"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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dealing with the Nuclear Genie


July 16th marked the day 66 years ago when the United States let the nuclear genie out of the lamp. 

On July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 AM at the Alamogordo Test Range, on the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) desert, in the test named Trinity, the experimental device known as the "Gadget" was detonated, creating a light "brighter than a thousand suns." A mere 6 kilogram (13.2 pound) sphere of plutonium, compressed to supercriticality by the surrounding high explosives, created an explosion equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT (20 Kilotons).

Was this, as thought nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the beginning of the end? These scientists had "become death", and they had created what could become (quite literally) "the destroyer of worlds."  Oppenheimer quoted a verse from the Bhagavad Gita which read "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."  The nuclear genie was out of the lamp and now, 66 years later, we have one final wish left. Will it be for the genie to return to the lamp?
Less than one month after the Trinity test, the United States dropped two atomic bombs - on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - that killed over 100,000 people in less time than it took me to type a few of these words. As many as 220,000 were dead from the effects of radiation by the end of 1945. Even today, 66 years later, survivors and subsequent generations suffer the effects of radiation.

So began a journey (with the test known as Trinity) that has led humanity down the perilous road of preparation for its own destruction. Scientists have continued to seek the power of gods, creating ever more destructive nuclear devices over the years, and many in our government and others continue asking for more of these awful weapons in every shape and form (and method of delivery).

Today the U.S. government is building new bomb-making facilities at Kansas City and Oak Ridge, while it develops new nuclear capable bombers and ballistic missile submarines (just to name a few key projects).  What message do you think this sends to other nations contemplating developing or building more nuclear weapons???

Our leaders, including President Obama, are forging ahead towards nuclear darkness, and it is up to the people to call for an end to this madness that consumes vast quantities of economic capital while preparing for the end of life as we know it.  We can participate on many levels, from advocacy to nonviolent direct action, from our hands to our feet - there is something everyone can do to help put the genie back in the bottle.

It is no simple task, and many people would say that we are naive to think such a thing is possible.  We will never know if we don't try.  Even the U.S. Conference of Mayors, at its recent meeting, called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. 

Get involved in an upcoming event commemorating the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Many cities have ceremonies commemorating these events.  Click here for events occurring around Puget Sound.  Take one of many advocacy actions, including cutting the 2012 nuclear weapons budget, at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation or any number of other organizations (see the list of "Hot Links" in the right hand column of this blog).

After 66 years it is high time we put the nuclear genie back in the lamp.



Saturday, July 16, 2011

The High Price of US Nukes

By William Hartung - July 13, 2011Originally published by TalkingPointsMemo

As President Obama and Republicans in Congress go down to the wire in negotiations over a package of budget cuts that would clear the way for raising the debt ceiling, we shouldn't lose sight of one key source of reductions: military spending. Although it was not mentioned in the President's press conference earlier this week, there has been a press report suggesting that the budget negotiators may have considered cuts of up to $700 billion over ten years -- a healthy sum if it represents real reductions, not funny money projections based on misleading estimating techniques.

As Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund has demonstrated in a piece that ran today on the web site of the Atlantic magazine, one area ripe for cuts is the nuclear weapons budget. Current projections call for the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade on maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including everything from new nuclear weapons factories to new bombers and ballistic missile submarines.

Here are just a few examples of nuclear weapons-related projects that could be done without at a time when nuclear arsenals are on the decline:

--One hundred new bombers, at a currently estimated price of $55 billion;

--A dozen new ballistic missile launching submarines, at a cost estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $8.3 billion each, for a total of nearly $100 billion;

-- A Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratories that would produce plutonium "pits" or triggers, an essential component for building a nuclear weapon, at an estimated price of up to $6 billion;

--A Uranium Processing Facillity at the NNSA's Oak Ridge, Tennessee site, at a cost estimated by the Army Corps of Engineers of up to $7.5 billion.

At this stage in history, U.S. nuclear weapons serve no useful purpose other than preventing another nation from using nuclear weapons against the United States. And a study by two professors of military strategy at U.S. military colleges has suggested that that mission could be accomplished with roughly 300 warheads, compared with the 1,550 deployed warheads permitted under the New START treaty, and the roughly 5,000 currently in the U.S. stockpile if one counts all categories of non-deployed weapons. Going down to these levels would save additional billions in reduced operating and maintenance costs for the arsenal as a whole.

Not only have a growing list of former secretaries of state and defense, presidents and prime ministers, scientists and retired military officials called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but if pushed by budgetary realities so would many current U.S. military leaders. While they won't say so publicly, if forced to choose between nukes and major conventional systems it is my bet that nukes would lose out in that particular budget battle.

So as the president and the Congress continue to look for places to reduce spending, the nuclear weapons budget should be high on the list.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Nuclear Generation Palindrome


In a time of endless war and nuclear weapons it is easy to become despondent about the future, yet there is always hope.  That hope lies in people who can see inside the madness, understand it and refuse to accept the darkness.  It also requires a different way of seeing.  Jonathan Reed, in his palindrome "Lost Generation," did just that.

Lawyer, international humanitarian law expert and creative spirit Anabel Dwyer was inspired by Jonathan's palindrome to write one of her own that speaks to us with a message of hope about nuclear weapons.  After all that is what we are - people of hope.




