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Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship, Series #5 Barbara Donachy, Art & Activism: Research, Revelation & Resistance; With Niels Schonbeck, The Science of the Bomb

In Art, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on March 13, 2011 at 3:41 am

Denver artist Barbara Donachy, BFA, MPH, told her personal story of traveling to Europe and there being awakened to the reality of the threat posed by U.S. nuclear missiles deployed in Western Europe and aimed at Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well as the counter-threat posed by Soviet weapons aimed at Western Europe and the U.S. Everywhere she went on this trip, whether in various countries of Europe or later in India and Japan, she met people who kept referring to the incredible danger they sensed because of the nuclear buildup between the two superpowers and the Pres. Ronald Reagan’s statement that a nuclear war was “winnable.” On the last leg of her trip, in Japan, she had a life-changing dream of waking up in the midst of boiling water with a gigantic airplane filling the sky over her head. She knew then that she had to respond to the nuclear threat. This was 1982, at the height of the Nuclear Freeze movement. When she returned to the States she embarked on research to learn as much as she could about nuclear weapons, including the types of weapons and their numbers, where they were made and deployed, and what dangers they posed. Out of this came “Amber Waves of Grain,” an immense work of art that involved 70 plus people creating 31,500 miniature ceramic cones to represent the total number of warheads then in the U.S. arsenal, plus miniature ceramic bombers, submarines and missiles to represent the three delivery systems for strategic nuclear weapons. This work of art showed in a graphic but also beautiful way the dimensions of the nuclear weapons enterprise. On display in several U.S. cities as well as in Berlin, it had hundreds of thousands of viewers. She later did “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” another very large work consisting of ceramic disks that showed the quantity of nuclear waste produced by the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise. She illustrated her talk with pictures of the works being produced, set up or displayed in various locations. A stunning presentation.

Chemist Niels Schonbeck, PhD, who has taught at Metro State in Denver since 1978, gave a brief presentation on “The Science of the Bomb.” He demonstrated the enormity of nuclear firepower at the height of the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup in the mid 1980s by dropping one BB into a metal can, saying the sound of this one BB equaled all the firepower of all countries in WW II, including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. He then poured into the can what seemed like an interminable stream of BBs that represented the total power of the U.S. nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War, the latter dwarfing and overwhelming the firepower of WW II. An incredible demonstration. Niels also showed his scale model of a nuclear warhead, his model copied from one Howard Morland produced in 1979, using only information in the public domain. With the model, Niels could identify the parts made at Rocky Flats — the plutonium pit, the beryllium tamper that surrounds the pit as well as stainless steel and depleted uranium parts. He described components made elsewhere, such as the conventional explosive that is used to compress the plutonium pit and to cause it to go critical and the containers for the hydrogen that when detonated releases the enormous energy of fusion distinctive to a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb. He projected on to the screen some of Howard Morland’s drawings that show the sequence of steps that a nuclear warhead goes through to move from a conventional explosion to a fissile one that triggers the fusion explosion. Again, a quite stunning presentation by a man who very well understands the science of the bomb.

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