Roger’s note: since the beginning of the nuclear era, the super powers who possess nuclear weapons (enough to destroy the planet several times over) have justified the expansion of their nuclear arsenals by the so-called Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine (appropriately known by its acronym MAD). The theory being that knowing that a nuclear war would annihilate everyone, no one would be motivated to start one. This Dr. Strangeglovian thinking fails to take into account accidents, misunderstanding, or good old fashion human craziness. It ignores the environmental dangers of nuclear stockpiling over time, and above all, it depends upon a 100% success rate, for it only takes one nuclear event to make the whole house of cards come tumbling down. Nuclear disarmament, as any first grader could tell you, is the only solution.
Reprinted from Empire Burlesque
As all the world knows, the United States government is fervently dedicated to advancing the cause of peace throughout the world. Tirelessly, selflessly — and thanklessly — America pursues this noble mission in every corner of the globe: standing shoulder to shoulder with Saudi extremists in slaughtering civilians in Yemen, with al Qaeda and ISIS beheading their way across Syria, with fascist militias in Ukraine. But recently, America’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning president went far beyond these localized acts of lovingkindness and made a beneficent decision that potentially could affect every single person drawing breath on our blue planet.
Late last month, the Peace Prize Prez (PPPOTUS) “blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” the Washington Post reports. Obama’s peace-loving action means that “the entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” has been killed dead in its tracks. It will now be five years until the next UN review of the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
You might think this is odd behavior from a president who has spent years tightening a stranglehold on Iran with an endless series of aggressive, bellicose acts just short of outright war, in order (ostensibly) to prevent that “rogue nation” from developing nuclear weapons. Very late in the day, he has recently decided to try to craft a non-proliferation deal with Iran that is very similar to the deal that Iran offered the United States more than 12 years ago — the kind of deal that has been on the table from Iran for his entire presidency. It’s likely that the main spur to his belated attempt at deal-making stems from his realization that he desperately needs Iran’s help to quell the ungodly maelstrom of murder, ruin and extremism he and his predecessor (and their Saudi allies) have unleashed in the Middle East.
In any case, he has long insisted that the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be opposed and thwarted at all costs. Why then has he stepped in to stop the global framework for, er, thwarting nuclear proliferation? To protect a “rogue” nuclear state which has illegally developed a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons — and which adamantly refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Unlike Iran, which has for years accepted an international inspection regimen far more rigorous than the Treaty calls for.)
The nuclear renegade is, of course, Israel. And the treaty review that Obama just killed would have called for a conference in 2016 on eliminating all nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Of course, only one nation in the Middle East actually has nuclear weapons. But Israel is concerned that such a conference would force it to acknowledge the existence of the large nuclear arsenal that everyone in the world already knows it has.
So the United States — with the slavish support of its London lapdog and Ottawa underling — moved to kill the negotiations for the conference. The decision “has alarmed countries without nuclear weapons, who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear-armed countries to disarm,” the Post reports. “Amid a growing movement that stresses the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Austria announced that 107 states have now signed a pledge calling for legal measures to ban and eliminate them.”
Of course, Obama’s action was not merely a benevolent service for Israel. For not only does the United States want to keep Israel as its nuclear-armed crusader fortress in the Middle East — it also has no intention whatsoever of eliminating its own nuclear arsenal. This will never happen, no matter which faction of militarist courtiers happens to wrap their candidate in the imperial purple for a time in 2016 or 2020 or 2024, etc. So any undermining of genuine efforts toward nuclear disarmament also serves America’s bipartisan agenda of unipolar domination of world affairs.
This is far more important than ridding the world of nuclear weapons — or even trying to control their proliferation. Now there are five years of open field ahead for more nations to jump into the nuclear club — including America’s Saudi buddies, who say they might get some nukes for their own selves if Obama cuts a deal with Iran … which, as every Western intelligence agency has avowed, is not actually trying to build a nuclear weapon.
