May: This Month in Nuclear Threat History
HISTORY, 11 May 2015
May 1, 1982 – The Washington Post featured an article by Bill Prochnau titled, “With the Bomb, There Is No Answer,” in which he reported that marijuana was discovered in one of the underground missile control launch centers of a Minuteman ICBM squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. Comments: While military drug use is not as serious a problem as it once was, there still exists serious concerns about U.S. and foreign military personnel’ handling of nuclear weaponry and, in broader terms, about the command and control of these potential doomsday weapons. All it takes is one failure in the nuclear deterrence system to trigger unprecedented human catastrophe and possibly the end of the human species.
May 5, 1959 – After almost 10,000 scientists signed a January 1958 petition to stop nuclear testing, a March 31, 1958 Soviet nuclear testing moratorium announcement, an August 1958 report by a U.S. “conference of experts” concluded that a test ban could be reliably verified, and after two U.S.-initiated nuclear testing cessation proposals were forwarded to Soviet Premier Khrushchev, on this date President Dwight Eisenhower again submitted another test ban proposal to the Soviets which included a provision for a predetermined number of inspections in the territories of the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union. While both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. enacted nuclear test moratoriums thereafter, the May 2, 1960 shoot down of a Gary Powers-piloted U-2 reconnaissance plane over Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union, combined with initial American denials of spying, led Khrushchev to scuttle the Paris Summit and to end further test ban negotiations until Eisenhower left office. Comments: It took the awful events of the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps the closest the world has ever come to thermonuclear warfare, to spur Kennedy and Khrushchev to speed up negotiations to reduce nuclear tensions by implementing the Hot Line Agreement and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. The Kennedy assassination and 1964 Politburo ouster of Khrushchev, unfortunately, dramatically slowed momentum for further progress in this area. (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 7-9.)
May 14, 2002 – An article by Matt Wald in the New York Times titled, “Demolition of Nuclear Plant Illustrates Problems Involved,” pointed out the little known and little publicized facts about the immensely complicated issues associated with decommissioning, dismantling, and environmentally remediating the site of a civilian nuclear power station. Wall referred to the specific example of the Maine Yankee plant which was shut down in 1996. Composed of only a single reactor unit, the plant cost $231 million, in 1972 dollars, to build. Demolishing the plant and shipping away an estimated 65,000 tons of light-, medium-, and highly-radioactive materials (including the reactor core, spent fuel rods, other contaminated industrial equipment, and an incredible inventory of 25 years of related radioactive junk) would cost an estimated half a billion dollars! Comments: Besides the obvious long-term serious health and public safety concerns coincidental with running a nuclear power plant, natural (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, etc) and manmade (terrorist takeover of reactor sites or crashing airliners into containment domes or reactor waste water collection ponds) disasters make dangerous, overly expensive, toxic waste-generating, and uneconomical nuclear power a deadly global risk that calls for the immediate dismantling of the international nuclear power infrastructure in the next decade. Nuclear proliferation risks provide an additional paramount rationale for phasing out civilian nuclear power in favor of accelerated R&D on solar, geothermal, wind, and other clean, green, and sustainable energy solutions to global warming.
May 18, 1974 – India conducted its first nuclear test, with an announced yield of 12 kilotons, at the Pokharan underground site in the Rajasthan Desert proclaiming the event, “a peaceful nuclear explosion.” Although the U.S. intelligence community later downgraded the yield to four to six kilotons, a South Asian nuclear arms race had begun. After five more Indian nuclear tests on May 11-13, 1998, the Pakistanis responded on May 28-30, 1998 with five of their own nuclear test blasts. Comments: Despite international condemnations, economic sanctions, and other repercussions, both nations have ratcheted up the regional arms race with further testing of launch platforms and occasional nuclear saber rattling. A near-miss nuclear exchange at the turn of the millennium has increased international pressure to push both countries to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals – now estimated to be in the range of several dozen warheads on each side. (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 11, 20-21.)
May 19, 2011 – In the journal Nature, Volume 473, Professor Alan Robock, building on studies initially reported by the TTAPS group (which included the late astronomer Carl Sagan) in 1982-83, concluded that, “Nuclear Winter is a real and present danger. As few as 50 nuclear bombs exploding in urban areas would cause enough black carbon smoke to trigger another Little Ice Age.” Comments: If deterrence fails, even on a relatively small-scale, for example: a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, the direct results of tens of millions of war deaths might pale in comparison to 10-100 times that many fatalities as a result of mass starvation caused by such a nuclear climate catastrophe.
