November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November 5, 1951Easy, the fourth nuclear test explosion of Operation Buster-Jangle in a series of seven test blasts sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory, was conducted at the Nevada Test Site.  A U.S. Air Force B-45 bomber dropped the warhead and it was detonated at an altitude of 1,314 feet with a magnitude of 31 kilotons, about twice as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The objective of these tests was to evaluate new devices that might be included in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  Comments:  The testing of over 2,050 nuclear devices over the last seven decades by nine nuclear weapons states has inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to global populations especially native peoples and veterans who participated in observing tests at a relatively close range.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague large numbers of people due to nuclear testing.  (Source:  Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig.  “Nuclear Weapons Databook:  Volume II, Appendix B.” National Resources Defense Council, Inc. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987, p. 152.)

November 8, 2016 – In one of the closest elections in U.S. history, Republican Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States by virtue of his Electoral College margin of 304-227 over Democrat Hillary Clinton despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes (48.0 to 45.9 percent).  As a result, the nuclear threat to the U.S. and the world has undisputedly risen based on Trump’s pre-election statements:  “You want to be unpredictable (with nuclear weapons),” CBS-TV, Jan. 13, 2016; “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?” MSNBC, Aug. 3, 2016, as well as his comments made during the transition period and after he took the oath of office.  Six days after his inauguration, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, in consultation with that organization’s Board of Sponsors, which included 15 Nobel Laureates, “…decided to act, in part, based on the words of a single person: Donald Trump.” The organization’s press release continued, “Donald Trump made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons…Both his statements and actions as President-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways.  He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security (and arms control)…”  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists used this language about Trump (as well as pointing to other negative global nuclear trends) to justify moving the Doomsday Clock from three minutes to two and a half minutes until Midnight.  Comments:  Unfortunately most scholars would argue that historical precedent does not allow for the consideration of threatening nuclear Armageddon as a sufficient constitutional justification for the impeachment of a President.  Many other presidents have used nuclear threats and gotten away with it, notably President Nixon’s 1969 actions consistent with his ‘Madman Theory of International Relations’ of threatening an attack on the Soviet Union in order to convince the Vietnamese communist leadership that he was irrational and unable to compromise at the Paris Peace Talks.  Since becoming president, Donald Trump has expressed strong hostility toward two critical nuclear agreements negotiated by his predecessor: the 2010 New START Treaty with Russia and the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran.  Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport noted additionally that, “He has impulsively and recklessly threatened to respond to North Korean provocations (nuclear tests and ballistic missile test launches) with ‘fire and fury,’” and stated that the U.S. military might be forced to destroy all of North Korea.  Indeed, how can one be absolutely sure that like other presidents, Trump is only threatening to use nuclear weapons, not actually planning to do the unthinkable and cross the nuclear threshold plunging the world into an abyss it may never recover from?  Last year and then again a few weeks ago, over 20 prestigious psychiatrists and mental health professionals analyzed Trump’s personality and character and determined that he suffers from “malignant narcissism,” and that, “his speech and behavior show signs of significant mental derangement,” concluding that, “anyone as mentally unstable as Trump should not be entrusted with the life and death powers of the presidency.”  For these paramount reasons, along with many others noted by legal and constitutional scholars (his violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause for one), it seems reasonable that Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and all other political entities in this nation and abroad should press firmly for the resignation or impeachment of President Trump with all deliberate speed!  On the other hand, even if this unlikely series of events achieves success – what guarantee is there that Vice President Mike Pence or others in the line of presidential succession won’t also endanger the world with their own nuclear threats and actions?  In actuality, individual leaders are not the main problem.  Humanity faces destruction from climate change and nuclear war mostly because of a flawed global system that must adapt, reform, and evolve into a more egalitarian model before it is too late.   (Sources:  Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Press Release.  “It is Now Two and A Half Minutes to Midnight.”Jan.25, 2017 (Embargoed until Jan. 26, 2017). http://thebulletin.org/press-release/it-now-two-and-half-minutes-midnight10432, Mehdi Hasan. “Worried About Trump’s Mental Stability?  The Worst is Yet to Come.”  The Intercept.org, Oct. 7, 2017, Dave Leip’s Atlas of Presidential Electionshttps://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016&off=0&elect=0&f=0, and Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport.  “Trump’s Threat to Nuclear Order.”  War on the Rocks.  Oct. 12, 2017. http://warontherocks.com/2017/10/trumps-threat-to-nuclear-order/ all accessed on Oct. 20, 2017.)

November 17-18, 1980 – “The Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War,” a PSR travelling symposium sponsored by the Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the Council for a Livable World Education Fund, was held on these dates at the Herbst Theater in the War Memorial Veterans Building at the Civic Center in San Francisco.  Under the leadership of Dr. Helen Caldicott, PSR’s symposium series went from one U.S. city to another illustrating in stark detail the specific and horrendous impacts of nuclear war on each of the nation’s metropolitan areas.  Participants in this San Francisco conference included Herbert Scoville, Jr., President of the Arms Control Association, Dr. Sidney Drell, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Deputy Director of The Stanford Linear Accelerator, Dr. Stuart Finch, former Director of Research, Radiation Effects Research Foundation, Hiroshima, and retired Rear Admiral Gene R. La Rocque, Director of the Center for Defense Information.  The symposium wrapped up with this concluding statement, “There are no winners in a nuclear war, worldwide fallout would contaminate much of the globe for generations and atmospheric effects would severely damage all living things.”  Comments:  Three years after this conference, the TTAPS Study, one of whose authors included science popularizer and Professor of Astronomy at Cornell Carl Sagan, provided even stronger evidence that a nuclear war would not only be catastrophic for global civilization but could possibly trigger the end of all human life on the planet due to the Nuclear Winter phenomenon.  Nevertheless, presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump have argued and continue to argue that might makes right and that building up the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not only good for the economy but ensures our nation’s survival in an unstable world.  Thankfully, a growing global constituency is demanding a shift to a New Paradigm that promotes an end to all wars, the phase-out of not only nuclear weapons but also nuclear power plants in favor of green, sustainable non-carbon-producing forms of energy, the redistribution of wealth to ensure the survival and prosperity of all the world’s inhabitants, and an end to the warped conception of “Peace through Strength.” (Source:  University of California at San Francisco.  News/Public Information Series Press Release. Nov. 6, 1980 and a plethora of alternative news media sources.)

