"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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Drinking and Driving (NUKES) Don't Mix!


In a previous post (Nuclear 18 Wheelers; Yee Haw!!! , Sept. 6, 2009) I wrote about the government's "Safeguards Transporters", those big rigs that travel the nation's highways and byways, delivering nukes to naval and air force bases, and who knows where else.

As an Occupational and Environmental Health professional I spent a great deal of time dealing with risk assessment and risk management. Bottom line: Everything entails some level of risk, no matter how small. Of course we have to look at not only the probability that something might happen (accident), but what would be the severity of the outcome(s).

We all know that the outcomes from messing around with (let alone using) nuclear weapons are not pretty. Whether it be an accident involving the handling or a warhead, or losing track of one, we're dealing with potentially serious outcomes. Of course we should expect that the folks transporting nuclear weapons are the best of the best, right???

Think again!!! Read the beginning of the November 22, 2010 Associated Press article, Report: Nuclear weapon drivers sometimes got drunk.

Federal agents hired to transport nuclear weapons and components sometimes got drunk while on convoy missions, a government watchdog said Monday. In an incident last year, police detained two agents who went to a bar during an assignment.

The Energy Department's assistant inspector general, Sandra D. Bruce, said her office reviewed 16 alcohol-related incidents involving agents, candidate-agents and others from the government's Office of Secure Transportation between 2007 through 2009. Nearly 600 federal agents ship nuclear weapons, weapon components and special nuclear material across the U.S.

Two incidents in particular raised red flags, the report said, because they happened during secure transportation missions while agents checked into local hotels while on extended missions. In these cases, the vehicles were placed in "safe harbor," meaning they were moved to secure locations.

In one case, in 2007, an agent was arrested for public intoxication. The other occurred last year, when police handcuffed and temporarily detained two agents after an incident at a bar.

"Alcohol incidents such as these, as infrequent as they may be, indicate a potential
vulnerability in OST's critical national security mission," the report warns.

So much for the government's Office of [IN]Secure Transportation!!!
You can read the whole report yourself, but when taken along with other documented incidents in the overall care and handling of nuclear weapons - whether it be loading nuclear armed Cruise missiles on a bomber by "mistake", putting a ladder through a Trident missile nose cone or transporting nuclear weapons while drunk - it should make us ask the question, "Is all this worth the risk for weapons that can never be used unless we want to commit mass murder (or omnicide)?"

National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera responded to the report: "NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation maintains a highly trained, highly professional force that has safely and securely transported nuclear materials more than 100 million miles without a single fatal accident or any release of radiation."

That should give us all great comfort, right? Wrong. It only takes one accident, and there is no such thing as absolute safety. And in this case the stakes are too high. It's just a matter of time. And speaking of time, it is most definitely time for our government to take its disarmament responsibility seriously.



P.S. - The Office of Secure Transportation is currently accepting applications (according to their Website. I certainly hope they are tightening up their hiring practices.

Also - A related (and well researched) article in the Kitsap Sun, Navy's Trident Nuclear Warheads Hit the Highway, Bound for Texas, from November 27, 2010.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

START: The Winter of Our Disconnect


I can feel Winter settling in here in Washington's Cascade Mountains as the snow falls this evening; there is a definite chill in the air. While the changing seasons are something to which we adjust, it is critical for continued progress in the control and ultimately the abolition of nuclear weapons that we avoid any "chilling" of relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Right now the Senate must ratify the New START Treaty in order for the Superpowers to get back on track to inspecting each other's arsenals and exchanging information. This connection is necessary to secure ongoing cooperation and produce real security. Without the agreement we can forget about any reduction in the existing nuclear weapons stockpiles.

While ratification of New START is of such importance, there is a very real disconnect in Washington, DC., and not just among a few rogue senators who are trying to scuttle the treaty. Some senators, such as Jim Demint (S. Carolina), James Inhofe (Oklahoma) and Jon Kyle (Arizona) are holding New START hostage in exchange for increased funding of the nation's nuclear weapons complex.

One of their claims is that the Obama administration isn't doing enough to "modernize" the nations nuclear weapons. Judging by the current "modernization" of the nuclear weapons infrastructure along with the ongoing nuclear weapons work that includes the "stockpile stewardship program" (read "rebuilt warheads") I'm not sure how much more they expect the administration to do.

