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New Mexico church official urges nuclear disarmament talks

January 11, 2022 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The head of one of the oldest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States says now is the time to rejuvenate and sustain a global conversation about the need for nuclear disarmament and how to develop ways to avoid a new nuclear arms race.

Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester released a lengthy pastoral letter on the subject Tuesday, noting during a virtual news conference that Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — is preparing to ramp up production of the plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Wester called the arms race a vicious spiral.

“We can no longer deny or ignore the extremely dangerous predicament of our human family and that we are in a new nuclear arms race far more dangerous than the first,” he said. “We need nuclear arms control, not an escalating nuclear arms race.”

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Nuclear watchdog groups welcomed the letter, which marks just the latest instance of the Catholic Church wading into the debate. In 2020, Pope Francis marked the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima by calling for peace and repeating that the mere possession of atomic weapons is immoral.

Last week, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace welcomed a recent pledge by several countries that are members of the United Nations Security Council to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Wester said he also was encouraged by the pledge.

Wester said the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which covers parishes throughout northern New Mexico, has a special role to play given that two prominent federal laboratories — Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories — are located in the state. He also mentioned the U.S. government’s repository of nuclear weapons at an air base in Albuquerque.

He suggested that spending more money to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal robs from efforts to address poverty.

Federal officials spanning the Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have argued that modernization is necessary given geo-political instability and ongoing national security concerns. Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation also have supported efforts to expand work at Los Alamos, pointing to billions of dollars in investment and new jobs that will result.

Wester said the focus should be on shifting weapons work to “life-affirming jobs” that involve environmental cleanup of Cold War-era waste, nonproliferation programs and projects that address climate change. He acknowledged that wouldn’t be easy but said it’s possible, pointing to changes that resulted from the technological revolution and now the transformation of the energy industry.

“It’s really such an important topic. We really can’t dally,” Wester said.