Building a Better Bomb

While condemning India for its nuclear testing, the U.S. government quietly funnels billions to research programs aimed at creating an ever-more-virulent nuclear arsenal

Anti-nuclear activists thought the test ban treaty would be a further step toward disarmament. Instead, they see the nu-clear arms complex pressing forward almost unchecked, flush with all the new money being pumped into the stewardship program.

But what is most depressing, from where Marylia Kelley sits, is that few people even seem to think much about nuclear weapons anymore.

Kelley sits in the kitchen of her small Livermore apartment. A computer is wedged in next to the microwave, the dining table cluttered with documents. A former ready-to-wear department manager at Kmart, Kelley moved to Livermore in 1976, when her son was 9, because it seemed a good place to raise her boy. He's gone now, and his former bedroom is jammed with computers, and shelves holding voluminous government documents.

Lawrence Livermore is just a quarter-mile from her apartment. Kelley's interest in the lab was sparked when she learned that the creek out back where her son played was contaminated with toxic runoff from lab property.

Since then, she has immersed herself in the esoteric, arcane, and ponderous, learning all she can about what is happening down the street from her, and with nuclear weapons in general.

In 1983, Kelley helped found Tri-Valley CARES, a local environmental group devoted to keeping an eye on Lawrence Livermore. Now she runs the group full time, living on contributions, trying to force the plant to clean up its mess, and protesting anything that threatens to further expand weapons development.

Several times this year, Kelley and other environmental groups have staged protests over the Stockpile Stewardship program outside the lab. Presenting themselves as citizens of the United Nations, they have demanded the right to inspect Livermore's facilities for weapons of mass destruction, just as U.N. inspectors have done to Iraq.

The protests proceed almost by rote. Notified in advance, the lab assembles a squad of riot-equipped police, who stand near the west gate and wait for the protesters to arrive.

Sometimes the protesters decide to walk onto lab property and be arrested. Other times they do not. The protesters banter with lab officials, and give interviews to the few reporters who occasionally show up.

But mostly, the marches attract little attention. Recently, Kelley ran into an old acquaintance at a party, a stalwart from nuclear protests of years past whom she hadn't seen for a while. He congratulated her, asked her what it was like to have won the battle.

"I think there is an assumption that because the Cold War is over these activities have ceased," Kelley says. "The majority of people long for a nuclear weapons-free world. They don't know the government is headed in the opposite direction.

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