By Marilyn Bechtel

LIVERMORE, Calif. – As nuclear disarmament, peace and justice advocates gathered virtually April 15 for the annual Good Friday Worship and Witness focusing on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, they posed a question: “This Tax Day – What Does the Lord Require of Us?”

Participants in the event organized by the Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy & Laity Concerned and Livermore Conversion Project linked the struggles to eliminate nuclear weapons and to win peace in the Ukraine and worldwide with the observance of Easter, Ramadan and Passover, and the significance of Tax Day.

Addressing the gathering from just outside the Lab’s West Gate, Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, warned that work to increase and expand nuclear weapons capabilities is “at an inflection point. We need to change course.”

Reminding the gathering that Livermore Lab is one of two U.S. national laboratories that design every nuclear warhead and bomb in the U.S. arsenal, she told the gathering, “On this Good Friday, we must confront that the Biden administration’s request for Fiscal 2023 is the largest military request in U.S. history.”

Of the $813 billion the administration is requesting, Kelley said, some $30 billion would go to the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons and related programs. Livermore Lab would receive about $2 billion, with some 80 percent going to fund nuclear weapons activities.

Heading the list are two new warheads, the W80-4 and the W87-1.

The lab is developing the W80-4 for what’s being called the Long Range Stand Off Weapon, which Kelley said is meant to enable pilots to stand off a target a thousand miles away and launch a precisely-guided, radar-evading nuclear weapon. “By any measure,” she said, “Livermore Lab’s new warhead for the Long Range Stand Off capability is an offensive, first-use weapon – and I mean both meanings of that word, offensive – it’s immoral!”

When development of the W80-4 is completed, Livermore Lab plans to modify it for use on a new sea-launched missile to arm small attack submarines that at present don’t carry nuclear weapons. Kelley warned that the resulting inability of a potential target to know whether an incoming missile is conventional or nuclear “might trigger nuclear annihilation for all of us.”

The other warhead, the W87-1, is the first completely new nuclear warhead the U.S. has developed since the end of the Cold War. Kelley said among a long list of new technologies being developed for the W87-1 are its new plutonium bomb cores, slated to cost billions of dollars.

Besides its work to halt development of nuclear weapons and abolish them completely, Tri-Valley CAREs also addresses the great environmental and health harms their development has caused in Livermore and surrounding areas.

Kelley said the lab has dribbled over a million curies of radiation into the air during its decades of operation, and the related Experimental Test Site 300 near the city of Tracy has also been polluted by the lab’s activities, and both are now on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list of the country’s most polluted sites. Lab employees have experienced high levels of cancers and other illnesses from exposure to radiation on the job, and children in Livermore have experienced more cancers than similar children living elsewhere.

Kelley urged vigil participants to press the U.S. government to change its nuclear weapons policy, including joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, often called the Ban Treaty, “in whatever creative nonviolent ways you feel moved to do.”

In her homily, the Rev. Allison Tanner of Oakland’s Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church called the war in Ukraine “another manifestation of expanding empire that is seeking to destroy yet another people, community and culture and land.”

But, she said, “Glorification of war to keep our enemies at bay is not the answer. If we are committed to peace and justice, we must find humane ways to hold tyrants accountable, to hold warmongers accountable – ways to hold people accountable without destroying our own humanity, our environment, our world, in the process.”

Turning to April 15’s significance as Tax Day, Tanner said the day “calls on us to answer the question, where are we putting our money, our resources and our attention?” In 2018, she said, “nearly $20 billion of our tax dollars were used to fund nuclear weapons … We gather to say we cannot fully control what happens to our tax dollars but we can insist that it’s wrong. We can insist that we will give to God the deepest treasures that we have and we will follow the ways of peace and justice and love as best we are able.”

Tanner cited Roman Catholic Archbishop John Wester’s Pastoral Letter, in which he declares, “We can no longer deny or ignore the dangerous predicament that we have created for ourselves. We need to start talking about it with one another – all of us – and figure out concrete steps toward abolishing nuclear weapons and ending nuclear threats if we care about humanity.” She urged participants in the Worship and Witness to discuss the issue with family and friends, read and share the Pastoral Letter, express their support for the Ban Treaty, and divest from nuclear weapons activities.

Among the many who helped to lead the observance were Farha Andrabi Navaid, Mountain View/Palo Alto Musalla; musicians Betsy Rose and the Rev. Silvia Brandon-Perez; liturgical dancers Carla de Sola and Zara Anwar; Carl Anderson, Livermore Conversion Project; Janet Cordes Gibson, Ecumenical Peace Institute; Isabella Zizi of the Northern Cheyenne, Arikara and Muskogee Creek Nations and Mark Coplan, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley.

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