The Pentagon and US Navy are planning to rebuild the Trident submarine nuclear weapons fleet over the next fifteen years at a cost likely to exceed $1 trillion over the life of the program. Currently eight of the fourteen Trident warships allowed under the START treaty homeport on Hood Canal at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington State. The other six homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia.
In what may well be an opening salvo announcing the rebuild of the Trident fleet, the Navy plans to build a new and expanded Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor next to the one currently servicing these warships. Price tag: $783 million. The Navy claims to need 400 operational days a year to load and unload missiles from the warships over the next 30-plus years, and they can only get 300 operational days from the current Explosives Handling Wharf. (Editor's Note: Public comment on the Second Wharf Environmental Impact Statement was solicited through May 17, 2011 at www.nbkeis.com/EHW
What goes unsaid is the impact of current treaty negotiations to reduce the number of warheads and launch vehicles. While Trident warships are patrolling the world's oceans at Cold War levels, the number of warheads on the Trident subs has probably been reduced by half according to what data is available in the public record. The Navy, however, wants to upgrade the missiles and warheads, so presumably will want more handling days available.
This at a time when across the country we are cutting back basic medical care for indigent children, more people are out of work than at any time since the Depression, and people continue to lose their homes.
And then there is the unimaginable devastation these weapons are designed to create. Hiroshima was leveled in 1945 by a 12 kiloton atomic bomb. Trident warships can carry W-76 warheads rated at 100 kilotons and W-88 warheads rated at 450 kilotons, up to 192 warheads on a single warship. A single Trident submarine warship has the capacity according to recent climatalogical calculations to black out the sun in an entire hemisphere for weeks to months, an event named “nuclear winter” by Carl Sagan and colleagues in the 1980's. What sane motives continue to compel us to rebuild this doomsday system? How can human freedom hope to survive once such a weapon is used?
A single Trident-launched warhead could create a fireball with the heat of the sun over an area that would incinerate the heart of any city, and then the blast, firestorms, and radiation would expand that zone in waves of destruction over five miles and several generations.
On whose country would we deliver such wholesale killing, suffering, and environmental devastation? China would seem to be the principal target of the Pacific Trident warship fleet. We remember World War II, the Nazi holocaust, Stalinist Russia, and Mao Tse Tung's China – political and military catastrophes in themselves for people with any will to freedom and human rights. Yet there will be no democracy under nuclear fire. And if the United States is held responsible for the crime against humanity that a modern nuclear weapon would perpetrate, then what of the international backlash against us?
Imagine if the earthquake and tsunami assault on Japan had instead been caused by one or two nuclear weapons. The destruction could have been comparable with many more deaths, but what then would be the world's reaction against the perpetrator of such a crime? And where does it end?
This is not the world I want to leave for my grandchildren or their grandchildren.
Our world is much too interdependent and vulnerable to have its multifarious problems and injustices solved by military force, much less by weapons of mass destruction. We need national, international, and non-governmental institutions to broker negotiations across the panoply of threats to life on Earth.
It is time to outlaw and abolish nuclear weapons, not rebuild them. What is hopeful about abolishing nuclear weapons is that it is doable within a relatively short time frame, and it would propel other efforts at cooperative security and cooperative development to the benefit of all.
Our safety resides in our capacities to get along with each other. What sense does it make to threaten China daily with incineration by a Trident-launched hydrogen bomb when China now manufactures half of our consumer goods and holds nearly a trillion dollars of our debt? How about instead of spending another $783 million for a redundant and outmoded facility to service (illegal) weapons of mass destruction we instead invest in securing fissile materials worldwide, pass a nuclear weapons convention to abolish them, and develop cultural and educational exchanges with China, Russia, Iran and even North Korea to empower mutual understanding. That was a huge part of what helped to end the Soviet era of domination in Eurasia and bring an end to the Cold War.
David C. Hall, MD
Past President, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (psr.org and wpsr.org)
Member, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (gzcenter.org)
206-957-4702 office voicemail
Editor's Note: You can read other posts on the Second Explosives Handling Wharf and watch video of public testimony at the Puget Sound Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.