November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November 1, 2014 – William Broad’s New York Times article, “Which President Cut the Most Nukes?” noted that father and son presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were responsible, through years of hard-fought bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union/Russia (which of course also cut their nuclear weapons stockpiles dramatically) and thanks to Congressionally ratified and Russian Duma-supported START treaties, for the greatest reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  Combined, both presidents cut nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons from the U.S. nuclear triad.  Not mentioned in the article is that both Bush administrations were responsible for precipitating two major wars in Iraq and the resulting regional instability that is still with us today and in the indefinite future as a result of those wars.  The George W. Bush Administration, in responding to the 9-11 attacks, also with the support of Congress (though not unanimous support), triggered the longest war in American history, the 14-year long Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) (a war that has been continued and expanded by the current Obama Administration) which U.S. military and political leaders, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have acknowledged as “a war which may never end (in our lifetimes).” In reference to U.S., Russian, Chinese, British, and other members of the Nuclear Club’s recently announced plans to modernize, improve, and increase their current nuclear arsenals and infrastructure, to the tune of $1 trillion over the next 30 years just by the United States, the article quotes a sampling of a large number of prominent global nonprofit organizations that have criticized this unnecessary buildup.  The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability condemned President Obama’s nuclear modernization program as “the largest expansion of funding of nuclear weapons since the fall of the Soviet Union (in 1991).”  Comments:  In recent years, the risk of nuclear war has clearly increased.   Unless a global paradigm shift occurs and reverses these trends culminating in a Global Zero ethic, a nuclear war will probably occur sometime in the 21st century. (Source:  www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/sunday-review/which-president-cut-the-most-nukes.html?_r=0   accessed on October 21, 2015.)

November 2, 1984 – On this date, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the first license for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants (two units) located on 750 acres of land adjacent to the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach, 12 miles south of San Luis Obisbo, California.   The power plants, which began operating in 1985 and 1986, were located within proximity to approximately two million residences.  An additional concern is that in the last few decades it has been determined that these dual reactors are located near a series of offshore seismic faults.  After the permanent shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power station in 2013, it is the only nuclear power plant still operating in the state of California.   Many Californians oppose the plant’s operations but the NRC has stood by PG&E in noting that Diablo Canyon’s license does not expire until 2024-25.  According to news media reports in July of 2015 (see Sources below), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) started applying to the NRC for a 20-year license extension in 2009.   Despite lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster which was triggered by seismic action and a tsunami, PG&E remains confident that the plant can safety withstand any natural disaster.  Its September 2014 seismic study concluded that the facility was “designed to withstand and perform its safety function during and after a major seismic event.”   Environmental experts in government, academia, and in nonprofit organizations have cast doubt on these findings.   Comments:  In addition to the dangerous risks of nuclear power plant accidents due to a plethora of causes, to include human error, mechanical breakdown, unexpected fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other unpredictable incidents as seen in places like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and many other global sites, the tremendously out-of-control civilian and military nuclear waste sequestration, remediation, and permanent storage conundrum, as well as the terrorist targeting potential, the economic unsustainability of civilian nuclear power, and the potential for nuclear proliferation points logically to an accelerated phase-out of global civilian nuclear power plants over the next decade.  (Sources:  www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/diab1.html and www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/NRC-to-Consider-Relicensing-Diablo-Canyon-Nuclear-Plant-Through-2045  accessed on October 21, 2015.)

November 6, 2013 – Mark Urban of BBC Newsnight ran a story titled, “Saudi Nuclear Weapons on Order From Pakistan,” which admittedly used mainly circumstantial evidence to conclude that Saudi Arabia may have been planning to secretly acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan or even establish its own covert nuclear weapons program with Pakistan’s scientific/technical assistance.  The report acknowledged that it has been more credibly proven that the government of Saudi Arabia has, in fact, provided financial support to aid Pakistan’s nuclear program and that the Saudis did indeed purchase nuclear-capable ballistic missiles from China in the 1980s.   Comments:  These facts, combined with proven long-term Saudi support for anti-Western extremist Wahhabism and terrorism (15 of the 19 9-11 attack hijackers were Saudi nationals), lead to the conclusion that a nation trumpeted by mainstream news media and the U.S. government as a strong U.S. ally may actually be on the verge of joining the Nuclear Club or more frightening still it may be secretly aiding or even promulgating a future nuclear terror attack on the U.S., Israel, or Western Europe.   The best way to address the dual issues of climate change and the nuclear proliferation threat is by reducing dramatically the use of fossil fuels like Saudi oil, while at the same time announcing a global phase-out of civilian nuclear power over the next decade.  If ninety some percent of global nuclear power and research reactors, both civilian and military, are eliminated, the nuclear weapon threat would be drastically diminished.  (Source:  www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24823846  accessed on October 21, 2015.

