Archive for the ‘Nuclear Guardianship’ Category

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

Richard Rhodes: Twilight of the Bombs

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 18, 2015 at 12:55 am

By Richard Rhodes


The Twilight of the Bombs

Prepared for delivery at Independence, Missouri, on 9 August 2015, the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan


Seventy years ago today, in the last days of a terrible war, at 11:02 a.m. on August 9th, 1945, an American B-29 bomber attacked the city of Nagasaki, Japan, with a single bomb of a new kind.

Nagasaki had not originally been the bomb’s intended target, but two other targets with higher priority had been obscured by cloud cover. With terrible and accidental irony, the atomic bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, exploded 1640 feet above the Nagasaki factory that made the torpedoes used to attack the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the event that decided an outraged United States to enter the war.

Fat Man, though limited compared to modern nuclear weapons, was the most powerful weapon yet exploded, with a blast yield equivalent to 21 thousand tons of TNT. But it was less a weapon of blast than a weapon of fire. Its fireball, which heated and expanded to a maximum diameter of a half mile and a maximum temperature of 300,000 degrees Celsius, flashed down on the Japanese city and initiated a mass fire, igniting everything combustible up and down the narrow valley where the city ran down to the sea. Within hours, Nagasaki was a burned-out, smoking ruin. Fire more than either blast or radiation caused most of the deaths at Nagasaki, as it had at Hiroshima three days earlier. About 36,000 people died that day. More died later of burns, wounds and radiation poisoning.

Not human beings alone died in Nagasaki. Something else was destroyed as well: that shared life Hannah Arendt called the common world. Destroyed, that is, were not only men, women and thousands of children, but also restaurants and inns, laundries, theater groups, sports clubs, sewing clubs, boys’ clubs, girls’ clubs, love affairs, trees and gardens, grass, gates, gravestones, temples and shrines, family heirlooms, radios, classmates, books, flags, courts of law, clothes, pets, groceries and markets, telephones, personal letters, automobiles, bicycles, horses—120 war horses—musical instruments, medicines and medical equipment, life savings, eyeglasses, city records, family scrapbooks, monuments, engagements, marriages, clocks and watches, public transportation, street signs, parents, works of art. “The whole of society,” a Japanese study concludes, “was laid waste to its very foundations.”[1]

Here, today, is not the time and place to debate the morality of those first atomic bombings. My challenge is farther: I’ve been asked to amplify a statement I made near the end of the fourth and final volume of my quartet of histories of the nuclear age. After more than thirty years of studying the impact on the world of the discovery of how to release the essentially unlimited energies contained in the atomic nucleus, I wrote in that final volume, The Twilight of the Bombs, that “If not in my lifetime, probably in the lifetime of my children, and certainly in my grandchildren’s lifetimes, weapons of mass destruction will be outlawed….In time, possession of a nuclear weapon will be judged a crime against humanity. Such a judgment would only codify what is already an evident fact.”[2]

So. Let’s see what we can make of that.


There are nine nations in the world today that possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Four nations that once possessed them have given them up: South Africa, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The CIA has estimated that some thirty to forty other nations are technically capable of assembling a nuclear arsenal within a period of only a few years or less but have chosen not to do so. That roster includes every nation with an advanced scientific and technological base and access to plutonium or highly-enriched uranium: Japan, all of Western Europe, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and many others—a long list. Ninety-three nations are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; subtract the five legacy nuclear powers on that list and you have 88 nations that have pledged not to develop nuclear weapons. Almost the entirety of the southern hemisphere is an agreed nuclear-weapons-free zone. Nine such zones in total encompass 56 percent of the Earth’s land area and 60 percent of its 195 nations as well as Antarctica, the world seabed and outer space. Which is to say, under various solemn treaties and other legally-binding agreements, we are about halfway along toward a nuclear-weapons-free world.

