January 18, 2018
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January: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

by Jeffrey W. Mason

January 1, 1947 – President Harry Truman, who ordered the U.S. Army Air Force to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 17 months previously, signed legislation on this date transferring the nation’s supply of nuclear bombs and production facilities to a new civilian agency – the Atomic Energy Commission headed by David Lilienthal.  The idea for the AEC came from Manhattan Project scientists, engineers, and nuclear physicists who had lobbied Congress to take the control of nuclear weapons away from Pentagon commanders.  Comments:  Unfortunately, another critical idea which would have internationalized the development and possession of nuclear weapons, the Baruch Plan, did not materialize in the postwar world.  Despite the valuable precedent of civilian control of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Club members today continue to reject calls to dramatically reduce and eliminate these doomsday devices as an affront to their national sovereignty and ironically they argue that such moves will actually increase the risk of war.  Meanwhile a growing majority of global citizenry vehemently disagree with these assertions and continue to push for a world without nuclear weapons.  Perhaps Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said it best, “It is my firm belief that the infinite and uncontrollable fury of nuclear weapons should never be held in the hands of any mere mortal ever again, for any reason.” (Source:  Craig Nelson. “The Age of Radiance.” New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2014, p. 229.)

January 3, 1976 – As part of the Operation Anvil series of 19 underground nuclear test blasts at the Nevada Test Site, a test designated Muenster was conducted on this date at the bottom of a nearly mile deep shaft (4,759 feet).  This “Intermediate” magnitude test had an estimated yield of 160 kilotons, more than ten times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Comments:  Although underground nuclear tests, mandated by the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, were obviously not as harmful as earlier atmospheric tests, contamination of underground water and mineral resources was a long-term risk as well as the possibility of the accidental venting of radioactive elements into the atmosphere which occurred on Dec.18, 1970 during the Baneberry ten kiloton test at the Nevada Test Site.  Nevertheless, the testing of over 2,050 nuclear devices over the last seven decades by nine nuclear weapons states has inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to global populations especially native peoples and veterans who participated in observing tests at a relatively close range.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague large numbers of people due to nuclear testing.  (Source:  Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig.  “Nuclear Weapons Databook:  Volume II, Appendix B.” National Resources Defense Council, Inc. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987, p. 171.)

January 11, 2012 – At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and Dr. Page Stoutland, Vice President for Nuclear Materials Security at NTI, unveiled the first-ever Nuclear Materials Security Index of Nations, comparing security conditions on a country-by-country basis in 176 nations.  Prepared with the assistance of The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Index’s function was to persuade nations to strengthen nuclear security and reduce risks of thefts, diversions, and accidents.  On Jan.14, 2016 the third edition of the NTI Index was released assessing security conditions in 24 nations with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials.  An additional 152 countries with less than one kilogram of such materials or none at all were also assessed.  This “theft ranking” was included in the first and second editions of The Index in 2012 and 2014, respectively.  The 2016 NTI Index also examined a third set of nations, 45 in all, in a new “sabotage ranking” which assessed the risk of an act of sabotage or terrorism against a nuclear facility on the same or larger scale as the radioactive contamination seen in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.  Comments:  It is critical that the U.S., the other eight nuclear weapons states, and other nations with nuclear capabilities and fissile material inventories lift the heavy veil of secrecy and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other global nongovernmental entities such NTI to prevent proliferation and nuclear terrorism.  In future decades, as nuclear weapons and fissile materials inventories are dramatically reduced, such cooperation and transparency will be essential in moving toward global nuclear abolition.  (Source:  Nuclear Threat Initiative.  “Nuclear Security Index:  Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability, and Action.”  http://www.nti.org/about/projects/nti-index/ accessed Dec. 19, 2017.)