November 13, 1963 – A huge conventional explosion of approximately 61.5 tons of nonnuclear highly explosive materials removed from obsolete nuclear weapons being disassembled at an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, the forerunner of NRC) storage facility at Medina Base (now referred to as Lackland Training Annex) near San Antonio, Texas injured three AEC employees and a number of other workers at the site.  Allegedly none of the radioactive materials stored elsewhere in the building were affected but in the chaotic hours after the large explosion it is possible that radiation monitoring was not performed in a comprehensive manner.  Nuclear weapons disassembly and other time urgent modification work was subsequently transferred to the Pantex, Texas facility.  Comments:  Hundreds of nuclear incidents including Broken Arrow accidents have occurred over the decades despite some innovative safety measures pushed on the Pentagon by U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and nongovernmental experts.  Nevertheless, the safest long-term solution to preventing an accidental or unintentional nuclear war is the total or near-total global elimination of these weapons of mass destruction.  (Sources:  Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013 and http://ww.city-data.com/forum/san-antonio/27062-gone-but-not-forgotten-san-antonio-555.html accessed on October 21, 2015.)

November 16, 1994 – After receiving formal promises of security assurances from the leaders of the U.S., Russia, and Britain, President Leonid Kuchma recommended to his parliamentary representatives that the nation of Ukraine formally accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nonnuclear weapons state and agree to transfer its stockpile of strategic nuclear warheads to Russia, which was accomplished on June 1, 1996.   Comments:  Removing strategic nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was an important step toward reducing the risks of nuclear war.  The events surrounding the Crimea-Ukraine Crisis of 2014-15 reinforces the wisdom of these steps.  However, the global eradication of these doomsday weapons will serve humanity to a much greater degree in this century rather than continuing the flawed conflict-driven rhetoric of the current international policy of nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation which validates and reinforces the belief that it is legitimate for select members of the Nuclear Club to maintain and even increase and modernize their nuclear arsenals while allowing other nations, such as Israel, a free pass to flaunt the NPT regime entirely.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 39-40.)

November 22-23, 1983 – The West German parliament approved U.S. Pershing II nuclear missile deployments on November 22nd and the first squadron of these U.S. intermediate-range nuclear weapons arrived in Europe the next day causing the Soviet delegation to walk out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) negotiations in Geneva.  The talks did not resume for nearly a year and a half until March 12, 1985.  This period of time represented the height of U.S.-Soviet nuclear tensions.  Some other contributing factors included:  the September 1, 1983 Soviet shootdown of Korean Airlines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island; a September 26, 1983 Soviet false nuclear alert; the November 1983 NATO Able Archer military exercise that Soviet leadership widely misinterpreted as a warmup for an eventual U.S. First Strike nuclear attack; and the August 11, 1984 off-the-cuff sound check gaffe by President Ronald Reagan (“We begin bombing Russia in five minutes.”)  (Sources:  Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.  “The Untold History of the United States.”  New York:  Gallery Books, 2012, and Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 47.)

November 26, 1958 – At Chennault Air Force Base, Louisiana, a grounded U.S. Air Force B-47 bomber with a nuclear weapon onboard experienced a fire which engulfed the nuclear bomb.  Thankfully failsafe protections prevented a nuclear explosion, but the weapon’s high explosive charges detonated spreading radioactive materials over a large area.   Comments:  Over the last 70 years, humanity has been extremely fortunate that any one of hundreds of nuclear incidents has not resulted in an accidental discharge of a nuclear device which could have triggered an inadvertent, accidental, or unintentional nuclear conflict.  (Source:  Rebecca Grant.  “The Perils of Chrome Dome.”  Air Force Magazine.  Vol. 94, No. 8, August 2011, http://www.airforcemag.com/magazinearchive/pages/2011/august%202011/0811dome.aspx accessed on October 21, 2015.)

November 29, 1998America’s Defense Monitor, a half-hour documentary PBS-TV series that premiered in 1987, released a new film, “Military Nuclear Mess: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?” produced by the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and independent monitor of the Pentagon, founded in 1972, whose board of directors and staff included retired military officers (Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr.), former U.S. government officials (Philip Coyle, who served as assistant secretary of defense), and civilian experts (Dr. Bruce Blair, a former U.S. Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer).  The press release for the program noted that, “For the past 50 years, the U.S. government has produced hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of nuclear waste.  The Department of Energy has created an underground disposal facility, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), to permanently store military-generated waste that contains among other deadly toxins, plutonium.  Whether this facility will safely store the nuclear materials for the 24,000 year half-life of plutonium, is greatly debated.”   Comments:  Huge amounts of dangerously radioactive military and civilian generated nuclear waste remain a growing global environmental and public health conundrum.  It represents yet another paramount reason why nuclear weapons and nuclear power must be eliminated at the earliest possible opportunity.


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