Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Wrongheaded complaints

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 8:58 am

On September 2, 2015, the Boulder Daily Camera published an article of mine entitled “Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats.” It is available on this blog at https://leroymoore.wordpress.com/category/nuclear-guardianship/ My article said public access to Rocky Flats should be prohibited because visiting the site (now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) could expose one to plutonium remaining in the environment at the site, possibly wrecking one’s health. Plutonium is highly toxic for roughly 500,000 years. Tiny particles can be inhaled. Keeping the site closed will help protect wholly innocent people.

Here I will comment on two responses to my article that the Camera published. The first, by Dean Rundle, former Manager of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, challenged my analysis of public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the Refuge in 2004. It shows that 81% of those commenting opposed public access at the Wildlife Refuge. Rundle dismisses this number because many of these people signed a petition and their identity is unknown. He says if one counts only local identifiable people, the division was about half for and half against public access. This is wishful thinking. Had he actually analyzed the comments of only identifiable individuals, he would have found that 64% opposed public access and 32% — or exactly half – favored it. My analysis is on line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_a9cff9a4c30b4ac5bbfa27e93b91a9bf.pdf

The second response was written Reed Bailey, a former Rocky Flats worker. He says I have never “written a peer reviewed research paper on the physical effects of radiation on the human body, or any other scientific subject.” In fact, I published two peer reviewed articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on in 2002 on setting standards for permissible exposure to radiation, the other in 2005 on the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup. I was co-author with two colleagues of a paper on radiation exposure standards published in 2004 in Health Physics. A further peer-reviewed article by me, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” appeared in Tortured Science (2012). I also was the principal author of the Citizens Guide to Rocky Flats (1992). Most of these writings can be found on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org  In addition to actual publications, for four years I was a member of two committees of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the principal U.S. organization that studies radiation health effects and makes recommendations regarding standards for permissible exposure to radiation.

Bailey also in effect accused me of lying when I mentioned a Columbia University study showing that taking a single plutonium particle into a lung could result in physical harm. In fact, there were two studies done by a team headed by Tom K. Hei of Columbia, both published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 and 2001. Both refer to possible harm, one from direct exposure to a single plutonium particle, the other from indirect exposure. Were Mr. Bailey more careful, he would have found what could be found. Instead he spoke from ignorance.

Plutonium at Rocky Flats: Who is protected?

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 12:45 am

(Talk given at Naropa University, July 30, 2015)

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge came into existence in 2006 after completion of the Superfund cleanup at the nuclear weapons plant site. The Department of Energy transferred almost three-quarters of the roughly 10-square-mile Rocky Flats site to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that would manage the Refuge. Recent additions to the Refuge bring its size to 9.75 square miles. The Refuge surrounds the former industrial area of slightly more than 2 square miles which has been retained by the DOE (Figure 1).

Today I will address one question about Rocky Flats: Who is protected by the Superfund cleanup completed in 2005? Stated differently, who did the government agencies responsible for the cleanup decide to protect? Did they pick the right person?

I invite you to consider ten truths regarding the cleanup done at Rocky Flats:

  1. Of all the contaminants released into the environment from the Rocky Flats plant when it was operating, plutonium-239 is of greatest concern, because it is highly toxic, endangers human health and was repeatedly dusted across the whole site.[1]
  2. Those responsible for the cleanup knowingly left some plutonium-239 in the environment when the cleanup was finished.[2]
  3. The plutonium left behind is in the form of particles too small to see.[3]
  4. Though plutonium particles may be too small to see they are not too small to do harm, especially if blown about by the winds common at Rocky Flats.
  5. The worst way to be exposed to plutonium – and also the easiest way – is to inhale one or more of these tiny particles.
  6. If you inhale plutonium or take it into your body through an open wound it is likely to lodge within your body; onthis happens, the plutonium will constantly irradiate surrounding cells in a very small area for the rest of your life,
  7. This constant irradiation may in time lead to cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm to future generations.[4]
  8. Taking only one particle of plutonium into your body may produce the bad health-effects just mentioned.[5]
  9. Plutonium in soil does not stay in place; it migrates. From time to time tiny particles will be brought to the surface where they can be picked up by the wind.[6]
  10. Plutonium-239 in the environment is not a temporary problem, because it remains radioactive for a quarter-million years, or roughly 20 times the 12,000 years of recorded human history. Rocky Flats, thus, is a local hazard forever.