January 20, 2017 – Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States despite serious concerns expressed during and after the election campaign that either he and/or his campaign officials had suspicious ties to Russian governmental representatives.  In addition to multiple allegations of criminal misconduct going back decades (including sexual harassment/assault, violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution, and conflict of interest charges tied to his refusal to release his tax returns to the American people), before and after taking the oath of office, countless articles and media stories (from mostly non-mainstream media sources) expressed concerns about the mental stability of one of the oldest persons to ever serve as President – he turned 71 years of age on June 14, 2017.  Recently 27 psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health professionals, led by Professor Bandy Lee, released a book on October 3, 2017 titled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which concluded that, based on the speech, behavior, and daily tweets of the President over the long course of his public life, he is “a serious danger to the country and the world.”  They continued, “He places the country at grave risk of involving it in a war and of undermining democracy itself because of his pathological narcissism and sociopathy.”  Comments:  Along with his recent history of unwise, belligerent, and sometimes contradictory statements about nuclear weapons and his rants against Kim Jong-un and the North Korean regime, taken with the clear knowledge that he might do the unthinkable and press the nuclear button, sending a nuclear holocaust impacting not only North Korea or Iran but also many neighboring nations, including our allies, or other unknown, unpredictable targets, President Trump represents one of the most serious threats to world peace in this century and ultimately to the extremely fragile seven-decade old global nuclear deterrent system since 1945!  Unfortunately, efforts to convince him to resign, to impeach him, or to legally remove him from power appear as unlikely as does the milder action of persuading him to seek immediate psychotherapy.  But, if the global community and the largest majority of Americans possible redouble their efforts, there is increasing optimism that something can be done to prevent breaking the nuclear threshold and increasing the risk of a purposeful, accidental, or unintentional nuclear Armageddon.  Let us hope that in the President’s January 30, 2018 State of the Union Address he announces a clearly peaceful alternative to his previous nuclear saber rattling with North Korea and Iran and the beginning of the end of a renewed Cold War II and nuclear arms race with Russia.  (Sources: Multiple mainstream and alternative news media websites and articles.)

January 24, 1961 – As part of the 24-hour Operation Coverall U.S. Strategic Air Command plan, consistent with the first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), to always have one-third of the strategic bomber fleet airborne in order to have available a nuclear strike option against the Soviet Union and its allies, a B-52G Stratofortress bomber carrying two 2.5 megaton Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs left Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.  When a wing fuel tank leak was detected, the bomber headed back to base but the plane caught fire, exploded in mid-air, and crashed 12 miles north of the airbase near the town of  Goldsboro killing three of the eight-man crew and releasing the two hydrogen bombs from the plane’s payload bay.  Three of the arming devices on one of the bombs activated causing it to trigger the arming mechanisms and deploy a 100-foot diameter retardation parachute which allowed that bomb to hit the ground with little damage.   However, only one of six arming safety devices prevented the warhead from detonating in a nuclear explosion.  The second bomb plunged into a muddy field at about 700 miles-per-hour and disintegrated – although the tritium bottle and plutonium core were later partially recovered from 20 feet underground.  This bomb was in the “armed” setting because of the impact of the crash.  U.S. government reports, including a declassified report from Sandia National Laboratories published by the National Security Archive on June 9, 2014, concluded that the same safety switch involved in this 1961 crash had also failed in other incidents.  In a related development, Eric Schlosser’s 2013 book “Command and Control” presented a declassified 1969 document which quoted Parker F. Jones, a nuclear safety supervisor at Sandia National Laboratories, who said that, “One simple dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe.”  Comments:  If one or both of these multi-megaton hydrogen bombs had exploded four days into the Kennedy Administration, a nuclear war might have inadvertently been triggered.  If not, the U.S. still would have suffered an unprecedented nuclear disaster hundreds of times more significant than the Hiroshima bombing.  With hundreds of thousands killed within a zone of 17 miles and similar numbers injured, millions more people would have been irradiated as prevailing winds would have sent a huge radioactive cloud hundreds of miles northeast to the nation’s capital and on to New York City leaving a large, permanent evacuation zone in and around what some experts claim would have become a new Bay of North Carolina.  Comments:  Many of the hundreds, if not thousands of nuclear accidents 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 nuclear weapons arsenals.  (Sources:  Eric Schlosser. “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013, William Burr.  “The Nuclear Vault” National Security Archive at The George Washington University. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb475/ and “1961 Goldsboro B-52 Crash.”  Military Wiki. http://wikia.com/wiki/1961_Goldsboro_B-52_crash both accessed Dec.19, 2017.)

January 31, 1935 – Birthdate of Kenzaburo Oe, a renowned Japanese author and winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.  This contemporary novelist, short story writer, and essayist has long dealt with social, political, and philosophical issues including social nonconformist theory, existentialism, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power.  Born in Ose, a village now in Uchiko, Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku, he is a pacifist and historian who revealed that Japanese military officers had coerced many Okinawan civilians into committing suicide during the Allied invasion of that island in 1945.  He also authored books and articles on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as on Article 9, the War Renunciation clause of the Japanese Constitution.  After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, he urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to rethink the restart of Japanese nuclear reactors and abandon nuclear energy entirely.  In January 2014 he wrote that, “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories.  It is a catastrophe more dramatic than natural disasters because it’s man-made.  To repeat it by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”  (Sources:  Many mainstream and alternative news media articles and Akira Tashiro. “Japan: Finally No to Nuclear Power.”  The Progressivehttp://progressive.org/dispatches/japan-finally-nuclear-power accessed Dec. 19, 2017.)

Originally appeared on Wagingpeace.org

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