As for the broad scope of this nuclear disconnect, the numbers speak for themselves; the administration had already pledged $80 billion over 10 years to maintain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex. As if this was not enough, Kyl has demanded an additional $4 billion over 5 years, and it appears that Obama is giving in. Even with this offer, it is not looking good for passage of New START by this Congress. Even though we have the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty, Kyl is trying to prevent a vote until the next Congress!!!

It is inexcusable that these politicians who are supposed to represent "the people" are playing games with the nation's (and the world's) security. First of all, passage of New START is of the utmost importance. Secondly, increasing funding to modernize the nuclear weapons complex and build new weapons neutralizes any previous efforts to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons (and send a message of hope to other nations).

Non-ratification of New START is NOT an option! Neither is building up an essentially NEW nuclear weapons infrastructure. Both indicate a disconnect between the people's desire to abolish nuclear weapons and the special interests of those who claim to represent us, but who are far too heavily invested (literally and figuratively) in the Military-Industrial Complex and its parent, the National Security State.

We must not cut anyone even an inch of slack on an issue of such critical importance as New START. Although many senators have shown their support for New START (and we should thank them for that) we now need to demand that they apply some serious pressure to those who hold it hostage.

Click here to send a message to your Senators now! Then click here to download the Phone Bank Tool Kit from the Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World, and you and your organization can help mobilize grassroots support for New START! This is our last chance on this one folks!

And just think how far $84 billion would go towards programs of social uplift!!!



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wadioactive Wabbits ah no waughing matter!

Dear Friends,

No, I haven't lost my mind (contrary to popular opinion); I was just channeling Elmer Fud for a brief moment in response to recent radioactive reports about pesky wadioactive wabbits.

In south central Washington state, tucked away behind barbed wire fences, lies an accumulation of radioactive substances that are byproducts of decades of the U.S. nuclear weapons program; some legacy indeed. The U.S. Government is spending vast sums of money in an attempt to clean up the radioactive contamination; a daunting task considering the extent of contamination of soil, groundwater (seeping into the Columbia River), and the bizarre mix of highly radioactive and reactive substances in the aging underground storage tanks.

Yesterday's headline in the Tri-City Herald, Radioactive rabbit trapped near Richland, is a sobering reminder that radioactive substances, once released into the environment, are difficult, and sometimes impossible) to remove or render "safe". And while the government pays people to keep contaminated animals from escaping the boundaries of one of the planets significantly contaminated places, there is another place where it is more than the occasional radioactive rabbit that is of concern.
The Chernobyl disaster, which for most people is no more than a historical footnote, is still just that - a disaster - for the people living in areas where they continue to be exposed to the residual radiation from the catastrophic events of April 26, 1986. The radioactive Cesium found in that cute, little Hanford bunny (assuming it was Cesium 137) has a half-life of roughly 30 years, and if one ingested rabbit stew made from the little critter one would end up distributing Cesium 137 around the body where it would continually (and fairly intensely) irradiate (from within) muscle cells and organs; think CANCER!

The Cesium 137 released from the Chernobyl accident has most likely affected millions of people downwind of the accident as it was deposited (along with a variety of other radioactive substances) in various concentrations, and silently and invisibly irradiated its victims and increased the risk of radiation-related genetic damage and subsequent cancers and birth defects.

As bad as Chernobyl was, one or more modern thermonuclear weapons detonated anywhere on Earth would unleash an even worse, horrific mixture of deadly radioisotopes that would, beyond the immediate effects in areas of high radioactivity, leave a legacy of chronic health effects affecting countless generations. Any measure that brings stability to the relationship between the nuclear powers and reduces the numbers of nuclear arms reduces the probability of this unthinkable event.

Now that the U.S. elections are over it is high time that the Senate get to work once again on ratifying the New START Treaty. Although the treaty contains only modest reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons stocks, more importantly it improves and extends the verification and monitoring measures of the original START Treaty, which have been important in maintaining nuclear stability after the end of the Cold War.

With U.S. military leaders supporting ratification there is no reason for Republicans to stonewall. It has been nearly a year since the original treaty lapsed, and the clock is ticking; if the Senate doesn't ratify the treaty before year's end the ratification process has to start all over, casting a shadow over its fate, and thus a shadow over the planet.

Even if you previously wrote your Senators in support of the New START Treaty, DO IT AGAIN! Click here to urge them to ratify the New START Treaty now! Keep the heat on; the time for New START is NOW!