If you have lived in the area for several years and have been paying attention, you already know some or all of these truths. If so, you didn’t learn them not from federal and state agencies responsible for Rocky Flats. You learned from people who, like yourself, were paying attention. If, on the other hand, these truths are new to you, it’s not too late to join those paying attention.

As for personnel at the government agencies responsible for Rocky Flats, most of them say and do what others in the government strata say and do. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to go with the flow. They can’t go against the current. Collectively, they’re out of touch with reality.

A crucial example of their lack of realism is how they handled the Superfund cleanup. Superfund is a federal program to ensure that contaminated industrial sites are not simply abandoned when a plant is shut down but are cleaned up. When production ended at Rocky Flats, the site was regarded as one of the most contaminated in the country. Superfund requires that the cleanup of a given site protect future people from exposure to toxins that remain in the environment.

To do this, those responsible for a cleanup must identify the “reasonably maximally exposed individual.” The idea is that if you know who can reasonably be expected to be the most exposed individual at a site and the cleanup protects this person, others who would receive less exposure will be protected. At Rocky Flats, those responsible for the cleanup – DOE, EPA and CDPHE – together decided that the “maximally exposed individual” would be a wildlife refuge worker, a person who works outdoors at the site for 20 hours a week for 30 years.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, intends eventually to open the Refuge for public recreation. Allowing public access would very likely mean radiation exposure to wholly innocent people. The agencies responsible for the cleanup regard this as an acceptable risk, since the occasional visitor to the Refuge would be at the site only a fraction of the time spent there by the wildlife refuge worker. In theory, if the refuge worker would be protected, anyone who simply visits the refuge would also be protected.

The refuge worker scenario also had an economic aspect. Cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker would cost far less than cleaning it to protect, for example, someone living on the site. Turning most of the site into a wildlife refuge and protecting a wildlife refuge worker, thus, became the operating rationale for a quicker and cheaper Rocky Flats cleanup.

But cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker was unrealistic. It failed to take into account the toxicity and long half-life of the plutonium-239 left in the environment. When the Refuge is gone, when fences fall and memories fade and people move onto the site, who will be protected? Steve Gunderson of CDPHE said in a public meeting that the Rocky Flats cleanup was meant to take care of things for 200 years. But deciding to use the wildlife-refuge-worker scenario to establish the site’s legally binding cleanup standards in effect consigns some people to a slow and untimely death. This is a crime against humanity for which there is no statute of limitation. If Superfund law literally requires protection of the “maximally exposed individual,” shouldn’t the legality of the Rocky Flats decision be challenged in court?

An alternative was proposed. In 2001 the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research proposed a cleanup that would protect a farming family that lives on what is now the Rocky Flats site from birth to death, generation after generation, eats only food grown there and drinks local water. This proposal was realistic about the future, but it was rejected by the powers that be. They favored the cheaper, quicker, shortsighted cleanup that left us with a permanent danger.

What should be done? The Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship came into being to deal with questions like this. Some day perhaps the cleanup can be redone. But for now, the most straightforward move is to keep the Rocky Flats site closed to the public. We plan soon to ask Congress to enact legislation that will keep all DOE nuclear weapons production sites that undergo Superfund cleanup closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup. This would save some from being exposed to radiation. And it would provide time for all of us to find better solutions to the problem of plutonium in the environment. In the words of Terry Tempest Williams, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”

[1] Harvey Nichols, a specialist on airborne pollen, was hired by the federal government in 1974 to study airborne particles at Rocky Flats. He found that routine operations at the plant deposited “tens of billions of plutonium particles per acre” across the site and that the air monitors around the site were deficient and did not measure what was being released. Nichols, Assessment of the Official Air Sampling Equipment at Rocky Flats during 1974 to 1976, 2-18-12.