To speak plainly and with no addition: America’s bipartisan elite would rather put the entire world into more nuclear peril than surrender a single iota for their lust for loot and power.
Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more…)
Roger’s note: the Korean War (excuse me, police action) has never ended. There has been an armistice since the early 1950s, but the US has always refused to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. The US government needs its demons (the infamous “axis of evil”) more than it wants genuine peace. The demonization of a grotesque and cartoon like North Korea, via a complicit corporate media, is deeply embedded in the consciousness of most Americans.
The U.S. should negotiate with North Korea on its proposal to cancel nuclear tests in exchange for a U.S. suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea Why is this important?
The DPRK government (North Korea) disclosed on Jan. 10, 2015, that it had delivered to the United States the day before an important proposal to “create a peaceful climate on the Korean Peninsula.”
This year, we observe the 70th anniversary of the tragic division of Korea in 1945. The U.S. government played a major role in the arbitrary division of the country, as well as in the horrific Korean civil war of 1950-53, wreaking catastrophic devastation on North Korea, with millions of Korean deaths as well as the deaths of 50,000 American soldiers. It is hard to believe that the U.S. still keeps nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea today, even though the Armistice Agreement was signed back in 1953.
According to KCNA, the North Korean news agency, the DPRK’s message stated that if the United States “contribute(s) to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year,” then “the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.”
Unfortunately, it is reported that the U.S. State Department rejected the offer on Jan. 10, claiming that the two issues are separate. Such a quick spurning of the North’s proposal is not only arrogant but also violates one of the basic principles of the U.N. Charter, which requires of its members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” (Article 2 ). To reduce the dangerous military tensions on the Korean Peninsula today, it is urgent that the two hostile States engage in mutual dialogue and negotiation for a peaceful settlement of the lingering Korean War, without any preconditions.
The North’s proposal comes at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and DPRK over a Sony film, which depicts a brutal CIA-induced assassination of the current North Korean leader. In spite of the growing doubts by many security experts, the Obama administration hastily blamed the North for last November’s hacking of the Sony Pictures’ computer system and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country. Pyongyang proposed a joint investigation, denying its responsibility for the cyber-attacks.
The winter U.S.-R.O.K. (South Korea) war drill usually takes place in late Feb. DPRK put its troops on high military alert on such occasions in the past and conducted its own war drills in response. Pyongyang regards the large-scale joint war drills as a U.S. rehearsal for military attacks, including nuclear strikes, against North Korea. In the last year’s drill, the U.S. flew in B-2 stealth bombers, which can drop nuclear bombs, from the U.S. mainland, as well as bringing in U.S. troops from abroad. In fact, these threatening moves not only provoke the North but also violate the Korean War Armistice Agreement of 1953.
Instead of intensifying further sanctions and military pressures against the DPRK, the Obama administration should accept the recent offer from the North in good faith, and engage in negotiations to reach positive agreements to reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
John Kim, Veterans for Peace, Korea Peace Campaign Project, Coordinator
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NY
Dr. Helen Caldicott
David Swanson, World Beyond War
Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u.,Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk for Justice and Peace, U.S. Province
David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Alfred L. Marder,U.S. Peace Council
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers, San Francisco, CA
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent/legal counsel and peace activist
John D. Baldwin
Arnie Saiki, Coordinator Moana Nui
Regina Birchem, Women’s International League for Peace and Justice, US
Rosalie Sylen, Code Pink, Long Island, Suffolk Peace Network
Helen Jaccard, Veterans For Peace Nuclear Abolition Working Group, Co-chair
Heinrich Buecker, Coop Anti-War Cafe Berlin
Sung-Hee Choi, Gangjeong village international team, Korea
When Condoleeza Rice argued for a U.S. invasion of Iraq by claiming that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” she touched on a real threat of the nuclear war that could wipe out entire countries and destroy civilization as we know it. Rice and the rest of the Bush administration knew that Iraq didn’t have nuclear weapons and never presented such a threat. They also knew that there was one country in the Middle East who did: a nuclear-armed rogue nation who has proven throughout its history to be possibly the most lawless and bellicose country of modern times.That country, of course, is Israel. Since at least the early 1980s, Israel has had nuclear weapons. Instead of waging a war to get rid of them, as the Bush administration argued was necessary with Iraq, the U.S. has done everything it can to help Israel continue and grow its nuclear program and keep the Middle East from becoming a nuclear-free zone.Last month, the United Nations General Assembly sought to counter “the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East” with a resolution recognizing that this “would pose a serious threat to international peace and security.” This threat necessitates “the immediate need for placing all nuclear facilities in the region of the Middle East under full-scope safeguards of the Agency.”
