United Way Questioned on Nuclear Bomb Plant Support, Industry Ties

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(APN) NORTH AUGUSTA, SOUTH CAROLINA — The United Way of Aiken County, South Carolina, has come under recent criticism for its support of the Bush Administration’s proposed new weapons-grade plutonium plant at a recent hearing, Atlanta Progressive News recently reported. United Way of Aiken County said it wants the plant to be located at the Savannah River Site (SRS)–where nuclear power is currently produced–at a recent hearing.

However, Atlanta Progressive News has now uncovered a tangled web of nuclear weapons industry interests serving on the United Way of Aiken County’s Board of Directors.

The United Way’s national media office has failed to respond to our questions about the relationship between the local and national branches of the agency. United Way Aiken has failed to respond to our requests for their lists of donors and audited financial statements for the last two years.

The plutonium pits, which the United Way wants produced, are for use in nuclear bombs. And while the decision to produce bombs has not been made yet, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) told Atlanta Progressive News that a plan including more bombs, called Complex 2030, is the only plan, of several, which is consistent with Bush Administration priorities.

Now, some community members are questioning the United Way, in light of their Mission Statement posted on their website, “to improve lives in our community.”

“Wow! This is amazing! A charitable organization is not supposed to be involved in something like this,” retired physician, William Johnson of Augusta, thought during the hearing, he recalled in an interview.

“It is totally inappropriate for a non-profit to show their support for such a controversial issue. The production of nuclear weapons – you can’t get more controversial than that,” Dr. Johnson explained.

The SRS “is a safe place. I’ve never worried about it. This community depends a lot of the Savannah River Site,” Dee Stratford, President of the United Way of Aiken County, told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.

“It’s a staple in the economy,” Dave McRae, Director of Resource Development at the United Way of Aiken County, added.

Stratford later said in her public comments at the hearing that the United Way of Aiken County received $1.9 million this year from SRS employees, and a total of $44 million since 1950.

If this isn’t a conflict of interest in itself, take a look at United Way of Aiken’s County’s Board of Directors.

UNITED WAY’S NUCLEAR INDUSTRY TIES REVEALED

The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors includes not only Dave Hepner of the US Department of Energy (DOE) – SRS Operations, but also P.K. Hightower with Westinghouse Savannah River Co. and Brant Morowski with Bechtel Savannah River, Inc., both subsidiaries of Washington Group International.

Why is this important? Well, the SRS is operated by the Washington Savannah River Company, a subsidiary of Washington Group International.

Another employee of the Washington Group on the Executive Committee is John Paveglio with British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL). BNFL operates a nuclear power plant at Sellafield, in Cumbria, England, the site of Britain’s most dangerous nuclear accident in 1957 and the worst in the world until Three Mile Island in 1979.

Sitting on the Board of Directors are seven more employees of Washington Group or their subsidiaries, also an employee of United Defense (part of the Carlyle Group portfolio) which produces arms and war materials for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Also of interest are two employees of Wackenhut Services, Inc., which provides security for the SRS.

CITIZEN RAISES CONCERN

Outraged at the United Way’s public statements, Dr. Johnson contacted the South Carolina State Employees Association, which contributes to the United Way, asking them “would state employee and retiree donors object to this activity for a United Way agency in South Carolina?”

Johnson also sent a letter to the United Way Association of South Carolina expressing his concern but received no reply.

The only response he received was a phone call from Sheila Consaul, Director of Media Relations, for the United Way of America. According to Johnson, Consaul indicated their endorsement activity was within the policy guidelines of the national organization because the Aiken chapter was not endorsing a specific candidate but was there in support of “economic development” of the community.

Indeed, nonprofit organizations are not prohibited from lobbying, but depending on their filing status, may have certain limitations on the amount or types of lobbying they can do.

Either way, the legal issue of whether United Way can legally endorse a nuclear bomb plant does not tells us whether the United Way’s endorsement of a nuclear bomb materials plant is consistent with their Mission.

BOMBPLEX 2030

The recent hearing, held in North Augusta, South Carolina, by the DOE and the NNSA was to gather public comment concerning a Bush Administration program, titled “Transform to a More Modern, Cost-Effective Nuclear Weapons Complex (Complex 2030).”

Complex 2030 goals are to replace aging warheads from the Cold War era, potentially move additional nuclear materials to SRS, and create a “consolidated plutonium center,” plutonium being the most dangerous of all nuclear materials.

A New York Times newspaper Editorial, dated January 15, 2007, says our current nuclear arsenal is in no need of upgrading and that Complex 2030 is a totally unnecessary “make-work program championed by the weapons laboratories and belatedly by the Pentagon, which hasn’t been able to get Congress to pay for its other nuclear fantasies.”

Like most Bush Administration initiatives, it would line the pockets of the already rich with more taxpayer dollars.

The SRS, owned and funded by the DOE and located close to Augusta and Savannah (GA) as well Columbia, Greenville, and Charleston (SC), already has the most radioactivity of any nuclear weapons facility in the nation and is second in sheer volume of nuclear power waste, Frank Carl noted in Water Keeper Magazine.

More than 5,500 radioactive offsite shipments and onsite transfers – “from entire trainloads to small samples of radioactive liquids” – took place at the SRS in 2005 alone, according to their website.

Many advocates, as noted in our previous coverage, have taken a clear stand against the expansion of nuclear facilities in our state and on our border because of the inherent danger of nuclear plants and because the use of nuclear technology facilitates the world-wide proliferation of nuclear bombs.

About the author:

Betty Clermont is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. Questions about this article should be sent to News Editor, Matthew Cardinale, at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

Syndication policy:

This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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