[2] Final revisions of the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement allowed the following amounts of plutonium to remain in soil after the cleanup (plutonium is measured in picocuries per gram of soil, abbreviated as pCi/g. A picocurie is a measure of radiation.

  • Top 3 feet of soil: up to 50 pCi/g allowed to remain in soil.
  • Soil 3 to 6 feet below the surface: 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g allowed to remain, the amount dependent on the size of the contaminated area.
  • Soil 6 or more feet below the surface: no limit on amount of plutonium that may remain in soil.

Cleanup of plutonium elsewhere was more protective, ranging from a low of 8 pCi/g at Fort Dix, NJ, to 40 pCi/g at Enewetak Atoll bomb test site, with 200 pCi/g at a small portion of Nevada Test Site, all without respect to depth. For another comparison, average background deposit of plutonium from global fallout locally is 0.04 pCi/g. The 50 pCi/g allowed in top 3 feet is 1,250 times 0.04 pCi/g; 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g is 25,000 to 175,000 times 0.04 pCi/g. Plutonium is not a part of natural background radiation. Natural background has been altered globally by the addition of fallout of plutonium and other radionuclides from the human activity of detonation of nuclear bombs.

[3] Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that the average size of plutonium particles released in routine operations at Rocky Flats was 0.045 microns. The average size of a human hair is 50 microns. Biggs, , Airborne Emissions and Monitoring of Plutonium from Rocky Flats (March 17, 2011).

[4] Herman J. Muller received the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that radiation produced genetic mutations. He later revealed that exposure to a very low level of radiation will eventually harm and prove lethal to future generations. This could result in extinction of the human species. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1254569/?page=9

[5] Tom K. Hei and colleagues at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium alpha particle induces mutations in mammal cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher dose exposures. “These data provide direct evidence that a single alpha particle traversing a nucleus will have a high probability of resulting in a mutation and highlight the need for radiation protection at low doses.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 94, April 1997, pp. 3765-3770.

[6] In 1995 environmental engineer Iggy Litaor discovered rapid migration of plutonium in subsurface soil at Rocky Flats. In 1996 ecologist Shawn Smallwood identified 18 species of burrowing animals on the Rocky Flats site that dig down to as much as 16 feet and can bring soil and their contents, including plutonium, to the surface. For full discussion, see Moore, “Science compromised in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.” On line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_1ae76276c5814bf8aa21dc530da95857.pdf

Pope Francis supports the Iran deal as a step toward nuclear abolition

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on September 17, 2015 at 7:44 am

WASHINGTON — The Vatican endorsed the Iran nuclear accord Monday as a positive step towards its broader goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

“We hope that the full implementation of [the nuclear deal] will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme under the [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and will be a definitive step toward greater stability and security in the region,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, said in a statement delivered at the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna.

“The way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation,” he said, a possible allusion to opponents of the nuclear agreement who have called for military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites.

Pope Francis’ vote of confidence for the Iran nuclear deal comes the week before he is scheduled to visit Washington, where he will address a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

After a two-month debate, Republican lawmakers — all of whom opposed the nuclear accord — lost their fight last week to block the implementation of the agreement. Faced with defeat, Republicans have zeroed in on a set of confidential agreements between Iran and the IAEA, which detail the agency’s process for investigating possible past nuclear weapons development sites in the country.

House Republicans voted last week to pass a nonbinding resolution charging President Barack Obama with violating the law for failing to provide lawmakers with the text of confidential documents that only Iran and the IAEA are privy to. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is pushing to cut off funding to the IAEA until Congress gets copies of the agency’s secret agreements.

