October: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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October: This Month in Nuclear Threat History


October 3, 1942 – At the Peenemunde Army Research Center located on an island in the Baltic Sea, aerospace engineers commanded by the German Wehrmacht for the first time successfully launched a long-range guided single-stage, liquid-fueled ballistic missile.  The 46-foot long Aggregat 4 (A4) rocket, also known as Vergeltungswaffe 2 (V-2), which translates as “Vengeance Weapon 2,” weighing in at 27,600 pounds and capable of carrying a one-ton conventional high explosive warhead, reached a height of 52.5 miles.  Almost two years later beginning in September of 1944, some 3,000 of these weapons were launched at Allied targets in London, Antwerp, and Leiden, within their range limit of approximately 200 miles, killing almost 10,000 civilians and military personnel.  Also, tens of thousands of Jewish and other slave laborers were worked to death building not only the rocket components but the huge launch complex.  Comments:  Over the last three quarters of a century, the development of long-range ballistic missiles on hair-trigger alert status and nuclear weapons, especially thermonuclear fusion weapons with yields up to thousands of times that of the Hiroshima bomb, have led to an untenable, irrational, and unstable world where at any moment, a global nuclear catastrophe can be triggered through accident, miscalculation, madness, or unintentional means, which could very well result in the end of civilization and very possibly the extinction of the human species.  We have been very fortunate so far, but our luck won’t last forever, therefore these doomsday weapons must be eliminated at the earliest possible opportunity.  (Source:  Wernher von Braun and Frederick Ordway III.  “Space Travel: A History.”  New York:  Harper & Row, 1985, p. 45.)

October 6, 1986 – A Soviet nuclear-powered Yankee-I-class submarine K-219, that had experienced an accidental explosion in one of its SS-N-6 long-range nuclear-tipped ballistic missile tubes three days earlier approximately 480 miles east of Bermuda, sank in the Atlantic Ocean while under tow in 18,000 feet of water.  At least three crew members were killed in the initial explosion and it is likely that leakage from the damaged nuclear warheads may have irradiated other members of the crew and the personnel of five Soviet rescue vessels despite assurances by the Soviet government that there was “no risk of triggering the weapons onboard, or of a nuclear explosion, or of radioactive contamination.”  However, Western sources reported at the time that 16 nuclear missiles and two reactors were on board the vessel when it sank.  Comments:  This deadly incident was just one example of dozens or even hundreds of accidents involving submarines, surface ships, and aircraft involving the loss of nuclear propulsion units and/or nuclear weapons.  Some of these nuclear reactors and warheads lost at sea are leaking 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 and William Arkin and Joshua Handler. “Neptune Papers II:  Naval Nuclear Accidents at Sea.”  Greenpeace International, 1990.)

October 17, 2015 – At a meeting of the World Medical Association (WMA) General Assembly held in Moscow, this grouping of global physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals unanimously updated its Statement on Nuclear Weapons originally adopted in 1998 and amended in 2008, requesting that all National Medical Associations take extensive steps to educate their publics and governments about the incredibly horrendous, species-threatening health impacts of nuclear conflict and “to join the WMA in supporting this Declaration and to urge their respective governments to work to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.”  Comments:  A plethora of scientific papers, conferences, and symposia over the last several decades on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war have concluded that even a relatively small number of thermonuclear explosions can almost entirely negate reasonable medical responses, even for a large, wealthy nation such as the United States.  This represents yet another reason why nuclear weapons must be abolished.  (Source:  “The Growing Threat of Nuclear War and the Role of the Health Community.”  World Medical Journal, Vol. 62, No. 3, October 3, 2016.  http://lab.arstubiedriba.lv/WMJ/vol62/3-october-2016/slides/slide-7.jpg accessed Sept. 22, 2017.)

October 18, 1998America’s Defense Monitor, a half-hour documentary PBS-TV series that premiered in 1987, released a new film, “Can We Learn to Live Without Nuclear Weapons,” produced by The Center for Defense Information, a non-partisan, 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 chief issue addressed in this episode was, “Must the world continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for stability and security or should nuclear weapons be abolished altogether, and if so, how?”  Most of the prominent experts interviewed for the film, including David Krieger, the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; Senator Alan Cranston (Retired), President of the Gorbachev USA Foundation; Admiral Noel Gaylor, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, USN (Retired); and Paul Warnke, Assistant Secretary of Defense, 1967-69, and Chief U.S. Arms Control negotiator, 1977-78, argued for the elimination of global nuclear arsenals.