If half the world wants to eliminate nuclear weapons, what about the other half? Why do the nuclear powers continue to field their dangerous arsenals? Russia and the United States together possess more than 90 percent of the approximately 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. (That number, by the way, is down sharply from the world nuclear arsenal at the height of the Cold War, which counted more than 70,000 nuclear weapons.) Russia clings to its nuclear arsenal of 7,300 weapons in part because its military is weak—smaller in size than the U.S. military and with outdated, vulnerable weapons systems—and nuclear weapons are a cheap equalizer. We claim to hold our approximately 4,800 nuclear weapons primarily for deterrence, not for war-fighting.[3]

Deterrence, as you know, is a theory that evolved in the wake of the realization, early in the nuclear era, that there would be no defense against nuclear weapons—that we are naked to our enemies, and they to us. President Ronald Reagan dreamed of a perfect shield of defensive armaments that would protect us from nuclear attack, but his Strategic Defense Initiative was just that: a dream. Instead of defense, the idea emerged early on that if an arsenal of nuclear weapons could be protected from destruction in an enemy first strike—in a bomb-proof missile silo or in a nuclear submarine hidden deep beneath the sea—and thus be available to attack and destroy the enemy in turn, then no rational leadership would choose to attack in the first place, understanding that it must inevitably also be destroyed. That’s what “mutual assured destruction” meant, the words that form the notorious acronym M-A-D, MAD. The nuclear mandarins who rationalize maintaining nuclear arsenals large enough to destroy the human world invoke deterrence theory to justify their support of nuclear overkill.

A refinement of the deterrence doctrine came along later that claimed the opposing nuclear forces had to match up at every level to be credible: if the Soviet Union had bombers, then we must have bombers; if Soviet land-based missiles, then American land-based missiles; if Soviet nuclear submarines, then American nuclear submarines. This convenient refinement allowed all three of our military services to justify dividing the nuclear-weapons budget among them, which they have done. Before that division occurred, in the late 1950s, the Air Force controlled all our nuclear weapons, and by a process of bootstrapping had managed to claim no less than 47 percent of the entire defense budget. By bootstrapping I mean the Air Force controlled targeting in the 1950s, which in turn dictated the number of bombs, which in turn determined the number of aircraft needed to deliver them. That’s how it won 47 percent of the defense budget. The other services woke up to the danger, the nuclear mandarins supplied the credibility theory, and the pie was soon divided, giving us army atomic cannon too heavy for European backroads, a small atomic artillery shell capable of being fired from a recoilless rifle mounted on the back of a Jeep, nuclear air-to-air antiaircraft rockets, navy nuclear torpedoes and depth charges and other such lethal rickrack.

The one condition all these varied weapons had in common was that they were designed for nuclear war-fighting. At the same time, at the highest levels of our military and government, everyone understood that introducing nuclear weapons into a conventional conflict would almost certainly escalate that conflict to full-scale nuclear war. As one of the nuclear mandarins confessed privately to the clinical psychologist Steven Kull, “Strategic weapons are political artifacts first. And when they cease to be political artifacts, then they’re entirely irrelevant, entirely without a purpose….The only existence that these weapons have that has any meaning is in political terms. And perception is the only relevant category.” Another mandarin, whom Kull calls a “prominent strategic analyst,” explained the game even more bluntly. “Let’s put it this way,” he told Kull. “All roads in the strategic equation lead to MAD”—that is, mutual assured destruction. “All the other ones [the analyst continues]…are games, are window dressing, and they are window dressing for upmanship….But when you take away all these layers…at the bottom of the thing, basically, is MAD, and no one likes it.”[4]

McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, summed up the fundamental nuclear impasse in an article in Foreign Affairs in 1969:

In light of the certain prospect of retaliation [Bundy wrote], there has been literally no chance at all that any sane political authority, in either the United States or the Soviet Union, would consciously choose to start a nuclear war. This proposition is true for the past, the present and the foreseeable future….In the real world of real political leaders [Bundy continues]…a decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb on one city of one’s own country would be recognized in advance as a catastrophic blunder; ten bombs on ten cities would be a disaster beyond history; and a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are unthinkable.[5]