Without specifically targeting U.S. lawmakers, Gallagher noted on Monday that the success of the Iran nuclear accord depends on the international community’s willingness to implement the deal and the IAEA’s ability to hold Iran accountable to its obligations to curtail its nuclear activity.

“It is clear that the agreement requires further efforts and commitment by all the parties involved in order for it to bear fruit,” Gallagher said. “For its part, the IAEA’s indispensable role in nuclear safety and waste disposal, verification and monitoring will become ever more important as the use of peaceful nuclear energy expands and as the world moves toward nuclear disarmament.”

The distance between Pope Francis and the GOP on the Iran deal is not the only issue that could make Republicans squirm during the upcoming papal address. The pope is likely to push for greater action on climate change and call on lawmakers to address the rampant economic inequality in the U.S. But the Pope’s opposition to abortion could also bolster Republicans, particularly the 28 men who have vowed to shut down the government before allowing federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers have promised to keep partisan politics under wraps during the papal address and refrain from cheering the Pope for statements that reinforce their political preferences.

In addition to expressing support for the diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program, the Vatican pushed nuclear weapons states to recognize their own responsibility to downsize their arsenal.

“The discriminatory nature of the NPT is well known. The status quo is unsustainable and undesirable,” Gallagher said, referring to the 1968 treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT allows members to maintain civil nuclear programs, but requires states that have nuclear weapons to work towards disarmament and prohibits other states from developing weapons. Iran and India have charged in the past that the treaty is inconsistently implemented, noting that the U.S. and Russia have been slow to downsize their massive nuclear arsenals.

“Just as wealthy nations have incurred an ‘ecological debt’ that demands more from them in addressing the environmental crisis, nuclear weapons states have incurred a nuclear debt,” Gallagher said. “Because of the risks their nuclear arsenals pose to the world, nuclear weapons states bear a heavy moral burden to ensure that their nuclear weapons are never used and to reduce their stocks substantially while taking the lead in negotiating a nuclear ban.”

Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 4, 2015 at 5:27 am

Prohibit public access to Rocky Flats

By LeRoy Moore

Boulder Daily Camera, September 2, 2025


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) did a “soft opening” to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. One can now join a group of 10 or fewer for a three-mile hike to see plants, wildlife and birds. To the aware public, the “soft opening” is an insult. It catches us unawares and preempts public input before the full opening mentioned in official documents. It flies in the face of broad opposition to public access expressed in 2004 when FWS sought public comments on its Environmental Impact Statement for the future refuge. Eighty-one percent of commenting parties opposed public access.

Refuge visitors could be exposed to radioactive plutonium-239 in the environment at the refuge and the Department of Energy (DOE) land that surrounds it. The two-square-mile DOE plot is the former industrial area of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, which for 37 years produced the explosive plutonium core of nuclear warheads. Fires, accidents and routine operations released billions of tiny, highly toxic particles of plutonium-239 into the environment.

For reasons known to the concerned public, FWS should not allow public access to the refuge — reasons also known to officials at DOE and the agencies that regulated the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup: the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). DOE has routinely denied the scientific and medical reality at Rocky Flats. EPA and CDPHE went along, perhaps because they are paid by DOE to regulate DOE, a little noticed conflict of interest.

Key reasons for prohibiting public access to the refuge:

  • Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,110 years, is present in the environment at Rocky Flats in the form of particles too small to see.
  • The radiation from plutonium cannot penetrate skin, but if plutonium is inhaled or otherwise internalized it lodges in the body and constantly irradiates nearby tissue, endangering one’s health.
  • Columbia University researchers found that a single particle of plutonium taken into the body induces genetic mutations that may produce cancer or other ailments.
  • Those responsible for the cleanup assumed plutonium left in soil would remain in place, despite Dr. Iggy Litaor’s discovery in 1995 that plutonium migrates during rain events and Dr. Shawn Smallwood’s finding in 1996 that burrowing animals bring plutonium to the surface, where it can be redistributed by the wind common at Rocky Flats.
  • Plutonium on DOE land will migrate onto the refuge. This probably happened in the September 2013 flood, but DOE’s streambed monitors failed during the storm, leaving us in the dark about whether and how far the plutonium traveled. Sheet flooding, present in 2013, has never been monitored at Rocky Flats.
  • The Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup was designed to protect a wildlife refuge worker. But plutonium will far outlive the refuge. The greatest harm will be to future generations.
  • Genetic effects of plutonium on wildlife are poorly understood. There have been no genetic studies of wildlife at Rocky Flats.
  • The FBI raided Rocky Flats in 1989 to collect evidence of environmental law-breaking at the site. The documents were sealed. EPA and CDPHE were given the opportunity to review the evidence during the cleanup, but they declined. In the raid EPA took environmental samples that have never been revealed.
  • Although children are especially vulnerable to radiation, FWS expects them at the refuge.

Of the more than 600 national wildlife refuges, Rocky Flats is the only one on the radioactive site of a former nuclear weapons factory. To FWS, this doesn’t matter, as evidenced by the “soft opening.”

In the face of all this uncertainty, biology professor Harvey Nichols and former county commissioner Paul Danish generated a very sensible proposal. Congress should enact legislation requiring that all DOE nuclear weapons sites that undergo Superfund cleanup remain closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup.

Enactment of this proposal would protect the innocent and bring praise for supporting legislators. It would introduce into the nuclear realm the precautionary principle that where uncertainty regarding harm to public health and environmental integrity exists, as it does at Rocky Flats, caution should prevail over carelessness. People of future generations will be grateful. I strongly suggest that our current state and congressional delegations support this concept. By the time a site has been closed for two-and-a-half centuries, whether visiting it poses a danger or not should be known. Any questionable site could be kept closed permanently.


LeRoy Moore works with the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

Will Pope Francis call for Nuclear Abolition?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 30, 2015 at 2:19 am

  • Women participate in a memorial ceremony in Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, the 70th anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Ira Helfand hopes Pope Francis will call for the abolition of all nuclear weapons when he addresses Congress in September and Helfand has reason for cautious optimism.

The Springfield, Mass., physician is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. It was awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1985 “for spreading authoritative information and raising awareness of the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war.”

Helfand has worked for years to raise consciousness regarding the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear war. In this context, he and John Pastore, a Boston cardiologist, sat down with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley in June to share details of recent studies that show even a limited nuclear exchange would lead to the starvation of some 2 billion people. By far, the greatest impact of such a nuclear exchange would be on the poorest people of the planet.

Helfand and Pastore said that O’Malley, taken by the findings, said he would pass the information on to Francis whom he was to meet in Rome three days later.

Pastore, a Catholic who has focused on eliminating nuclear weapons his entire adult life, explained: “We are trying to re-introduce moral considerations into the nuclear weapons discussions. They’re almost always viewed strictly as military or technical challenges. But nuclear weapons have enormous moral dimensions. We know this and so does Pope Francis.”

Pastore acknowledges that Francis has made economic disparities and climate change as his top social justice concerns. “Nuclear weapons have to do with both,” he said.

While the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a non-partisan federation of national medical groups in 63 countries, has attempted to draw attention to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear war, it was in 2012 and 2013 that new climate studies showed that even a limited nuclear exchange, such as one involving 100 relatively small devices between India and Pakistan, would have enormous climate change consequences. Helfand took the conclusions of these studies and put together a report his group has spread across the globe. It is called “Nuclear Famine.”

It takes the work of several peer-reviewed studies done by atmospheric scientists Alan Robock of Rutgers University, Brian Toon of University of Colorado-Boulder, and Richard Turco of University of California, Los Angeles, who have found that if India and Pakistan each exchanged fifty 15 kiloton-size bombs — a tiny fraction of the size of the warheads in the U.S. and Russian arsenals — they would create immense firestorms that would quickly envelope the planet with layers of dense stratospheric smoke.