The resolution passed by a margin of 151-4. Only the United States, Israel, Canada and Micronesia voted against it. In a separate resolution, the U.S. and Israel stood alone against 177 other countries who supported further efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That resolution calls for a “prohibition on the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons.”
In March 2003, George W. Bush proclaimed that he was authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 687 to use force against Iraq to rid the country of WMD. Iraq presented such an existential threat that an immediate war was the only conceivable means of dealing with the situation. After Bush did invade Iraq and kill 500,000 Iraqis and create millions of widows, orphans and refugees, what was obvious all along was proven: the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD were nothing more than lies and distortions.
The administration knew full well that Israel, however, did have a large-scale, rogue WMD program when Bush cited UNSC Resolution 687 as his legal justification for invading Iraq. Four U.S. Presidents have all ignored the actual text in Resolution 687 which declares “the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.”
The only country to ever have used nuclear weapons – by dropping two on a country that had been trying for weeks to surrender – has consistently provided Israel with a diplomatic shield in the United Nations. On top of guaranteeing their right to violate international law with impunity, the U.S. has showered Israel with over $140 billion in military aid that amounts to more than $3 billion per year.
Even without its WMD, Israel would pose a grave threat to peace with its army and conventional weapons alone. Israel has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of its neighboring countries, the most flagrant example being the aggressive invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982 which killed 20,000 people. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Israel has even attacked the United States itself. In 1967, Israeli warplanes bombarded the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen. Israel’s possession of WMD only compounds their destructive capacity.
Israel is one of only four countries in the world (India, Pakistan and South Sudan) that has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This landmark treaty, in force since 1970, binds signing nations to work together stop the spread of nuclear weapons and work towards disarmament.
Robert Wood, the U.S. lackey who defended Israel’s right to maintain nuclear weapons recently in the UN, claimed the UN resolution demanding Israel to renounce nuclear arms “fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country.”As Ali Abunimah noted in the Electronic Intifada: “The fact that Israel is indeed the single country with nuclear weapons in the region, and the single country that has not signed the NPT, apparently escaped his notice.”Israel has not only amassed its own nuclear arsenal, but they have exported nuclear technology and capabilities abroad. Not to just any country, but to the racist, pariah state of apartheid South Africa, the most despicable regime of the last century, other than possibly Israel itself.
While it was long understood that the two ethnic exclusivist regimes maintained close military ties, the first concrete evidence that Israel tried to sell South Africa nuclear warheads emerged several years ago when American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky obtained declassified documents from the South African archives.
“South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states,” reported the Guardian.
The paper goes on to note that “the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.”
South Africa easily could have followed through with potential nuclear strikes against its neighbors. In 1988, the SADF were being chased out of Angola by Cuban troops assisting the Angolan government. South Africa was illegally occupying the Southeastern part of Angola in a bid to topple that country’s government and install a puppet government friendly to the apartheid regime. Years later, Fidel Castro recounted the potential danger of nuclear strikes Cubans faced as their forces pushed forward to repel the aggression of the South African troops.