November 20, 1983The Day After, a Nicholas Meyer-produced film was broadcast nationwide on ABC Television.  Starring Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, John Lithgow and others, this film was one of the first realistic dramatic presentations that explored the specific impacts of nuclear war on an actual American city – Lawrence, Kansas.  It is estimated that approximately 100 million Americans, half of the adult population of the country, watched the televised event.  Even a dedicated Cold Warrior like President Ronald Reagan, who may have seen an early rough cut of The Day After, acknowledged that his administration’s preparations to triumph in a nuclear war were naïve and unrealistic when he publicly stated in a speech to the Japanese Diet, “I believe there can be only one policy for preserving our precious civilization in this modern age.  A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”  Comments:  Over the seven decades since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hollywood as well as independent producers have provided many more films, miniseries, and documentaries about the unfortunately all too real threat of nuclear war.  However, the still growing strength of the military-industrial-Congressional-nuclear weapons laboratories complex and the mainstream media’s reluctance to report anti-nuclear and anti-militarist stories has resulted in a decades-long trend of growing militarism in American society.  This is seen in a number of areas:  Congress’ rhetoric of “the nuclear option” in reference to budget debates, the strong association of military terms to entertainment, sporting, and political events, the growing popularity of the video-computer game industry with titles embracing nuclear conflict and post-apocalyptic “play scenarios,” and in many other segments of American life.  Fortunately, a growing proportion of Americans and world citizenry are increasingly cognizant that nuclear conflict is not a game and must be prevented at all costs if our global civilization is to survive.  (Sources:  Mainstream and alternative media sources including CNN, The New York Times, Democracy Now, and RT.com.)

November 24, 1975 – Enroute to the Pacific Missile Test Range Facility in Hawaii, the U.S. Navy destroyer DD-950 U.S.S. Richard S. Edwards suffered an accidental explosion when an ASROC anti-submarine rocket propulsion system ignited causing injuries to at least one or more crew members.  The Navy did not categorize this incident as a Broken Arrow or nuclear accident most probably because the missile, while nuclear-capable, was in this particular circumstance not armed with an atomic warhead.  However, this incident illustrates that it was certainly possible that a nuclear-armed ASROC igniting accidentally could trigger a serious leak of radioactive materials or even the loss of the warhead overboard.  Comments:  This serious accident was just one example of dozens or even hundreds of accidents, involving weapons systems that are nuclear-capable, that have occurred underwater or on the high seas by naval forces of the nine nuclear weapons states.  In cases where nuclear reactors and warheads are lost at sea, there is the deadly serious concern about the leakage of highly radioactive toxins affecting not only the flora and fauna of the deep but the health and well-being of millions of people.  (Sources:  John Pike, et al., “Chicken Little and Darth Vader: Is the Sky Really Falling?” Federation of American Scientists, Oct. 1, 1991, pp. 57-58 and William Arkin and Joshua Handler.  “Neptune Papers II:  Naval Nuclear Accidents at Sea.”  Greenpeace International, 1990.)

November 28, 1993 – In one of the twenty known incidents of the attempted illicit sale of Russian bomb-grade fissile material in the last 25 years, especially since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, local authorities arrested a number of suspects in Polyarny, Russia on this date for the attempted transfer of 4,500 grams of highly enriched uranium to a group of buyers who were in actuality undercover security forces – this was the largest amount seized in the last two decades or so.  In April 2015, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Deputy Director Anne Harrington testified at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Strategic Forces that, “Of the roughly 20 documented seizures of nuclear explosive materials since 1992, all have come out of the former Soviet Union.” Despite recent reassurances from Rosatom, the state-owned corporation that runs Russia’s nuclear energy and weapons plants, that their nuclear materials, “are always strictly controlled” and accounted for, a Center for Public Integrity November 2015 investigative report concluded that, “In fact, some 99 percent of the world’s weapons-grade materials have been secured.  But one percent or more is still out there, and it amounts to several thousand pounds that could be acquired by any one of several terrorist organizations.” Comments:  Although some significant progress in securing and protecting nuclear materials from  theft or diversion has been allegedly confirmed by Russia and other Nuclear Club nations at the four biennial nuclear security summits (2010-16), much more needs to be accomplished in the U.N. and other international fora, as well as bilaterally by the Trump and Putin administrations, to prevent the use of fissile materials in dirty bombs or primitive small-yield fission weapons whether the materials diverted come from civilian nuclear plants or military nuclear weapon facilities.  In addition to concerns about the resulting mass casualties and short- and long-term radioactive contamination from such a catastrophe, there is also the frightening possibility that in times of crisis, such an attack might inadvertently trigger nuclear retaliation or even precipitate a nuclear exchange.  (Source:  Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith.  “The Fuel for a Nuclear Bomb is in the Hands of an Unknown Black Marketeer from Russia, U.S. Officials Say.” Center for Public Integrity, Nov. 12, 2015 reprinted in Courier: The Stanley Foundation Newsletter, Number 86, Spring 2016, pp. 7-14.)


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