October 21-22, 2008 – At the “Cyber War, Cyber Terrorism, and Cyber Espionage” IT Security Conference held in Fargo, North Dakota, many threats were contemplated, hypothesized, and projected but at least one real world nuclear threat was reported.  At least two independent sources corroborated this story.  One is Ron Rosenbaum’s 2011 book “How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III” and the other is a paper by Professor Joe St Sauver which specifically quotes long-time nuclear expert Dr. Bruce Blair.  “Blair cites one scary example:  the discovery of an unprotected electronic backdoor into the naval broadcast communications network used to transmit launch orders by radio to the U.S. Trident deterrent submarine fleet.  Unauthorized persons including terrorists might have been able to seize electronic control of shore-based radio transmitters … and actually inject a (nuclear) launch order into the network.  The deficiency was taken so seriously that new launch order validation protocols had to be devised, and Trident crews had to undergo special training to learn them.”  Comments: Cyber security and anti-hacking protocols, especially to prevent unauthorized access to nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, should be the focus of a strong internationally binding set of agreements among all the world’s nations, especially the nine nuclear weapons states. (Sources:  Ron Rosenbaum.  “How the End Begins:  The Road to a Nuclear World War III.” New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2011, p. 109 and Professor Joe St Sauver.  “Cyber War, Cyber Terrorism, and Cyber Espionage:  Report of IT Security Conference held Oct. 21-22, 2008 in Fargo, ND https://www.stsauver.com/~joe/cyberwar/cyberwar.pdf accessed Sept. 22, 2017.)

October 23-27, 2017 – The Fourth International Conference on Nuclear Power Plant Life Management, organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency in coordination with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Electric Power Research Institute, will be held on these dates in Lyon, France (the nation with the greatest percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power).  This meeting will allegedly build on three previous conferences on the same subject held in Budapest in 2002, Shanghai in 2007, and Salt Lake City in 2012 with the aim to address, “the management of the safe, cost-effective operation of the world’s fleet of (civilian) nuclear power plants (NPPs) which are on average 20 years old even though the design life of such plants is typically 30-40 years or more.”  Comments:  While it may seem prudent for nuclear engineers and plant operation professionals to exchange essential information and procedures that might mitigate, lessen, or even prevent nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima and many other such incidents, it is more likely that such conferences are chiefly designed to persuade the public that nuclear plant operations are routine, economical, safe, and a critical alternative to dirty fossil fuel power plants.  Wrong on all four counts!  For instance, solar, wind, and geothermal energy systems have proven, especially in the last few years, much more economically feasible and competitive than nuclear power plants.  Then there is the nuclear industry mantra that nuclear energy is “zero carbon electricity,” and that there are no global warming impacts from nuclear power generation, which represents an elaborate delusion.  Zero carbon?  This is technically true during the thirty years or longer that a nuclear plant is operating, but patently wrong when we recognize the huge carbon signature of nuclear power plants during their entire life cycle.  Significant greenhouse emissions are the result of mining, transporting, processing, and mitigating harmful environmental impacts before uranium fuel is loaded into a reactor.  Then there are the emissions resulting from the construction and maintenance of large nuclear complexes including waste removal, sequestration, and very long-term storage (potentially requiring thousands or even tens of thousands of years), not to mention decommissioning, decontaminating, and restoring a nuclear site to the public commons. The nuclear industrial complex also fails to factor into the equation the long-term environmental and public health costs as well as the terrorist attack or blackmail threat and the dangerous risk of nuclear proliferation when considering the creation, operation, and decommissioning of a nuclear power plant.  (Sources:  International Atomic Energy Agency. http://www.pub.iaea.org/iaeameeting/50811/Fourth-International-Conference-On-Nuclear-Power-Plant-Life-Management, The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. http://ieer.org, and The Helen Caldicott Foundation. http://helencaldicottfoundation.org/ accessed Sept. 25, 2017.)

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