SAN FRANCISCO — Anti-nuclear activists in Washington and San Francisco said Wednesday that nuclear weapons makers are organizing a multimillion-dollar campaign to derail some of the nuclear-free-zone ordinances either enacted or proposed in communities across the United States.
The legal and political fight--revealed in documents leaked to anti-nuclear activists after a weapons makers' conference last year in Arizona--focuses first on an election this June in Alameda County, home of the weapons research facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and two strategic Navy bases.
Meanwhile, an unprecedented Justice Department suit already has been filed against Alameda County's largest city, Oakland, seeking to overturn its 2-year-old law, one of the most restrictive in the nation.
While peace activists decry the actions, they also say they indicate how nuclear-free zones, once dismissed as quixotic, are becoming an effective political tool.
Henry Hughes of the Alameda County NFZ Coalition said the new power behind nuclear-free zones are "second-generation" ordinances, such as the one in Oakland, that not only forbid the storage and transportation of nuclear weapons, but now forbid governments from doing business with companies involved in the nuclear weapons business.
This would, for example, stop local governments from buying appliances from General Electric, the focus of a 2-year-old boycott by the group Nuclear Free America. The list of 1,400 firms blacklisted by Nuclear Free America also includes such companies as Chevron and Hewlett-Packard.
The potentially significant impact of these local ordinances on business is implicit throughout the industry, documents released Wednesday show. The papers, from the Aerospace Industries Assn., a trade group, warn that new nuclear-free laws are "much more onerous and restrictive."
The documents said the industry expects to spend $1 million on a joint Bay Area campaign against proposed laws in Alameda and Marin counties this June and in San Francisco in November.
Carl Smith of the Committee on Economic and Fiscal Responsibility, which is organizing the Bay Area fight against the proposals, defended the campaign as a legitimate effort by industry to fight a "ridiculous, cumbersome and burdensome" ordinance that he said "will not make it any safer than it is now."
Hughes, the anti-nuclear activist, said industry's efforts are less pure. He cited memos indicating cooperation between government and industry on the suit against Oakland's anti-nuclear law and said industry is lobbying President Bush to issue an executive order preempting local control of the nuclear industry.
"To what extent is this desperate industry willing to go to protect its profits? I don't know," Hughes said. "But clearly it should not be allowed to subvert the electoral process."
The concurrent effort by industry and government against local nuclear-free zones was sharply criticized Wednesday by Oakland City Councilman Wilson Riles Jr. as an "unconscionable" abridgement of the democratic process.
Federal officials could not be contacted for comment on the issue Wednesday. But Terrence O'Donnell of the Defense Department said in a March 12 letter to Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Oakland) that Oakland was sued because its law interferes with national defense.