That black smoke would continue to circle the earth and remain in the stratosphere for a decade or more. It would block and prevent a large fraction of sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. The sharp reduction of warming sunlight would shorten growing seasons that would reduce food crops, in turn, causing the starvation of up to 2 billion people, mainly those living in the poorest counties.

“The report underscores the urgent need to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a global agreement to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war,” Helfand toldNCR.

Helfand spoke in December 2014 in Rome at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Sitting on stage next to the Dalai Lama and other laureates, he called the consequences of even a limited nuclear exchange “catastrophic.”

Any nuclear exchange involving the major nuclear weapons holding nations, he told the laureates, would send global temperatures plummeting.

“There would not be a frost-free day in the northern hemisphere,” he said. “These conditions have not existed on the planet for the past 18,000 years. Food production would stop and the vast majority of the human race would starve to death. It is possible we would become extinct as a species. This is not some nightmare I have cooked up. This is a danger we face every day that these weapons continue to exist sitting on missiles that can be launched in a few minutes time.”

Describing the impact of a limited nuclear exchange, Helfand told NCR: “This would not be the end of the human species, but it would be the end of civilization as we know it. No civilization has withstood a shock of this magnitude.”

He spoke of his frustrations to wake up the nation to pressing nuclear war issues. He said the “Nuclear Famine” report has faced a virtual “media blackout.”

“If the press talks about nuclear weapons at all, it’s only in the context of Iran and North Korea. I think this is an enormous disrespect to the public.”

“O’Malley appeared very concerned,” Helfand said. “The cardinal said he would return to Rome three days later and would immediately share the information with Pope Francis.”

That’s why Helfand and Pastore are pleased — and moderately hopeful — that Francis will say something about nuclear weapons while in the U.S.

Helfand, Pastore and Robock told NCR they think Francis can make a decisive difference in waking up the American public to the nuclear dangers.

Helfand acknowledges treaties have reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the global arsenals to around 16,000 warheads. Rather than being assured by this, he expresses worry that disarmament efforts have stalled and the nuclear weapons holding nations are moving ahead to modernize their weapons and weapon delivery systems.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “These weapons can never be used. To use them would mean assured self-destruction.”

Robock, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, told NCR that his research reaffirmed his belief that nuclear weapons pose the “greatest and most immediate threat to humanity.”

“As long as we have these weapons they can be used by some irrational person, by some terrorist, by miscalculation, or by accident,” he said. “The threat is real. Only by abolishing them can we rid ourselves of this threat.”

The Vatican has long opposed nuclear weapons, but Francis has made their abolition a key element in his global social concerns.

In December 2014, the Vatican submitted a paper at a conference in Vienna, calling for total nuclear disarmament.

In January, addressing the Vatican diplomatic corps, Francis said nuclear disarmament and combating climate change are at the top of his diplomatic agenda. He has prayed the Iran nuclear weapons agreement would be “a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

In August, speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Francis recalled the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago. He said those events still arouse “horror and revulsion” worldwide, adding they serve “as a lasting warning for humanity to reject forever war and ban nuclear weapons.”

Pastore called Francis’ appearance before Congress Sept. 24 an “enormous opportunity,” saying the pontiff can take the issue of nuclear weapons from the level of “an often bloodless academic argument,” to the level of “immediate, pressing moral concern. Once Catholics in the parishes and others wake up, only then can there be a change of course of public policy.”

[Thomas C. Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at tfox@ncronline.org.]

