December 2, 1942 – A group of Allied physicists led by Enrico Fermi achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in a makeshift laboratory constructed on a squash court under the west stands at the University of Chicago Stadium.  Thirty-one months later, the top secret U.S.-funded and directed Manhattan Project successfully tested a 15-20 kiloton nuclear device, code-named Trinity, on July 16, 1945 near Alamogordo, New Mexico.  Despite protests from some scientists, military leaders, and government officials, the first use of nuclear weapons in combat occurred when U.S. B-29 bombers dropped a 15 kiloton uranium-fueled nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and a plutonium-fueled 21 kiloton bomb on Nagasaki killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of predominantly civilian victims.  Comments:  Thus began the nuclear arms race which still continues today to threaten humanity with extinction.  The man who originally convinced President Franklin Roosevelt in a 1939 letter to deter a possible Nazi German A-bomb with one of our own, may have said it best, “Humanity is going to require a substantially new way of thinking if it is to survive.”  (Source:  Randy Alfred. “Dec. 2, 1942:  Nuclear Pile Gets Going.” Dec. 2, 2010. accessed Nov. 10, 2016.)


December 8-9, 2014 – As a result of concerns by a group of nation-states attending the 2010 NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference of “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons,” the last of three conferences (the first was in Oslo, Norway on March 4-5, 2013 and the second was in Nayarit, Mexico on Feb. 13-14, 2014) on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was held on these dates in Vienna, Austria.  The Vienna Conference, as well as the other two meetings, produced a wealth of fact-based materials about the horrendous short- and long-term globally detrimental impact of even so-called “limited” nuclear war on individuals, societies, and the global common.  The meeting also generated valuable legal analyses, building on seven decades of international humanitarian legal protections, that characterize the use of nuclear weapons as illegal and utterly unjustifiable.  One of the most valuable concrete results of the Vienna Conference was the crafting of The Humanitarian Pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons which was adopted as U.N. General Assembly Resolution 70/48 on December 7, 2015 with 139 nations approving, 29 opposing, and 17 abstaining.  Comments:  Before leaving office, President Barack Obama should take a cue from President Kennedy’s creation of the ExComm (Executive Committee) to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and create an Executive Committee to Address the Environmental Crises of Global Climate Change and the Growing Threat of Nuclear Weapons to meet once or twice a week to brief the President on policies and actions to mitigate and work towards a resolution of these catastrophic trends.  The President should staff this committee with not only his Chief of Staff and main political advisors but more importantly with several scientific experts such as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, and prominent bipartisan/nonpartisan retired political statesmen and women like President Jimmy Carter, and former Secretary of State George P. Schultz.  The committee’s charter will mandate the Committee’s continuance after President Obama steps down on January 20, 2017 as a permanent nonprofit organization (which would also mandate absolutely no corporate funding or donations)  meeting in public settings once or twice a month at revolving sites such as the Carter Center in Atlanta and at locations outside the United States as well.  Each meeting will also include a number of local experts and community activists.  The nuclear threat and climate change are the main issues facing humanity in the 21st century and much more time, money, brain power, and focus needs to be harnessed to address these global crises.  (Sources:  Patricia Lewis, Beyza Unal, and Sasan Aghlani.  “Nuclear Disarmament:  The Missing Link in Multilaterialism.” The Royal Institute of Chatham House, International Security Department, October 2016 and “The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.”  8-9 December 2014. accessed on Nov. 10, 2016.)


December 10, 1967 – As part of the Operation Plowshare program created by the Atomic Energy Commission (now known as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to explore “peaceful” uses of nuclear weapons as initiated by President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace December 8, 1953 plan, a 29 kiloton nuclear device code-named Gasbuggy was detonated 60 miles from Farmington, New Mexico on this date.  The purpose of the blast was to learn whether a small underground nuclear explosion would stimulate the release of natural gas trapped in dense shale deposits.  Initially the test was considered a success until it was discovered that the immense volume of gas produced was highly radioactive and therefore unusable.  Unfortunately, the contaminated gas was vented and flared which released radioactive krypton-85 into the atmosphere.  In addition, groundwater was contaminated with other radioactive elements such as strontium-90.  Comments:  Thankfully this was one of the last Atoms for Peace test explosions, however nuclear testing has continued for decades and the U.S. has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  This appears unlikely during the Donald Trump presidency with a Republican-controlled Congress.  The testing of over 2,000 nuclear devices over the last seven decades has inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to global populations especially native peoples.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague large numbers of people to this day due to nuclear testing.  (Source:  Colonel Derek L. Duke as told to Fred Dungan.  “Chasing Loose Nukes.”  Dungan Books, 2007, pp. 10-11. accessed Nov. 10, 2016.)