You have probably heard discussion during this 70th-anniversary year of the success of nuclear deterrence. It’s true that no nuclear weapon has been exploded in anger since Nagasaki. I would argue that deterrence has worked not because of MAD, but because we and the Soviet Union, and now we and Russia, China and Russia, India and Pakistan and so on, have been self-deterred. We were self-deterred almost from the beginning, when President Truman decided not to release a third atomic bomb for shipment out to Tinian Island and possible use against Japan—a decision he made because, he said, “the thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible. He didn’t like the idea of killing, as he said, ‘all those kids.’”[6] We and Russia have been self-deterred largely from fear of loosing the nuclear genie, fear of entering that unknown region which would open on the other side of the nuclear taboo. As the physicist Robert Oppenheimer wrote in 1946, invoking Henry James’s dark horror story: “The atomic bomb was the turn of the screw. It has made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond, there is a different country.”[7]

If nuclear use, in a world of multiple nuclear powers, is a different country; if despite a world-destroying arsenal we are naked to our enemies—“two scorpions in a bottle,” as Oppenheimer also wrote, “each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life”[8]; if the theory of deterrence is a fig leaf laid over 70 years of unsustainable dumb luck, and the real story since 1945 is a story of close calls, freak accidents and near misses; if all these caveats are true, then why have we persisted in pretending that our nuclear weapons protect us? Why has President Obama recently proposed spending half a trillion dollars across the next decade, and another half-trillion in the two decades after that, to modernize those weapons and their delivery systems—new submarines, new bombers, new land-based mobile missiles? Why are China and Russia, both signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as we are, and therefore pledged to work actively toward eliminating nuclear weapons, modernizing their arsenals as well?

These are larger questions than I have time to answer, but they demonstrate that, far from moving toward nuclear zero as President Obama pledged to do in Prague in 2009, we are still mired in nuclear denial.

So my next question is, Why? If all roads lead to MAD—lead, that is, to an escalating eruption of holocaustal nuclear exchanges and to world-scale climatic effects with the potential to cause the starvation of the entire population of the Earth—why do the nuclear powers persist in maintaining their deadly arsenals? Retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who commanded our nuclear forces at the end of the Cold War and into the 1990s, gave one answer: “There are many people,” he said at a press conference, “who are just unwilling to step out of the Cold War…. There are a lot of people who cannot give up the idea of a nuclear security blanket surrounding them.”[9]

During the Reagan era, the psychologist Stephen Kull, whom I mentioned earlier, reached a more nuanced conclusion. Kull interviewed at length a number of high-level nuclear policymakers, both military and civilian, working through their justifications for maintaining a nuclear arsenal to see if they made sense. Let me quote one paragraph from Kull’s book Minds at War, which is subtitled, significantly, Nuclear Reality and the Inner Conflicts of Defense Policymakers. (Keep in mind that Kull is discussing the Cold War arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, a somewhat different set of conditions from those that obtain today, but not so different that his conclusions are invalid):


But why [Kull writes], if the logic is so dubious, the costs so high, and the benefits so questionable, does the United States play along with the illusion and continue the arms race? Many suggested answers to these questions stress the sheer momentum of the arms race, the defense establishment’s opposition to any letup, and the financial interests of defense industry contractors. Other theories point to the presence, in the Pentagon and especially among Reagan appointees, of an influential group of hard-liners who still hope to win the arms race and somehow bring about the end of the Soviet system. Yet none of these ideas explains why the country as a whole continues to support the arms race. [Kull goes on:] Perception theory suggests that the public supports the arms race because it does not understand the realities of nuclear weapons. Apparently, however, the public does grasp nuclear realities. In a…poll published in September 1984, 90 percent of respondents agreed that “we and the Soviets now have enough nuclear weapons to blow each other up many times over”; 89 percent agreed that “there can be no winner in an all-out nuclear war”; and 83 per cent agreed that even “a limited nuclear war is nonsense.” These days, even teenagers grasp these realities with apparent ease.

At the same time [Kull continues], 71 per cent of those polled agreed that the United States should continue to develop “new and better nuclear weapons.” Why does the public continue to support an arms race it knows is pointless, and leaders who actively obfuscate the realities of nuclear weapons? What can Americans hope to achieve by fooling themselves into believing that building more nuclear weapons makes them more secure?