Marshall Islands seek nuclear abolition

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 26, 2015 at 7:47 am

Read Robert Koehler’s inspiring article:  http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/08/13/wedge-nuclear-disarmament

Youth in Afghanistan challenge all on the globe to abolish war

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Peace on August 17, 2015 at 10:05 pm

The group #Enough invites us to agree to  The People’s Agreement to Abolish War

Mikhail Gorbachev on Nuclear Weapons: 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 17, 2015 at 2:01 am

Gprbachev , as interviewed by Der Speigel, August 6, 2015. See http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/gorbachev-calls-for-nuclear-free-world-on-hiroshima-day-a-1046900-druck.html

The real nuclear danger isn’t Iran or North Korea

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 8, 2015 at 3:11 am


The real nuclear danger isn’t Iran or North Korea

Analysis: The most dangerous nuclear nations are the 
U.S. and Russia, the ones with nearly all of the weapons

by Joe Cirincione, Al-Jazeera, August 4, 2015


Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” — President John F. Kennedy

Seventy years after the first atomic explosion lit up the New Mexican desert and nearly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Russia and the United States retain nuclear postures from the darkest days of their rivalry. There are almost 16,000 nuclear weapons still in the world today, and the U.S. and Russia possess 94 percent of them. Worse, 1,800 of these Russian and American weapons sit atop missiles on hair-trigger alert, ready to launch on a few minutes notice.

Few people are even aware of these dangers. Most have forgotten about the weapons. They think the only nuclear threat is the chance that Iran might get a bomb. Or that plans are in place that effectively prevent or contain nuclear threats. They are wrong. On any given day, we could wake up to a crisis that threatens our country, our region, our very planet.

There is good news. The size of these arsenals has decreased dramatically in the last 30 years. When Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev squared off in the 1980s, pouring new nuclear missiles into Europe, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Mass protests and the wisdom of Reagan and his negotiating partner Mikhail Gorbachev, who succeeded Brezhnev as the head of the Soviet Union, led to arms control treaties that slashed arsenals by 50 percent.

The restraint of the two nuclear superpowers rippled to other nuclear aspirants. More countries gave up nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs in the past 30 years than tried to get them. And these were tough cases, including Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, the nuclear successor states to the Soviet Union: Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and Iraq and Libya.

In turn, the American and Russian arsenals were cut 50 percent further under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. President Barack Obama, early in his term, trimmed them a bit more. And the entire interlocking network of global treaties and security arrangements has gone a long way to providing tougher inspections, more rigorous export controls on nuclear technologies, better security over “loose nukes” and nuclear materials, and more formidable barriers to new states getting weapons.

(For full diagram, see src.adapt.960.high.us-russia-stockpile-final-01.1438698879909.jpg )

Indeed, while people talk of “states like Iran and North Korea,” there actually are no states like Iran and North Korea. Apart from the eight countries with established programs there are no other governments racing to get the capability to build nuclear weapons. 

And here, there is more good news. The nuclear agreement with Iran is a major step in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. If we can contain North Korea’s program, or strike a similar deal, it then becomes possible to talk about the end of the wave of proliferation that began 70 years ago. Global intelligence officials are clear: There is no other nation looming on the new-nuclear-state horizon.

Even as proliferation risks decrease, however, the risks of accident, miscalculation or intentional use of one of the existing nuclear weapons is unacceptably high. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, we have come closer to Armageddon than many realize.

In January 1995, a global nuclear war almost started by mistake. Russian military officials mistook a Norwegian weather rocket for a U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missile. Boris Yeltsin’s senior military officials told him that Russia was under attack and that he had to launch hundreds of nuclear-tipped missiles at America. He became the first Russian president to ever have the “nuclear suitcase” opened in front of him. But Yeltsin trusted U.S. officials, and he was confident that there was no hidden crisis that might prompt a surprise attack by the U.S. With just a few minutes to decide, Yelstin concluded that his radars were in error. The suitcase was closed. 

American nuclear weapons, too, have often come within a hair’s breadth of detonation.

In 1958, a B-47 crew accidentally dropped an H-bomb that exploded near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Luckily, only the weapon’s conventional explosives detonated, but the crater can still be seen.

In 1961, a B-52 carrying two armed weapons broke apart over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Two bombs dropped from the bomb bay. One bomb’s parachute deployed and carried it safely to the ground. The other fell all the way down. All of the weapon’s safety mechanisms failed, save one. A single low-voltage switch, the technical equivalent of a light switch, prevented a hydrogen bomb from destroying a good portion of North Carolina.