“The main problem was the fact that the racist South Africans possessed, according to our calculations, between 10 and 12 nuclear arms,” Castro wrote. “They had carried out tests in oceans or frozen areas to the South. President Ronald Reagan had authorized such tests, and the device necessary for blasting the nuclear charge was among the equipment delivered by Israel.”
Since it developed and used the first nuclear weapons, the United States government has supported weapons of mass destruction on principle. They also refuse the concept of nuclear weapons solely as self-defense, never having accepted a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons as the Soviet Union had.
The U.S. has never had any moral or legal inhibitions about countries it chooses having a right to WMD. For countries that support the U.S. government’s self-professed right to rule the world, there is no danger to peace or to the survival of civilization itself that Washington will not tolerate and enable.
Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.
Roger’s note: If you are just getting over your Halloween frights, here is something that should really scare you. Only in a world that is controlled by politicians who follow the dictates of generals and CEOs (as opposed to “the people.” which is what democracy is supposed to be about) could such a danger to the very existence of the biosphere and humankind be put in jeopardy. Of course, when I refer to generals and CEOs you know that I mean the capitalist economic system that will doom us if we don’t do something about it. I hope this does not cause you to lose too much sleep.
JANUARY 17, 2014
BY ERIC SCHLOSSER
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.
The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?
With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”
President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.
In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.
* * *
The Kennedy Administration soon decided to put locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs), would be placed on the arming lines. The weapons would be inoperable without the proper code—and that code would be shared with NATO allies only when the White House was prepared to fight the Soviets. The American military didn’t like the idea of these coded switches, fearing that mechanical devices installed to improve weapon safety would diminish weapon reliability. A top-secret State Department memo summarized the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961: “all is well with the atomic stockpile program and there is no need for any changes.”
After a crash program to develop the new control technology, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, permissive action links were finally placed inside most of the nuclear weapons deployed by NATO forces. But Kennedy’s directive applied only to the NATO arsenal. For years, the Air Force and the Navy blocked attempts to add coded switches to the weapons solely in their custody. During a national emergency, they argued, the consequences of not receiving the proper code from the White House might be disastrous. And locked weapons might play into the hands of Communist saboteurs. “The very existence of the lock capability,” a top Air Force general claimed, “would create a fail-disable potential for knowledgeable agents to ‘dud’ the entire Minuteman [missile] force.” The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission. And a new screening program, the Human Reliability Program, was created to stop people with emotional, psychological, and substance-abuse problems from gaining access to nuclear weapons.
Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.
Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.
* * *
The early permissive action links were rudimentary. Placed in NATO weapons during the nineteen-sixties and known as Category A PALs, the switches relied on a split four-digit code, with ten thousand possible combinations. If the United States went to war, two people would be necessary to unlock a nuclear weapon, each of them provided with half the code. Category A PALs were useful mainly to delay unauthorized use, to buy time after a weapon had been taken or to thwart an individual psychotic hoping to cause a large explosion. A skilled technician could open a stolen weapon and unlock it within a few hours. Today’s Category D PALs, installed in the Air Force’s hydrogen bombs, are more sophisticated. They require a six-digit code, with a million possible combinations, and have a limited-try feature that disables a weapon when the wrong code is repeatedly entered.
The Air Force’s land-based Minuteman III missiles and the Navy’s submarine-based Trident II missiles now require an eight-digit code—which is no longer 00000000—in order to be launched. The Minuteman crews receive the code via underground cables or an aboveground radio antenna. Sending the launch code to submarines deep underwater presents a greater challenge. Trident submarines contain two safes. One holds the keys necessary to launch a missile; the other holds the combination to the safe with the keys; and the combination to the safe holding the combination must be transmitted to the sub by very-low-frequency or extremely-low-frequency radio. In a pinch, if Washington, D.C., has been destroyed and the launch code doesn’t arrive, the sub’s crew can open the safes with a blowtorch.
The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”
Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command—the organization responsible for all of America’s nuclear forces—-was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, “a significant monetary amount” of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013. A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with “suspect” young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn’t let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.