Perhaps the answer is this: Americans hope to get relief from the overarching and terrible fact that they face an extraordinary threat to their survival and there is nothing they can do about it.[10]


Kull was writing as a psychologist who found that the defense policymakers whom he interviewed, when pushed into the logical corner that their illogical arguments led them to, all fell back on the same justification for maintaining a world-destroying nuclear arsenal. Which was, that it made the American people—and by extension the Russian people, the Chinese people and so on—feel safer. The clearest statement Kull found came, of all places, from a Soviet colonel in an anonymous interview with the magazine Détente. Let me read a portion of it to you:


Colonel X [comments]: All of us, more or less, know that nuclear war would be the end. All our theoreticians say that there is no way of preventing nuclear war from escalating to the global level, that you cannot win a nuclear war. That is our general theoretical position.

But from a professional military point of view, such a position is impossible. Can a professional military man say that nuclear war is inconceivable? No, because some fool of an American president may really start a nuclear war. A professional military man must consider what to do in that event.

[The interviewer asks:] What difference does it make what you do in that event?

[Colonel X responds:] Ah, you can say that. Mr. General cannot say that.

[The interviewer continues:] I’m still confused.

[And Colonel X responds:] Consider the point of view of another professional, the doctor who knows that his patient is suffering from an incurable disease. He cannot for that reason abandon further efforts….To make no plans for [a nuclear war]…would be openly to proclaim our helplessness. It would be psychologically wrong.[11]


The essential fact, then, and the barrier that stands in the way of rational consideration of the fundamentally changed political conditions that followed from the discovery of how to release nuclear energy, is the fact of universal vulnerability. The first obligation of every government is to protect the people it serves. The careers of politicians and military leaders depend on doing so. With nuclear weapons in the world, they are unable to meet that requirement. So they pretend to do so and we pretend to believe them. They may believe sincerely in what they do. We may believe sincerely that they are succeeding. But at some level of awareness, they know they aren’t and we know—we should know—that we’re kidding ourselves.



The supreme irony of this collective neurosis, this seeming nuclear double-bind, is that the solution has stared us in the face since the beginning—since 1945 and even before. If nuclear weapons make us vulnerable, the solution is to accept that collective vulnerability and work together internationally to outlaw and eliminate them. Understand me: I am not talking about unilateral disarmament. I’m talking about international nuclear disarmament. What Mikhail Gorbachev, and Germany’s Willi Brandt and Sweden’s Olof Palme before him called “common security.” Brandt’s adviser Egon Bahr explained the concept most succinctly: “Security [Bahr wrote] can now only be achieved in common. No longer against each other but only with each other shall we be secure.” If that sounds idealistic, consider that it was the operating principle of the West German program for reuniting a divided Germany, by working with the Soviet Union rather than against it—and it worked.

But how are we to do that? What do we need to do to make such a seemingly millennial vision a reality?

I wish I could chart a clear path from here to there—from 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world to none. I can’t. No one can. As the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said, “It’s very difficult to predict, especially the future.” What I can do is, first, mention some trends and possibilities, and, second, tell you why I’m confident we will get there, one way or another—why a world without nuclear weapons is inevitable, one way or another.



Let’s dispense, first of all, with the argument that we can never eliminate nuclear weapons because the technology can’t be uninvented. Of course it can’t, short of the destruction of modern civilization. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be outlawed and foreclosed. Indeed, one obvious consequence of eliminating nuclear weapons is that the knowledge would still be available from country to country to reconstitute them. That’s something that would have to be policed to prevent breakout—one requirement for nuclear elimination will be continuous worldwide monitoring and physical inspection on demand as well as airtight accounting for fissile materials, for highly-enriched uranium and plutonium. That’s the downside. The upside is that nations in conflict in a post-nuclear world would have to think twice before moving from diplomacy to conventional war, knowing that reconstituting a nuclear arsenal would still be possible if all else failed—but on a timetable of months rather than minutes, the months necessary to rebuild a nuclear capability from scratch. So a world without nuclear weapons would still be a world where the knowledge of how to build them would work to keep the peace.

