"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembering Castle Bravo (AND its Victims)


Here's one from the Infamous Moments in Nuclear History files:

At 6:45 AM (local time) on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands the United States detonated its first dry fuel thermonuclear hydrogen bomb device in the test code named Castle Bravo. It was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the U.S. with an explosive yield of 15 megatons (scientists expected a yield of 4 to 6 megatons), roughly 1,200 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Castle Bravo was supposed to be a secret test, but because its designers underestimated its yield, things went dreadfully wrong in a flash. Because of the fission products, huge yield and shifting winds, radioactive fallout from the cloud spread quickly and far, contaminating over seven thousand square miles of surrounding ocean and nearby inhabited islands including Rongerik and Rongelap. The flash could be clearly seen 250 miles away (some secret!).

The nearby islands' inhabitants as well as U.S. soldiers stationed there for the test were exposed to the radioactive fallout, and subsequently evacuated. All were exposed to significant levels of radiation; although short term effects were mild, long term effects were significant for many.

Crewmembers of the Japanese tuna fishing boat, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, or Lucky Dragon 5 were fishing outside of the declared exclusion zone when Castle Bravo detonated. The ship was covered in fine ash soon after the explosion. By the time the ship returned to Japan all 23 crew members were suffering from the effects of acute radiation syndrome - including nausea, headache, burns, pains in the eyes, and bleeding from the gums - and were admitted to hospitals.
One of the crew, chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama, died on September 23 from the effects of radiation exposure. His last words were:

I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.

The Daigo Fukuryū Maru was one of several hundred fishing boats and their crews exposed to the fallout from Castle Bravo. The Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident helped bring about a strong anti-nuclear movement in Japan.

The U.S. continued its atmospheric nuclear testing, conducting 67 tests at Bikini and Enewetak atolls between 1946 and 1958 leaving a legacy of contamination and death. "840 Marshall islanders are believed to have died of health problems caused by the tests. As of the end of 2003, more than 1,000 islanders were suffering from symptoms believed related to radiation exposure." Today (54 years later) the Marshall Islands are still contaminated, and radioactive cesium is found in water and fruits.

Today's anti-nuclear movement is a global movement that must continue to grow at a time when we need to bring strong pressure to bear on our governments to disarm. Let us hope that it will not take an incident like the one involving the Daigo Fukuryū Maru to make people rise up against the nuclear monster that continues to threaten humankind.

Let us pray (and work so) that there will be no more victims.



Reference: Japan Times editorial: Nuclear Tragedy in the Pacific, Sunday March 1, 2009

Friday, February 26, 2010

They found the WMDs! OMG - right in our back yard!


On this day in peacemaking history twelve years ago an international Citizens' Weapons Inspection Team from Vancouver, British Columbia, organized by the Canadian peace group End the Arms Race, and accompanied by members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Poulsbo, Washington attempted to enter Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, then known as Submarine Base Bangor, to document the presence of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles.

The Canadian team was led by Canadian Member of Parliament Libby Davies (NDP - Vancouver East) and was composed of nine Canadian community and religious leaders and peace activists. Ther group wrote to the base commander a few days prior to the inspection to request access to the base, announcing their intention to conduct:

a tour of the base and access to all documentation that confirms whether or not weapons of mass destruction or the delivery vehicles of any such weapons are present on the base. We also request access to inspect any nuclear weapons or their delivery vehicles that may be present at Naval Submarine Base Bangor.

Rear-Admiral William Center initially invited the team to tour the base, including one of the Trident submarines, but within hours rescinded the invitation. What was this guy thinking?!?!?! At any rate, the group travelled south-of-the-border, finally arriving at Bangor for the February 26 inspection.

The group hoped, among other things, to "illustrate the paradoxical behavior by nuclear weapons states ... threatening military force to ensure that a Third World Country has no weapons of mass destruction." Upon arrival at the gate they were met by the base public relations representative, who reiterated the Navy's refusal to admit the inspection team, and when questioned about the presence of nuclear weapons at Bangor, would neither confirm nor deny their presence.

