August: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

HISTORY, 8 Aug 2016

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

napf_logo-150x150 nuclear age peace foundationAugust 1, 1976 – Protesters occupied part of the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power plant site to protest the dangers of nuclear power.  This was just one of thousands of nonviolent protests or demonstrations staged worldwide over the last sixty years since dangerous nuclear power reactors were introduced into the energy grid.  In addition to high-profile deadly accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, many other frequent leaks, accidents, discharges to water aquifers, rivers and oceans, along with the terrorist targeting threat and proliferation risks make civilian nuclear power plants a completely unreasonable, nontransparent risk to global populations.  Comments:  Although California has taken the lead in declaring itself the first nuclear-free-state after the last nuclear plant in that state at Diablo Canyon is scheduled to shut down permanently in 2025, there remain serious concerns about nuclear safety at many U.S. civilian power plants and military nuclear weapons production facilities (such as the leaking million gallon nuclear waste tanks at Hanford Reservation, Washington), private for-profit nuclear waste dumps in Texas, and even at research reactors across the nation and the planet.  The dramatic decrease in solar energy costs have largely made nuclear  power uneconomical despite the fact that the nuclear lobby, the Obama Administration, and many in Congress continue to support using government-funded taxpayer subsidies to build new reactors such as the Bechtel Corporation’s multi-billion dollar Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar, Tennessee, completed in 2015.  (Sources:  Harold Marcuse.  “Seabrook, NH Plant Occupation Page.”  July 30, 2007 updated Feb. 18, 2012,, Aaron Miguel Cantu.  “New Yorkers Fear Gas Pipeline Near Nuclear Reactors Could Spell Disaster.”  Dec. 3, 2015,… and Fred de Sousa.  “Bechtel Salutes TVA, Work Force on Major Milestone for U.S. Nuclear Plant.”  Aug. 15, 2015, accessed July 21, 2016.)

August 8, 1994 – – 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, security officials at Munich International Airport in Germany arrested individuals who were caught in possession of 363.4 grams of plutonium – enough to make one or more radiological weapons or dirty bombs. 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.  Athough 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.)

August 9, 1945 – Before Japanese leaders had time to assess the tens of thousands of deaths (130,000) and injuries that resulted from the August 6th U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and after the Soviet Union’s August 8th declaration of war against Japan and resulting extensive attack on Japanese-occupied Manchuria (also on August 8), the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the largely civilian population of Nagasaki killing another 70,000 people and injuring tens of thousands more.  U.S. Army Air Force Major Charles Sweeney commanded the B-29 bomber nicknamed “Bock’s Car” which dropped the plutonium-fueled atomic bomb (“Fat Man”) at 11:02 a.m. local time.  The bomb exploded 1,650 feet above the city of Nagasaki with the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of TNT.  Many military and scientific leaders believed the atomic bombings were unnecessary and excessively cruel.   Before the bombings, General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, argued, “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing…”  Years after the war ended, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy publicly stated, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.”  Nevertheless President Truman and his closest advisers disregarded these objections focusing instead on the need to intimidate the Soviet Union in the postwar years by demonstrating this super weapon in time of war. The human impact of these two atomic bomb attacks was horrendous, from the initial super-heated vaporizing blast to other terrifying effects including the impact of thermal radiation on people farther from ground zero.  Other results of the explosions were the shock wave and the short- and long-term biological impacts of the ionizing radiation as well as the long-lasting social and psychological impacts on the surviving habakushas.  In subsequent decades, tens of thousands more Japanese died as a result of debilitating cancers and long-term illnesses inflicted on hundreds of thousands of survivors of the August 1945 atomic bombings. (Sources:  Dan Drollette, Jr. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki:  The Many Retrospectives.”  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Aug. 8, 2014., Gar Alperovitz.  “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb:  And the Architecture of An American Myth.”  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, pp. 3-6, 15, 672, and Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.  “The Untold History of the United States.”  New York:  Gallery Books, 2012.)

August 15, 1984 – A Vladivostok-based Soviet army unit was reportedly issued a coded message placing units on a war-footing but the order was withdrawn a short time later.  This followed a joking reference the previous day by President Ronald Reagan that he had signed legislation “outlawing the Soviet Union,” adding that, “We begin bombing in five minutes.”  Comments: President Reagan unwisely made this radio gaffe despite serving for over three years as President and after holding the office of Governor of California.   Although he reportedly was emotionally scarred by the November 20, 1983 ABC-TV dramatization of a nuclear war (“The Day After”), with these reckless comments, he nevertheless made light of a possible nuclear world war.  Consider the tasteless jokes, the off-the-cuff or made-in-anger rash public comments, tweets, and unabashedly reckless and/or inaccurate statements made over the last few decades by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, a person who has never in his entire life served the public interest in any political office.  Now imagine this individual as Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. armed forces with access to the Nuclear Codes.  Objectively it appears certain that the ongoing risks of accidental, unintentional, inadvertent, or even intentional nuclear war will increase if Donald Trump is elected the 45th President of the United States.  While the Democratic Presidential candidate supports spending $1 trillion over the next thirty years to modernize and expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal and laboratory complex and has made a few objectionable nuclear threats against Iran, the risks of nuclear war increasing are not nearly as high with Hillary Clinton as President as compared to Donald Trump.  (Source:  “Soviet War Alert in August Reported by Japanese Newspaper.”  The Baltimore Sun.  Oct. 2, 1984, p. 4.)