(For full diagram, go to  src.adapt.960.high.global-stockpile-final-01.1438698879909.jpg )

As the numbers and deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons declined, accidents also decreased, but they did not end. In 2007, a B-52 flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, carrying 12 cruise missiles on its wings. Unbeknownst to the crew, six of the cruise missiles were armed with nuclear warheads.

The missiles traveled across the nation and spent the night sitting on the tarmac guarded by just a few security officers and a barbed wire fence before their true nature was discovered. The really bad news? No one at Minot ever noticed that they had gone missing.

One has to be a true optimist to believe that we can leave 16,000 nuclear bombs in fallible human hands indefinitely and nothing will go wrong.

It could get worse. The world’s nuclear weapons are aging. Bombs, like cars, wear out and eventually have to be replaced. We are now in a generational transition, when the weapons built during the terrifying Cold War rivalry of the 1980’s are ready for retirement. This could be a good time for Russia, the United States and other nations to close down these obsolete arsenals and save billions of dollars.

Instead, the nuclear nations are raiding their treasuries to build an entire new generation of the deadliest weapons ever invented. As Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris point out, “nuclear nations have undertaken ambitious nuclear weapon modernization programs that threaten to prolong the nuclear era indefinitely. … New or improved nuclear weapon programs underway worldwide include at least 27 ballistic missiles, nine cruise missiles, eight naval vessels, five bombers, eight warheads, and eight weapons factories.”

The world doesn’t need more nuclear weapons. Russia currently has the largest nuclear arsenal, with a total of approximately 7,500 warheads. The United States is second, with roughly 7,100 warheads. Other nuclear weapons states have far fewer. France possesses 300, China 260, and Great Britain, 225. Pakistan has about 120 weapons and India 110. Although Israel has never acknowledged its nuclear weapons stockpile, it is estimated to have nearly 80 weapons. North Korea has enough material for less than 10 bombs but has not deployed any. 

Current global nuclear arsenal

Country Warheads
Russia     7500
U.S.     7100
France       300
China       260
Great Britain       225
Pakistan       120
India       110
Israel         80
North Korea                <10
Sources: US Nuclear forces, 2015, Russian nuclear forces, 2015, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Note: Not counted above: The U.S. has 2,340 warheads awaiting dismantlement; 
Russia has 3,200. Some numbers above are estimates, for example, it is estimated 
North Korea has the material for up to 10 bombs, but has not deployed any.

Nuclear weapons are not cheap. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, U.S. nuclear weapons spending alone is estimated to reach $348 billion over the next decade, while arms control experts estimate that it could reach up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Russia is also increasing the role of nuclear weapons in its strategy. But why?

It is difficult to think of a military combat mission that requires the use of even one nuclear bomb. There has not been one in 70 years. Perhaps there is a mission that might someday require one bomb. Or ten. Or an arsenal of 500. But the United States has 7,000. This is beyond all logic and military need. Clinging to these obsolete weapons is a vestige of Cold War thinking propped up by contracts and the desire of those with nuclear bases to keep the few thousand jobs they provide. Pandering to these parochial motives and flawed strategies risks catastrophes whose financial and human costs dwarf any conceivable benefits.

Pope Francis told a conference on nuclear threats in Vienna this year that “spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations.” He questioned the morality of maintaining these huge arsenals for any purpose. These horrific weapons, he said, must be “banned once and for all.”

Seventy years after it was born on the sands of Alamogordo, there is a growing global sense that it is time to retire the Bomb. 

Iranian Foreign Minister: Time for U.S., Other Nuclear Powers, to Disarm

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 2, 2015 at 8:00 am

For his remarks, see:  http://commondreams.org/news/2015/07/31/iranian-foreign-minister-time-us-other-nuclear-powers-disarm?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email


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