This Month in Nuclear Threat History

HISTORY, 6 Jun 2016

Jeffrey W. Mason | Nuclear Age Peace Foundation – TRANSCEND Media Service

napf_logo-150x150 nuclear age peace foundationJune 2, 1992 – An Associated Press article published on this date, authored by Steve Kline and titled “SAC (Strategic Air Command), America’s Nuclear Strike Force is Retired,” quoted then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, “The long bitter years of the Cold War are over.  America and her allies have won – totally, decisively, overwhelmingly.”  Comments:  Many Americans hoped that the ending of the Cold War in December 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact Soviet bloc military alliance would result in a new era of a true Peace Dividend.  Although in the ensuing years, U.S. military spending was reduced by a small percentage, the Western military alliance, NATO, not only continued to “contain” Russia but grew in size to include a growing list of Eastern European and Soviet bloc nations.  Even more disappointing was the fact that the expectation of not only many Americans but a large portion of global populations that the world would dramatically demilitarize allowing money previously devoted to bloated military budgets to be converted from “guns to butter” never occurred on a large scale.  A global agenda for rebuilding infrastructure, providing employment particularly to ethnic, religious, and racial minorities in urban areas, educating large numbers of students including the indigent, funding Head Start programs, addressing poverty and disease outbreaks, remediating and cleaning up governmental and corporate toxic wastes (including civilian and military nuclear production and storage sites), and creating nonmilitary solutions to potential future conflict zones (such as the Mideast and Africa) never materialized.  Over the last two and a half decades, the hegemonic U.S. superpower devised a “New World Order” that has helped precipitate wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, destabilized the Middle East, caused China and Russia and other powers to challenge this order with larger than ever global military budgets, triggered a Cold War II, and enhanced a new growth spurt in nuclear weapons and other WMD development.  With the dire economic impact of trillions of Cold War and post-Cold War military dollars spent and the neoliberal speculative mortgage fraud crisis (the 2008 Great Recession) which highlighted an even larger gap between rich and poor, America has unfortunately learned that, like Russia, it too has “lost the Cold War” and the chance for a Peace Dividend. But it is not too late to come to our global senses, renounce nuclear weapons and war and embrace a new paradigm of peaceful rebirth and change.

June 10, 1960 – Polaris Action, a group of concerned Americans organized by members of the Committee for Non Violent Action held an antinuclear march that began in New York City on June 1 and ended on this date at the gates of the nuclear submarine builder for the U.S. Navy – Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut.  This group, allied with countless other organizations in the coming years, demonstrated their opposition to the development and deployment of nuclear weapons.  Comments:  There have been many thousands of global protests, vigils, hunger strikes, acts of civil disobedience, and demonstrations over the last seventy years appealing to corporate, military, governmental, political, and other leaders to recognize that eventually the global nuclear Armageddon machine, based on the flawed concept of deterrence, will fail resulting in the likely destruction of human civilization and the possible eradication of the entire human species (and a multitude of other species).  Growing numbers of the world population are recognizing this immense threat and working to dramatically reduce nuclear arsenals with a goal to eliminate them entirely.  (Source:  Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, Pa.  https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peaceDG001-025/dg017.cnva.xml)

June 13, 1995 – President Jacques Chirac announced an end to a French moratorium on nuclear testing with a planned series of eight tests in the South Pacific to last from September 1995 to May 1996.  However, worldwide protests forced the French to scale back those tests, although they did explode a 20-kiloton warhead at the Moruroa Atoll.  On January 27, 1996, President Chirac announced that his nation had finished testing, “once and for all.”  In September 1996, France became one of 70 nations, including the U.S., China, and Russia, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which it later ratified on April 6, 1998.  France conducted a total of 210 nuclear tests in the period from 1960 to 1996 which inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to populations in an immense region of the South Pacific and North Africa.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague global populations decades after over 2,000 nuclear bombs were exploded below ground or in the atmosphere by members of the Nuclear Club.  Comments:  Although President Clinton signed the CTBT on September 24, 1996, the U.S. Senate rejected the treaty on October 13, 1999 by a vote of 51-48.  Few candidates in this 2016 presidential election cycle, Bernie Sanders being the exception, have discussed the threat of nuclear weapons.  No one has addressed the need to join dozens of other nations including Russia (which ratified the CTBT on April 21, 2000) in pushing the Senate to ratify this critical treaty.  This and other critical nuclear issues should be at the forefront of American and global political debate.  The 45th President of the United States should announce that ratification of the CTBT is one of his/her top priorities upon taking office.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 17, 18, 22.)