May 22, 2015 – The Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (also known as the NPT Review Conference) at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, which began April 27, concludes on this date. Comments: Conference participants must step up their efforts to think out of the box and address issues beyond the usual agenda of convincing Iran and North Korea to reverse their alleged nuclear weapons activities. Pressuring America and Russia to accelerate their nuclear disarmament obligations, as spelled out in the NPT, is but one example. Another is persuading the U.S. and its allies to pressure Israel to announce the generalities of their nuclear arsenal (estimated to be 100-200 warheads) and commit to reduce their warhead inventory, as a crucial step in establishing a credible Middle East nuclear weapon free zone.
May 25, 1953 – In the 10th of the UPSHOT-Knothole series of 11 nuclear test firings, the shot GRABLE nuclear weapons test was conducted at Frenchman Flat, Area 5, of the Nevada Test Site. The M65 280mm Atomic Cannon launched a nuclear projectile 6.25 miles where it exploded with a yield of about 15 kilotons. Comments: This was just one of the 1,030 total U.S. nuclear test explosions conducted from 1945-1992. Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague global populations, most especially military veterans and indigenous peoples, decades after over 2,000 nuclear bombs were exploded below ground or in the atmosphere by members of the Nuclear Club. (Sources: “Firing the Atomic Cannon.” www.military.com/video/nuclear-bombs/nuclear-weapons-firing-the-atomic-cannon-1953/2789775714 accessed April 9, 2015 and Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 24.)
May 28, 2000 – America’s Defense Monitor, a half-hour documentary PBS-TV series that premiered in 1987, released a new film, “Dark Cloud: Our Strange Love Affair With the Bomb (Program No. 1338).” It was produced by the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and independent monitor of the Pentagon founded in 1972, whose board of directors and staff included retired military officers (Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr.), former U.S. government officials (Philip Coyle, who served as an assistant secretary of defense), and civilian experts (Dr. Bruce Blair, a former U.S. Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer). A news release described the film in these terms: “Nukes as portable infantry weapons. Nukes for digging tunnels. Nuclear decontamination with a whisk broom. Declassified government films of the 1940s, 50’s and 60’s form the back drop of this darkly entertaining exploration of America’s fascination with the Bomb. This program provides a valuable lesson in media literacy by exploring the nature of propaganda and deconstructing its messages.” Comments: While obviously nuclear war is not a laughing matter, news media representatives, entertainers, and even politicians (Congress’ budgetary rhetoric of “the nuclear option”) continue to celebrate these doomsday weapons downgrading and even disregarding their deadly potential to end the world as we know it. It remains the responsibility of activists, educational organizations, and other nonprofit entities to remind the world daily that the global nuclear arsenal remains a constant threat to human civilization.
May 31, 1962 – Frank Ervin of Physicians for Social Responsibility and several of his colleagues published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine describing the impact of a 20 megaton nuclear explosion on a major metropolitan area, “The fireball extends two miles in every direction. Out to four miles, the blast would produce overpressures of 25 pounds per square inch and winds in excess of 650 miles per hour. Out to distances of 16 miles, the bomb’s heat would ignite all homes, paper, cloth, leaves, gasoline, starting hundreds of thousands of fires, creating a giant firestorm in excess of 100 miles per hour and measuring 30 miles across, covering 800 square miles. A 20 megaton ground burst on downtown Boston would seriously damage reinforced concrete buildings to a distance of 10 miles and demolish all other structures. Within a circle of radius of 16-21 miles, second-degree burns would be produced. Human survival in this area would be practically impossible and an estimated 2.25 million deaths would occur in metropolitan Boston from blast and heat alone. If impacted on San Diego, California with a (then) population of 2.8 million people, one million would die within minutes and 500,000 would sustain major injuries.” Comments: Some commentators have suggested that a first-class, state-of-the-art film, utilizing modified stock footage of nuclear blasts and featuring top-notch computer-generated enhanced imagery and graphics, along with staged but realistic interviews of “survivors” (portrayed by little-known, but skilled actors) should be updated and shown annually to global political, military, and civic leaders as well as journalists, scholars, and the general public through media as diverse as TV, the Internet, social media, and other platforms. Broadcast each year by the United Nations and by all the governments of the Nuclear Club members as well as by a cross-section of independent media on the August 6 anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and titled, “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons on Humans and Their Environment” such a short film might have some positive impact on accelerating global zero efforts while reducing the overall risks of a nuclear Armageddon. (Source: F. Ervin, et al., “The Medical Consequences of Thermonuclear War.” The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 266, May 31, 1962. www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/4770929 accessed April 9, 2015.)
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