Another development pressing the nuclear powers toward action is increasing understanding of the global climatic effects of even a so-called small nuclear war. The same group of scientists who identified the phenomenon of nuclear winter in the late 1980s, minus their deceased colleague Carl Sagan, took another look at that phenomenon in 2007 using the much more sophisticated computer model of the atmosphere that had been developed in the interim to study global warming. They discovered, first of all, that nuclear winter would be even worse following an all-out, 5,000-megaton nuclear war than their earlier model had predicted—a temperature drop of 20-30 degrees worldwide for two decades or more—essentially the equivalent of the K/T boundary event 65 million years ago that followed the impact of a 10-kilometer asteroid on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula and starved the dinosaurs and most other large life forms to extinction.

Then the nuclear-winter scientists wondered what a “small” regional nuclear war would look like. They plugged in the numbers for a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving 50 Indian Hiroshima-scale bombs exploded over Pakistan’s major cities and 50 Pakistani Hiroshima-scale bombs exploded over India’s major cities. That’s a total yield of only one-and-a-half megatons. We have single weapons in our arsenal with higher yields than that, as do the Russians. But cities are full of combustible materials, which would ignite in mass fires; in consequence, even so small a war would produce some 20 million prompt deaths in the two countries from blast, fire and radiation. And the mass fires would also generate a pall of soot, smoke and smog that would slowly spread around the world in the following months and drop the mean temperature worldwide by 2 to 3 degrees. Two to three degrees may not seem like much, but it would be enough to return the Earth to the conditions of the Little Ice Age of the 18th century, when crops failed throughout the temperate zones, resulting in mass starvation in Europe and Asia. The consequences today would be catastrophic: as many as 2 billion people would starve to death. Which means that the nuclear powers have now been put on notice before the world that their arsenals threaten a humanitarian disaster beyond any previous disaster in human history.

Another phenomenon pressing on nuclear strategy is widespread condemnation of collateral damage in war. With the increasing prosperity of the world and the consequent decline in the number of children per family, with the increasing visibility of killing through professional and amateur digital media, parents who produce only one or two children don’t want those children sacrificed in war, nor do many of us enjoy watching the horrors of war unfold before our eyes in our living rooms. Drone war is a direct consequence of these changes, and collateral damage is becoming scandalous as well as ineffective in situations such as Afghanistan where we are trying to win hearts and minds. Thus we read of a plan to retrofit some of our nuclear weapons with precision-guidance kits, much as we did with our conventional bombs in the late 1990s, in time for the first Gulf War. What’s the logic of directing a nuclear warhead to fall within a few feet of a target? That we can use a 50-kiloton warhead instead of a 350-kiloton warhead and thereby reduce collateral damage. Absurd, I know—50 kilotons is three and a half Hiroshimas—but that’s the stated logic of the retrofit. Meanwhile, the Air Force is developing a new generation of conventional ICBMs with terminal precision guidance such that they will strike within three feet of their target across six thousand miles, and therefore don’t need a nuclear warhead at all. Freeman Dyson, the physicist and former British bomber strategist, wrote earlier this year that “Military leaders in all countries have learned that nuclear weapons are not very useful. They are effective for murdering huge numbers of people in a short time, but not for winning real battles in wars. For almost all situations in local wars, nuclear weapons are too big and the targets are too small.”[12]

When I started thinking about how a nuclear-weapons-free world could be policed, ten or fifteen years ago, one possibility I considered was citizen whistleblowing. Professionals in the security field were skeptical. Last fall, however, the advisory group of distinguished scientists that meets several times a year to explore ideas and problems for our government—the Jasons, as they’re called—published a paper titled “Open and Crowd-Sourced Data

for Treaty Verification.” It concludes: “Rapid advances in technology have led to the global proliferation of inexpensive, networked sensors that are now providing significant new levels of societal transparency. As a result of the increase in quality, quantity, connectivity and availability of open information and crowd-sourced analysis, the landscape for verifying compliance with international treaties has been greatly broadened.”[13] A study from the National Academy of Sciences makes a similar point: “In support of a regime prohibiting nuclear weapons [it concludes], technical means of verification could be supplemented by national and international laws making it a crime for any individual knowingly to participate in the development, production, acquisition, transfer, or use of nuclear weapons, together with measures designed to increase the probability of “leaks” or “whistle blowing” by those who may be aware of such activities.”[14]



I could multiply examples, but my point is obvious. Nuclear weapons are as useless as they are dangerous, which makes the immense cost of their upkeep and security less and less acceptable to military leaders and to responsible elected officials.