While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow’s Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the “worst morale in the Air Force.” Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection. Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams—and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. “We don’t care if things go properly,” a launch officer told RAND. “We just don’t want to get in trouble.”
The most unlikely and absurd plot element in “Strangelove” is the existence of a Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,” Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, “if you keep it a secret!”
A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.
“This is absolute madness, Ambassador,” President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets’ automated retaliatory system. “Why should you build such a thing?” Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and “Strangelove” seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.
You can read Eric Schlosser’s guide to the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its nuclear arsenal, and watch and read his deconstruction of clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about permissive action links.
Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control.”
Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own?
In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. It was Sabath who had arranged for me to visit her bachan at her aunt’s home in Hilliard, Ohio, where Shoji agreed to share her first full account of the bombing and the family mysteries that followed.
* * *
On my way to Hilliard, I carried my copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” (My 1989 edition bears the cover endorsement “Everyone able to read should read it,” and I agree.) Its text first appeared as an entire issue of this magazine, on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, and followed the fates of six civilians in the aftermath. Even now, on a more distant anniversary, Hersey’s granular rendering gives an urgency to these stories: of a young clerk, Shoji’s age, who found herself crushed beneath a pile of books; of a Methodist pastor who charged his way back into the city to help, passing victims whose eyebrows had been singed off and women with the flower patterns of kimonos burned into their skin.
As I entered Shoji’s home, on a quiet cul-de-sac, she swept my hand into hers and pressed her cool forehead against mine by way of welcome. Her eldest daughter, Minori, gave me a pair of slippers to wear inside; as the three of us shuffled into the kitchen, where fresh berries and tea cakes awaited, we paused to examine photographs of the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the same pastor who weaves his way through Hersey’s narrative, and who also, apparently, stood at the center of Shoji’s. She first came across him preaching in an open-air bazaar in Hiroshima not long after the bombing; he gave her a piece of paper with information about his church, and she soon converted to Christianity. (He later baptized her grandson, Isao, who served as my translator well into the early evening.) Some of the first words Shoji spoke to me in Japanese were about the Reverend: “He would say, ‘Tomiko, why don’t we go all over the world together and tell them of our experiences with the bomb?’ ”
Tanimoto made a second career out of his own suggestion; on the fortieth anniversary of the bombing, Hersey wrote a follow-up story for the magazine, “Hiroshima: The Aftermath,” in which he described the pastor’s extensive U.S. speaking tour to promote peace. But Shoji wasn’t ready to speak freely at the time. This past July, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped Little Boy, died in Stone Mountain, Georgia, having given many interviews. By then, Shoji had made up her mind that, in her eighty-eighth year, she would share her own account of what happened on the other side of the bomb. So we began right there, with the flash.
* * *
“Radiation! Heat! The wind from the bomb!” When Shoji began to describe her recollections from August 6, 1945, she took on a staccato pattern of speech, gesticulating rapidly. A tiny woman with pixie-gray hair and a sweet, flushed face, she slapped her small hands together and pummelled her head with pinched fingers, as if to imitate flying debris from the blast. At one point, she pretended to fling burned skin across the room like zucchini peels. Then she closed her eyes and went into a deep repose, resurfacing with a sudden phrase: “I’m scared to meet people,” she said, speaking in the present tense of her teen-age self, who might also be herself at eighty-eight. “Something could just blow up. I’ve seen it before.”
On the morning of the bombing—it was 8:15, the start of the workday—Shoji recalls briefly losing consciousness at the Bureau of Tobacco. “When I got up, I ran down to the first floor, down to the bomb shelter,” she said. “All over was smoke; the entire city was covered with smoke. I saw people coming across the bridge just completely black—covered by blood, coming towards us. … The whole city was a sea of fire. And then, at night, it rained black rain.”
