterPoint Zimmer, LLC (CPZ). Zimmer “happened” to own the 165 acres of agricultural land that the federal government chose to use. Although the City’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA) declared that the site was “blighted,” CPZ sold it for around $26,000 an acre, where farmland typically sells for $2000–$4000 an acre, one very tidy profit!

The Missouri legislature created the PIEA to counter urban/industrial blight and spur economic development. They’re supposed to recommend to city councils whether or not tax abatements and/or bonds should be implemented. The enabling legislation says that Missouri municipal governments can act positively on a PIEA recommendation only when “the development of such area or areas is necessary in the interest of the public health, safety, morals or welfare of the residents of such city.”

KCMO is closing hospitals and schools and laying off city workers, but issued nearly $700 million in municipal bonds to subsidize a new federal nuclear weapons production plant. The KCMO Council approved this to save 2,100 jobs (with one admirable dissenting vote-of-conscience by Councilman Ed Ford). But why isn’t Kansas City prioritizing healthy, sustainable green jobs instead of subsidizing a shrinking, politically vulnerable industry making WMDs! The Vatican declared, “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st Century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation.” Recently the inspector general for the General Services Administration (GSA), the landlord for federal properties at the Bannister Federal Complex, found that environmental monitoring at the old contaminated KCP site was lax and the public was misled about conditions there. Health claims have filed seeking compensation by 1,993 former KCP workers or their survivors (sadly, only 211 have been paid to date). Families of 122 former KCP workers say their family members died due to toxic contamination.

KCMO will own the new KCP. As far as we know this is globally unprecedented. The PIEA will then lease it to CenterPoint Zimmer Holding LLC, who as sub-landlord, will lease it to CPZ. CPZ will then sub-sublease the new plant to GSA who will then sub-sub-sublease (really!) it to the NNSA.

“Stop destroying out mother!”was the message David Eldringhoff sent to drivers on MO Hwy. 150 on Dec.18th, at the site for the nuclear weapons production plant to open in 2012.
Photo by Jim Hannah.
Because of this convoluted financial scheme (very profitable to CPZ) the KCP isn’t included in the NNSA’s annual budget. This way it’s outside of typical Congressional review and authorization with no risk of being rejected. It’s a very sweet deal for CPZ, who first profited by selling the land; is subsidized by the sale of municipal bonds to build the plant; is granted a 20-year lease-to-purchase by the PIEA in which it pays the bonds back with guaranteed income from the NNSA; and after that owns the Plant outright. NNSA asked Congress for around $100 million annually from 2009–2015 for “transition costs,” despite earlier claims that the new KCP would not cost the federal government anything up front. During this 20-year term the NNSA will pay $1.2 billion. Overall leasing is more costly. Since Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons, for which the KCP is the main supplier of parts, are scheduled to last until at least 2042, it could operate for 40–60 years, and the U.S. could pay another $1.2 to $2.4 billion in lease costs to CPZ.

KC Peace Planters display 122 grave markers with the first name,
diagnosis, and year of diagnosis of a former worker at the Bannister
Federal Complex.
Photo by Jim Hannah

The NNSA wrote recently that “because the new facility will be leased, there will be no capital investment and NNSA will not be burdened by costs for legacy disposition should the mission ever be discontinued.” The “legacy” of the old Plant is one of serious contamination with cancer-causing, volatile organic compounds and PCBs, for which NNSA has made no comprehensive cleanup plan. NNSA plans for the new plant to be fully operational in a couple of years while in effect abandoning the old plant. Kansas City is counting on reusing the old plant for economic development, which probably cannot take place without comprehensive cleanup costing more than $250 million. Kansas City subsidies reward the federal government who ignores its moral responsibility to protect its citizens and their future economic prosperity through full environmental restoration of the old Plant. The federal government should be cleaning up its nuclear weapons complex, not building it up! Anyone who wants to support the KC Peace Planters are asked to please join them at future rallies to share leaflets, display signs, grave marker crosses, etc. They will be from 2–3 p.m. on these Saturdays: Jan 29 and March 19. Rallies will be at the new plant site at 150 Hwy & Botts Rd, and the Feb.26 rally will be at the current site at the Bannister Federal Complex, Bannister and Wayne (park on Lydia).

This was summarized from an article by Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, and John Witham, Communications Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, recently published in the new newsletter of the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House, KCMO. See http://www.peaceworkskc.org/kcplant.html for the full article. For more information, visit http://kcnukeswatch.wordpress.com or http://www.nukewatch.org/KCNukePlant/index.html The KC Peace Planters coalition working on KCP issues includes: Physicians for Social Responsibility-Kansas City, PeaceWorks Kansas City, Cherith Brook and Holy Family Catholic Worker Houses, The Recipe LLC, KC’s Loretto Peace & Justice Network, and Benedictines for Peace. For info or to help contact: Ann Suellentrop, 913-271-7925, or annsuellen@gmail.com