How difficult will it be to negotiate outlawing nuclear weapons? Most discussions of the problem describe it as extremely difficult. Someone who has been intimately involved for many years in actually negotiating arms limits and reductions, including the 1995 permanent extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, argues otherwise. The Australian diplomat Richard Butler, whose country appointed him to be its permanent representative on disarmament and who also served as Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations, told me forcefully, “We could do it in a morning. All the nuts-and-bolts stuff might take another five or ten years.” Butler is immensely frustrated by the delay. “For fifteen or twenty years now,” he says, “we have not lacked clear knowledge of the nature of the problem, of its urgency, and of the steps that can be taken to solve it. What we’re confronted with, however, is political cowardice—politicians kicking the can down the road. ‘We agree with you,’ they say, ‘but we have a few rednecks among our constituents. Can we do it after the next election?’ However one skins the cat,” Butler concludes, “it comes down to this: As long as nuclear weapons exist, they will proliferate, they will be used, and any use will be catastrophic. We know exactly what needs to be done.”[15]



Ultimately, as I said earlier, we will eliminate nuclear weapons one way or another: we will agree to remove them from the arsenals of the world or we will eliminate the human world by exploding those arsenals, burning it down and freezing it in nuclear holocaust. Harry Truman’s representative Bernard Baruch said much the same thing to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission at its first session in June 1946: “We are here,” Baruch told the commissioners, “to make a choice between the quick and the dead.”[16]

To many leaders, from ignorance or naïveté or fear or cavalier denial or political cupidity, that stark choice has seemed deferrable, if not actually optional. It has been deferrable only at the risk of all our lives. It is not optional. Why not? Because knowledge of how to release the vast energies stored in the nuclei of atoms is knowledge of the physical world, knowledge of how the world actually works, not how we would like it to work. Much of what we believe about the way the world works is not based on scientific evidence. When such evidence comes along, it can challenge and ultimately change our beliefs. Niels Bohr had a name for this process. He thought it was the fundamental purpose of science: not “power over nature,” Bohr said, but something subtler and even more relentless: what he called “the gradual removal of prejudices.”

People believed for many centuries that the earth was the center of the universe. Science demonstrated that in fact the earth revolved around the sun and the sun was a minor star out on the fringes of an ordinary galaxy. People believed for many centuries that disease is a punishment from God. The discovery of microbes has gradually removed that prejudice and made possible the prevention, treatment and cure of most of the terrible epidemic diseases of past centuries. People believed for many centuries—some people still believe—that humankind is a separate, special creation. Darwin marshaled evidence confirming that we humans are mammals and primates and evolved along with the other mammals and primates. The dust from that removal still hasn’t settled.

The closing days of World War II marked a similar turning point in human history, the point of entry into a new era when humankind for the first time acquired the means of its own destruction. The discovery of how to release nuclear energy, and its application to build weapons of mass destruction, has gradually removed the prejudice on which total war was based: the insupportable conviction that there is a limited amount of energy available in the world to concentrate into explosives, that it is possible to accumulate more of such energy than one’s enemies and thereby militarily to prevail. So cheap, so portable, so holocaustal did nuclear weapons eventually become that even nation-states as belligerent as the Soviet Union and the United States preferred to sacrifice a portion of their national sovereignty — preferred to forego the power to make total war — rather than be destroyed in their fury.

Yet we have been reluctant to accept the logical consequences of that lesson, preferring sophistry and denial. The prejudice persists that major war is possible even in a nuclear world—or, worse, an inversion of that prejudice which argues the sophistry that sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy the human world are somehow preventing that destruction.