A Nuclear Generation Palindrome

by Anabel Dwyer 6/28/11 with thanks to Jonathan Reed's "Lost Generation."

Read this from the top down and you’ll get the problem.
Read from the bottom up and you’ll get the reality.

We need nuclear weapons
I refuse to believe that
disarmament is possible
I realize that this may be a shock but
“We live by the rule of law, nonviolently”
is a lie and
"Security comes from greater force"
So we can tell our children
they are not important in our lives
Our military corps will know
We have our priorities straight because
is more important than
I will tell you this
Once upon a time
The judiciary was considered independent
but this will not be possible
This is a quick buck society
Experts tell me
30 years from now B&W will still make nuclear weapons
I do not concede that
I will live in a country where citizen whistleblowers will be honored
In the future
chemical and radioactive contamination will be the norm
No longer can it be said that
We can stop the destruction of life
It will be evident that
Our times are only violent and fruitless
It is foolish to presume that
There is hope

"All this will be true unless we choose to reverse it..."

Friday, July 1, 2011


By Desmond Tutu

Eliminating nuclear weapons is the democratic wish of the world’s people. Yet no nuclear-armed country currently appears to be preparing for a future without these terrifying devices. In fact, all are squandering billions of dollars on modernization of their nuclear forces, making a mockery of United Nations disarmament pledges. If we allow this madness to continue, the eventual use of these instruments of terror seems all but inevitable.

The nuclear power crisis at Japan’s Fukushima power plant has served as a dreadful reminder that events thought unlikely can and do happen. It has taken a tragedy of great proportions to prompt some leaders to act to avoid similar calamities at nuclear reactors elsewhere in the world. But it must not take another Hiroshima or Nagasaki – or an even greater disaster – before they finally wake up and recognize the urgent necessity of nuclear disarmament.

This week, the foreign ministers of five nuclear-armed countries – the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China – will meet in Paris to discuss progress in implementing the nuclear-disarmament commitments that they made at last year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. It will be a test of their resolve to transform the vision of a future free of nuclear arms into reality.

If they are serious about preventing the spread of these monstrous weapons – and averting their use – they will work energetically and expeditiously to eliminate them completely. One standard must apply to all countries: zero. Nuclear arms are wicked, regardless of who possesses them. The unspeakable human suffering that they inflict is the same whatever flag they may bear. So long as these weapons exist, the threat of their use – either by accident or through an act of sheer madness – will remain.

We must not tolerate a system of nuclear apartheid, in which it is considered legitimate for some states to possess nuclear arms but patently unacceptable for others to seek to acquire them. Such a double standard is no basis for peace and security in the world. The NPT is not a license for the five original nuclear powers to cling to these weapons indefinitely. The International Court of Justice has affirmed that they are legally obliged to negotiate in good faith for the complete elimination of their nuclear forces.

The New START agreement between the US and Russia, while a step in the right direction, will only skim the surface off the former Cold War foes’ bloated nuclear arsenals – which account for 95% of the global total. Furthermore, these and other countries’ modernization activities cannot be reconciled with their professed support for a world free of nuclear weapons.

It is deeply troubling that the US has allocated $185 billion to augment its nuclear stockpile over the next decade, on top of the ordinary annual nuclear-weapons budget of more than $50 billion. Just as unsettling is the Pentagon’s push for the development of nuclear-armed drones – H-bombs deliverable by remote control.

Russia, too, has unveiled a massive nuclear-weapons modernization plan, which includes the deployment of various new delivery systems. British politicians, meanwhile, are seeking to renew their navy’s aging fleet of Trident submarines – at an estimated cost of £76 billion ($121 billion). In doing so, they are passing up an historic opportunity to take the lead on nuclear disarmament.

Every dollar invested in bolstering a country’s nuclear arsenal is a diversion of resources from its schools, hospitals, and other social services, and a theft from the millions around the globe who go hungry or are denied access to basic medicines. Instead of investing in weapons of mass annihilation, governments must allocate resources towards meeting human needs.

The only obstacle we face in abolishing nuclear weapons is a lack of political will, which can – and must – be overcome. Two-thirds of UN member states have called for a nuclear-weapons convention similar to existing treaties banning other categories of particularly inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, from biological and chemical arms to anti-personnel land mines and cluster munitions. Such a treaty is feasible and must be urgently pursued.

It is true that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but that does not mean that nuclear disarmament is an impossible dream. My own country, South Africa, gave up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990’s, realizing it was better off without these weapons. Around the same time, the newly independent states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine voluntarily relinquished their nuclear arms, and then joined the NPT. Other countries have abandoned nuclear-weapons programs, recognizing that nothing good could possibly come from them. Global stockpiles have dropped from 68,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War to 20,000 today.

In time, every government will come to accept the basic inhumanity of threatening to obliterate entire cities with nuclear weapons. They will work to achieve a world in which such weapons are no more – where the rule of law, not the rule of force, reigns supreme, and cooperation is seen as the best guarantor of international peace. But such a world will be possible only if people everywhere rise up and challenge the nuclear madness.


Editor's Note:  The original article can be found at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).  Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and long-time advocate for abolishing nuclear weapons.