June 18, 2000America’s Defense Monitor, a half-hour documentary PBS-TV series that premiered in 1987, released a new film, “Radioactive America,” produced by the Center for Defense Information, a non-partisan, 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 assistant secretary of defense), and civilian experts (Dr. Bruce Blair, a former U.S. Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer).  The program investigated issues associated with the underfunded (then and now) cleanup of current as well as legacy U.S. nuclear weapons production facilities.  The press release for the program noted, “Historically, nuclear weapons production has generated massive amounts of radioactive waste.  Poor disposal and containment practices have allowed toxic nuclear waste to contaminate the soil and groundwater surrounding a plethora of nuclear facilities and weapons laboratories.”  These sites include Fernald, Ohio, Paducah, Kentucky, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington, and others too numerous to list here.  Comments:  Today there remain serious concerns about the continuing health and environmental risks of not only these military nuclear sites but of approximately 100 civilian nuclear power reactor sites and the accompanying infrastructure including the government’s flawed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant waste storage site near Carlsbad, New Mexico and other privately managed, mostly nontransparent,  nuclear storage sites.

June 23, 1942 – The first nuclear weapons-related accident occurred on this date in the city of Leipzig, Germany involving Nazi atomic scientists Werner Heisenberg and Robert Doepel.  While demonstrating Germany’s first neutron propagation experiment, workers checked the atomic pile for a heavy water leak.  During the inspection, air leaked in igniting the uranium powder inside.  The burning uranium boiled the water jacket which generated enough steam pressure to blow the reactor apart.  Burning uranium was dispersed throughout the laboratory which triggered a fire at the facility causing an unknown number of casualties.  While Albert Einstein’s August 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt about the need to weaponize the atom before Nazi scientists could do so had successfully started the ball rolling on the top secret U.S. Manhattan Project, scientists working on the first U.S. atomic pile in Chicago suspected that Germany was ahead of them in the race to build the first atomic bomb.  Even if the Nazis didn’t actually build a bomb, there were fears of German aircraft dropping radioactive dust on cities.  Comments:  Later in the war, when it was discovered that the German atomic bomb project had fizzled, many U.S. and European scientists working on the Manhattan Project spoke out against dropping the bomb on Japanese civilians.  Despite this opposition, the postwar desire to intimidate the Soviets and the accelerated bureaucratic and military momentum to demonstrate a weapon that cost billions of dollars to manufacture trumped moral concerns and even military necessity when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945.  (Sources:  S.A. Goudsmit.  “Heisenberg on the German Uranium Project.” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. November 1947 and Spencer R. Weart.  “Nuclear Fear:  A History of Images.”  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1988. p. 89.)

June 27, 2011 – In one of the twenty known incidents of the attempted illicit sale of Russian bomb-grade fissile materials in the last 25 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, local police arrested Teodor Chetrus (who was later convicted and sentenced to five years in prison) in the former Soviet city of Chisinau, Moldova.  The buyer, secretly working as an undercover policeman, Ruslan Andropov, deposited $330,000 as an initial payment in exchange for the first of several shipments of highly-enriched uranium totaling 10 kilograms (22 pounds) – enough to power an “implosion-style” nuclear weapon.  Extensive forensic analysis by U.S. and French nuclear scientists have shown that several samples of fissile materials offered up for sale in the past two decades in a number of Western and former Soviet bloc nations have reportedly come from the same stockpile – the Russian nuclear weapons facility known as Mayak Production Association located in Ozersk in the Ural Mountains almost 1,000 miles east of Moscow.  In fact, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Deputy Director Anne Harrington, who testified at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces in April 2015, “Of the roughly 20 documented seizures of nuclear explosive materials since 1992, all have come out of the former Soviet Union.”  Ten years earlier at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, then-CIA Director Porter Goss responded to a query about whether enough fissile materials had vanished from Russian stockpiles to build a nuclear weapon, “There is sufficient material unaccounted for so that it would be possible for those with know-how to construct a nuclear weapon.”  When asked if he could assure the American people that the missing nuclear materials was not in terrorist hands, Goss replied, “No, I can’t make that assurance.” Although Russian President Putin has steadily cut back his nation’s overall nuclear security cooperation with Washington in 2015-16 on the grounds that it no longer needs U.S. financial or technical assistance to safeguard its fissile material stockpile, a recent CIA report reaffirmed a long-held U.S. position that it is unlikely that Russian authorities have been able to recover all of the stolen nuclear materials.  Comments:  Although some significant progress in securing and protecting nuclear materials from theft or diversion has been allegedly confirmed by Russia and other Nuclear Club nations at the four biennial nuclear security summits (2010-16), much more needs to be accomplished in the United Nations and other international fora to prevent the use of fissile materials to unleash weapons of mass destruction whether the materials diverted come from civilian nuclear plants or military nuclear weapons facilities.  In addition to concerns about the resulting mass casualties and short- and long-term radioactive contamination from such a catastrophe, there is also the frightening possibility that in times of crisis such an attack might inadvertently trigger nuclear retaliation or even precipitate a nuclear exchange.   (Source:  Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith.  “The Fuel for a Nuclear Bomb is in the Hands of an Unknown Black Marketeer from Russia, U.S. Officials Say.”  Center for Public Integrity, November 12, 2015 reprinted in Courier:  The Stanley Foundation Newsletter, Number 86, Spring 2016, pp. 7-14.)

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