August 20, 2010 – In a Scientific American article titled, “Laying the Odds on the Apocalypse,” former National Security Agency director Admiral Robert Inman estimated that there was a one in thirty chance of a global thermonuclear war in the next decade in which hundreds of millions of people would die.  An even less optimistic assessment by MIT Professor of Cryptography and Information Theory, Dr. Martin Hellman, placed the odds of such a war at ten percent!  Comments:  Mainstream news media and politicians, especially since the Cold War ended in 1991, predominantly downgrade the odds of a nuclear war and charge those expressing concerns about its likelihood as appeasers or unrealistic peaceniks, but serious thinkers including historians, political scientists, philosophers, and other scientists clearly recognize that time is not on humanity’s side in regards to the nuclear threat.  John Scales Avery, a theoretical chemist and historian of science, Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist, and Associate Professor of Quantum Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen makes a powerful argument along these lines, “The elimination of nuclear weapons is a life or death question.  We can see this most clearly when we look far ahead.  Suppose that each year, there is a certain finite chance of a nuclear catastrophe, let us say two percent.  Then in a century, the chance of survival will be 13.5 percent, and in two centuries, 1.8 percent, in three centuries, 0.25 percent, in four centuries, there would be only a 0.034 percent chance of survival and so on.  Over many centuries, the chance of survival would shrink almost to zero.  Thus, by looking at the long-term future, we can clearly see that if nuclear weapons are not entirely eliminated, civilization will not survive.”

August 27, 2016 – Approximate date that the initial eight-week long advertising campaign (which began in late June) on 14 King County Metro Transit buses by the local peace group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action publicizing the U.S. Navy’s construction of a new $294 million taxpayer-funded underground nuclear storage complex located just 20 miles west of the city of Seattle will end.  This massive facility will eclipse a similar base with six nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) located at Kings Bay in Georgia which houses the SWFLANT (Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic) storage facility.  The new Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) and the eight Ohio-class SSBNs with Trident II nuclear-armed missiles, homeported at the adjacent Bangor Submarine Base, are located just a few miles outside downtown Seattle.  The SWFPAC and the locally based submarines are thought to store more than 1,300 nuclear warheads with a combined explosive power equal to more than 14,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.  After the New START Treaty requires a downsizing of the submarine missile tubes from 24 to 20, the warhead total will drop to about a thousand.  Nevertheless, this Naval Base Kitsap Complex (the SWFPAC and the Bangor Submarine Base) will remain the largest and most important nuclear weapons base in the U.S. in the ensuring decades.  Comments:  A growing citizen’s movement to substantially reduce and make significant progress toward zeroing out global nuclear arsenals is not only an American phenomenon but a planet-wide one as well.  The newly-elected 45th President of the U.S. will be heavily pressured to not only enforce existing arms control agreements such as the New START Treaty but to push harder for even greater multilateral, bilateral, and unilateral actions that will:  (1) De-alert the hair-trigger alert status of U.S., Russian, Chinese and other nuclear arsenals including Israel’s; (2) Declare a No-First-Use Policy; (3) Ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; (4) Reduce Overseas Basing of Military Forces; (5) Phase-Out Global Nuclear Power By 2030; and enact other changes to realize a truly global peace dividend that was never fully implemented after the Cold War ended in 1991. (Source: Hans M. Kristensen. “Navy Builds Underground Nuclear Weapons Storage Facility; Seattle Buses Carry Warning.” Federation of American Scientists.  June 27, 2016, accessed July 21, 2016.)

August 29, 2007 – Six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onboard a B-52 bomber named “Doom 99” at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota and flown 1,500 miles to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana and offloaded where they sat unguarded on the tarmac for nine hours.  This incident violated a long-standing rule that live nuclear weapons should not overfly U.S. territory.  Another serious violation of security protocols was the fact that no one noticed the weapons were missing for 36 hours or more.  A February 2008 Defense Science Board report on the incident concluded that investigators found “a basic lack of understanding on the safety and authorization required to handle nuclear weapons.”   Comments:  Many of the thousands of serious violations of security protocols, accidents, and other nuclear weapons incidents involving all nine nuclear weapons states still remain partially or completely classified and hidden from public scrutiny.  These near-nuclear catastrophes provide an additional justification for reducing dramatically and eventually eliminating global nuclear weapons arsenals.  (Sources: Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013 and U.S. Department of Defense.  Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.  “The Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapon Surety:  Report on the Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons.” February 2008.  accessed July 23, 2016.)

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