Vancouver East Member of Parliament Libby Davies (NDP) at the Bangor gate

The inspection team did conduct a flyover - something one could do in the pre 9/11 world - to survey the base. They had a birds eye view of the entire facility, and observed the extensive nuclear weapons storage bunkers in the section of the base known as Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific (SWFPAC) as well as nearby Trident nuclear submarines.

In their post-inspection, public report they noted that Bangor does, indeed, harbor weapons of mass destruction based upon their review of public documents, observations of submarine and truck movements in and out of the base by local activists, and the observation on February 26th from a chartered plane by inspection team members of Trident submarines berthed near the nuclear weapons storage bunkers.

Before the Canadian team left town, they posted this notice on the fence outside the Bangor gate:


That certainly cleared up the rather nebulous statement by the Navy's public relations representative. And it's just 20 miles (as the gull flies) from Seattle!

So what are you waiting for. Go out and join your local Citizens' Weapons Inspection Team, or start one of your own. It's fun, and who knows what you might find behind those seemingly benign fences. The peope have the right to know!



Thanks to The Nuclear Resister for information and quotes used in this post (source: http://www.serve.com/nukeresister/nr112/bangor.html).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Let's Stop This Silly Nuclear Posturing!


In May 2010 nations will gather in New York City for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.  This will be the year that the pressure will be on to set binding and enforceable targets for reducing and ultimately eliminating the signatories' nuclear arsenals.  Of course, it will not be as simple as that since there are nations that are not signatories to the NPT that have developed nuclear weapons, the proverbial flies in the ointment.

No matter who currently has nuclear weapons, the entire world is at risk the longer nations maintain their arsenals.  Some arsenals, such as the United States' and Russia's, are so massive as to be ludicrous.  As of 2009, just the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile was estimated at 5,200 nuclear warheads, 2700 of those "operational" (in other words deployed and ready to go).  Do we really need that many nukes to "deter" another nation from attacking us???

The fact is that even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons would have disastrous consequences for those people living in the immediate vicinity as well as people around the world.  Aside from nuclear winter scenarios calculated during the Cold War, even a partial exchange between two smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan would be disastrous on a global scale.  Besides killing most of their people, and making the land in and around their nations uninhabitable (and unsafe) for those remaining, the huge volumes of soot released into the atmosphere would likely cause dramatic loss of stratospheric ozone (which protects us from ultraviolet light) and also cause massive crop failures.

So what's a nuclear power to do???  Besides the immediate actions of taking weapons of alert status, removing warheads from weapons and a host of other actions that would serve to reduce the risk of either accidental or intentional launch, the nuclear powers must tackle the long term (hopefully not too much longer) goal of disarmament as stated in the NPT.  To do so will require the leadership of the two largest nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia.

The next U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, the document that lays out the role that nuclear weapons will play in U.S. military and foreign policy, will be (finally) released on March 1, 2010.  What this document has to say will be critical going forward towards the NPT Review Conference in May.  It is clear that President Obama and the Pentagon are not in agreement on some issues, one of them being whether the U.S. should commit a no-first use of nuclear weapons policy.  Issues like this one are key to showing good faith and ratcheting down tensions.

We should hope that the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review will not open with a statement like this one that begins the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (Page 7):
Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important to achieve strategic and political objectives.

Much can happen between now and March 1st, and President Obama is getting it from all sides - those who want to continue the status quo that has carried over from the Cold War, as well as those (including military and security experts) who say that the only solution to the threats posed by nuclear weapons is their elimination.  The path to their elimination begins with reducing our reliance on them.  It requires imagination and a re-thinking of their place (do they have one?) in "achieving strategic and political objectives." 

The President made a pledge in Prague:
I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
Hold him to it!  Take a couple minutes to send President Obama an email asking him to be sure that the Nuclear Posture Review states a no first-use policy and that the U.S. will not build any new nuclear weapons.  And when you are done, consider phoning The White House to make the message even stronger.  You can personalize your email at Peace Action's Website, and you can also find The White House phone number there.

Don't you think that the best nuclear posture is a relaxed one?