December 12, 1952 – The NRX nuclear research reactor at Chalk Point Laboratories in Ontario, Canada suffered a partial meltdown after a power surge caused some fuel rods to rupture and melt which resulted in a flood of millions of liters of radioactive water spilling into the reactor building’s basement.  A young U.S. naval officer serving in the nuclear submarine service, James (Jimmy) Earl Carter, the future 39th President of the United States, was charged with directing a unit of nearly two dozen sailors to stabilize the reactor and begin cleaning up the highly radioactive contamination.  Carter and each member of his team limited themselves to only a few seconds of exposure during their forays into the reactor building.  Nevertheless, the President noted in a 2008 interview that, “They let us get probably a thousand times more radiation than they would now.  We were fairly well instructed then on what nuclear power was but for about six months after that I had radioactivity in my urine.”  Decades later in August of 2015, doctors removed a cancerous mass from the President’s liver.  He was also diagnosed with a form of melanoma that was discovered on parts of his brain which required him to undergo radiation treatments and immune-based therapy.  During his presidency, Jimmy Carter had to deal with the March 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident.  President Carter recognized the importance of addressing the nuclear threat as he promised to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons during his inaugural address and his administration worked with the Soviets to negotiate and sign the SALT II Treaty.  In his December 10, 2002 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Carter said, “…we will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.  The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.  God gives us the capacity for choice.  We can choose to alleviate suffering.  We can choose to work together in peace.  We can make these changes and we must.”  Comments:  In addition to the dangerous risk of nuclear reactor accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, 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.  President Barack Obama should publicly announce this initiative and begin to launch this phase-out before he leaves office.  (Sources:  Arthur Milnes.  “Jimmy Carter’s Exposure to Nuclear Danger.”, April 5, 2011. and Clyde Hughes.  “Jimmy Carter:  Didn’t Say Cancer is Cured, Treatment Continues.”  The Wire. Jan. 26, 2016. both accessed Nov. 10, 2016.)


December 20, 1993 – The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) issued Directive 5230.16 “Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs Guidance” that mandated a Pentagon policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence or absence of nuclear weapons on U.S. naval vessels which reinforced the fact that two years after the Cold War ended, military secrecy, particularly regarding nuclear weapons, was as tight-lipped as ever, if not becoming even more restrictive.  Journalists and nuclear experts had been clamoring for years for more information on all manner of U.S. and allied nuclear weapons incidents, but despite the passage of decades of time and the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact Soviet military alliance, the Pentagon was not forthcoming.  DoD Public Affairs officers continued to point to a minimalist list of 32 nuclear accidents and incidents that was released in 1980.  Nevertheless Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which can take as long as several years for the Pentagon to respond to (and sometimes the response is negative, due to existing or upgraded secrecy classification protocols), have seen just one branch of the armed services – the U.S. Navy – release details of 381 nuclear weapons incidents that occurred between 1965 and 1977.  Comments:  Many of the hundreds if not thousands of nuclear accidents, involving all nine nuclear weapons states, still remain partially or completely classified and hidden from public scrutiny.  These near-nuclear catastrophes provide an additional justification for reducing dramatically and eventually eliminating an estimated 15,500 warheads in existing global nuclear arsenals.  (Source: accessed Nov. 10, 2016.)


December 22, 1983The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a publication founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work,” moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock, which has tracked humanity’s proximity to Nuclear Armageddon since 1947, from four minutes to three minutes to Midnight.  The moving of the clock’s hands was necessitated by ever growing tensions in U.S.-Soviet relations spurred by actions by both superpowers.  Examples included President Ronald Reagan’s announcement on March 23, 1983 of the “Star Wars” (SDI – Strategic Defense Initiative) system, a greatly accelerated land- and space-based effort to intercept the overwhelming majority of Soviet ICBMs before they impacted U.S. targets.  This plan threatened the relatively stable nuclear deterrence system and convinced the Soviet leadership that the U.S. actually intended a huge defensive buildup to allow them to escape relatively unscathed after a Soviet counterstrike to a suspected American first strike attack plan.  The Soviets later heightened tensions by shooting down Korean Airlines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island on September 1, 1983.  Comments:  With the election of Donald Trump, the first president without any government or military experience, as the 45th Commander-in-Chief, it seems extremely possible that the Doomsday Clock may be advanced to its historic high of two minutes until Midnight as experienced from 1953-60.  During the past year of campaigning, President-elect Trump has expressed a profound and frightening ignorance on the nuclear threat best exemplified by his shocking query, “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?” Even the fact that 50 leading Republican national security experts warned in an open letter published this past September that Trump possesses “dangerous qualities in an individual with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” did not dissuade the American electorate from selecting Donald Trump as president.  One can only hope that President Trump will follow the pattern of Cold War hawk President Ronald Reagan who for decades talked of destroying Soviet communism but eventually proclaimed publicly that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” and talked openly with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev of eliminating nuclear weapons entirely.  (Sources:  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists website. and Ira Helfand and Robert Dodge.  “Op-Ed:  Should We Let An Unstable Person Have Control of the Nuclear Arsenal? No, But That’s Not The Right Question.”  Los Angeles Times. Sept. 23, 2016. both accessed Nov. 10, 2016.)