We still confront a choice between the quick and the dead. The only way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them from the arsenals of the world. There is no other choice. That’s why I believe we will outlaw them. Or we will use them and eliminate ourselves along with them. I don’t expect to be around to see that day, but my children may be, and my grandchildren almost certainly will be—one way or the other.

Thank you.












[1] Quoted in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 733.

[2] Richard Rhodes, The Twilight of the Bombs (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), p. 381.

[3] Numbers of nuclear weapons: “Nuclear weapons: Who has what at a glance.” Arms Control Association factsheet (online).

[4] Quoted in Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly (New York: Vintage, 2007), p. 113.

[5] McGeorge Bundy, “To Cap the Volcano,” Foreign Affairs 48(1), October 1969.

[6] “President Harry Truman’s Diary,” www.NuclearFiles.org, 10 Aug. 1945. The quoted excerpt is from Vice President Henry Wallace’s diary.

[7] Robert Oppenheimer, “The Atom Bomb and College Education,” The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, University of Pennsylvania, summer 1946.

[8] Robert Oppenheimer, “Atomic Weapons and American Policy,” Foreign Affairs, July 1953, p. 529.

[9] Conference Proceedings: Nuclear Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament in the Post-Cold War Security Environment. Presented Wednesday, April 7, 1999 at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. 31 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 679.

[10] Steven Kull, “Nuclear Nonsense.” Foreign Policy 58 (Spring 1985), 28-52.

[11] Steven Kull, Minds at War (New York: Basic Books, 1988), p. 290.

[12] Freeman Dyson, “Einstein as a Jew and a philosopher,” NYRB, 7 May 2015, pp. 14-16.

[13] Jasons, “Open and Crowd-Sourced Data for Treaty Verification,” JSR-14-Task-015, (McLean VA: The Mitre Corporation, October 2014), p. 65.

[14] National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (Washington: National Academies Press, 1997), p. 90.

[15] Quoted in Richard Rhodes, The Twilight of the Bombs (New York: Vintage, 2010), p. 378.

[16] Bernard Baruch, Speech Before the First Session of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, Hunter College, New York, 14 June 1946 (online).

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. 

Hans Blix: It’s Time to Ban the Bomb

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 1, 2015 at 10:23 pm

Hans Blix, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was 1st Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission from 2000-2003.

For his remarks, go to http://www.project-syndicate.org/print/time-to-ban-nuclear-weapons-by-hans-blix-2015-07

The deal with Iran about nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on July 31, 2015 at 4:19 am

Here is a letter sent to Senator Schumer of New York by John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. Burroughs’ succinct letter contains the main reasons for supporting the Iran nuclear deal.

Dear Senator Schumer:

The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, a New York City-based nonprofit association of lawyers and legal scholars devoted to analyzing nuclear weapons policy in the framework of national and international law, submits this letter to urge your support for the agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program. It would be disastrous for the United States now to reject a carefully negotiated agreement supported by an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations, including the Permanent Five members of the Security Council and all of our European allies. If the United States were now to walk away from the deal, unity among the world’s major powers on crucial issues of nuclear nonproliferation would be unlikely ever to be achieved again.

Ami Ayalon, a former commander of the Israeli navy and a former director of the Shin Bet security service, stated in an interview last week that the agreement with Iran is “the best possible alternative for Israel, given the other available alternatives.” (http://forward.com/opinion/312158/this-man-explains-why-iran-deal-is-good-for-israel/)  He is right, and it is also the best available alternative for the United States. Rejection of the deal would cause the international sanctions regime to collapse, leaving Iran free to resume its nuclear program without restrictions. Even if deemed wise and lawful in the abstract, there is in practice no good military option: air strikes would at best set back the Iranian program for a few years, while risking another prolonged war in the Middle East, a war which would be opposed by most of our allies and by the United Nations. This would be a tragic mistake.

John Burroughs, Executive Director

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

UN Office of IALANA

866 UN Plaza, Suite 4050

New York, NY 10017

(212) 818-1861; fax (212) 818-1857



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 399 other followers