Collecting herself, she began walking with colleagues across the city’s many bridges, toward the sea. She caught a train in Hiroshima’s west hoping to find her sister, to no avail; en route were whole trolley cars that had been blown off their tracks, filled with singed corpses. After spending the night, she returned home to find a note from the same sister, which read, “You can find me at the school.” The two stayed in the school turned shelter for some time thereafter, living in a true dystopia. “There were tens of thousands of flies from the dead bodies,” she recalled. “Our greetings to each other became: are you having diarrhea?”
For all those who perished in the bombing, many more survived, day by day. Only later would some, like Shoji, come to discover that the most devastating aftereffects were like ghosts: coming and going on a whim, wreaking forms of havoc often incomprehensible to outsiders and, sometimes, even to those who suffered it.
* * *
I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be ahibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods.
Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.”
The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.”
Minori chimed in, gently stroking her mother’s shoulder: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable.
Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.”
* * *
Shoji’s granddaughter Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?”
Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward.
In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.”
But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.”
When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on herbachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.
* * *
In the late nineteen-fifties, the Japanese government began issuing certificates to hibakusha, entitling them to certain health benefits, and Shoji became the first survivor living abroad to travel back to Japan to reap the benefits. Over the course of those treatments, Shoji gathered for the first time with other survivors, at healing hot springs. It was in that community that she got her first glimpse of psychological relief, and perhaps began to decipher some of her experiences and speak of them to others. Last fall, she traveled to Yale to say to her granddaughter’s classmates, “I want with every breath, with all my strength, to tell people” about the bomb.
In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.”
At eighty-eight, Shoji seems to have thrown off that cosmic shrug. When we finished in the dining room, her daughter gave me a bundle of pastries and fruit, and we all shuffled to the foyer. The whole family stood in the doorway and waved goodbye. Shoji’s cheeks looked pink, and, as I drove off, it was easy to imagine how she might have appeared on her way to work at nineteen, looking up at the August sky.
Sarah Stillman is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Roger’s note: Defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings allege that they saved the lives of untold thousands of American and Japanese soldiers who would have died in an invasion of Japan. This, as a justification for the unleashing of atomic warfare and the massive civilian death and destruction, is highly questionable speculation. Credible historians have concluded that Japan was already defeated and that the bombings were unnecessary to achieve surrender. Some point to evidence that the bombings were a warning signal to the Soviet Union.
August 6, 1945 and not December 7, 1941 is truly the day that will go down in infamy.
Hiroshima, Japan in the wake of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. (Photo: flickr / cc)
“I hate war,” Koji Hosokawa told me as we stood next to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. The skeletal remains of the four-story building stand at the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The building was one of the few left standing when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed—many instantly, and many more slowly from severe burns and what would come to be understood as radiation sickness.
The world watches in horror this summer as military conflicts rage, leaving destruction in their wake from Libya, to Gaza, to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Never far from the dead and injured, nuclear-armed missiles stand by at the alert, waiting for the horrible moment when hubris, accident or inhumanity triggers the next nuclear attack. “I hate war,” Hosokawa reiterated. “War makes everyone crazy.”
Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old in 1945, and worked in the telephone exchange building, less than 2 miles from ground zero. “I miraculously survived,” he told me. His 13-year-old sister was not so fortunate: “She was … very close to the hypocenter, and she was exposed to the bomb there. And she was with a teacher and the students. In all, 228 people were there together with her.” They all died.
We walked through the park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, on display, were the images of death: the shadows of victims burned into the walls of buildings, the pictures of the fiery chaos that followed the bombing, and of the victims of radiation. Almost seven decades later, Hosokawa’s eyes tear up in the recollection. “My biggest sorrow in my life is that my younger sister died in the atomic bomb,” he said.
The day before my meeting with Koji Hosokawa, I sat down in Tokyo to interview Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was 10 years old in 1945. “When Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known,” he told me. “The feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this, was great.”
Now nearing 80, Kenzaburo Oe thinks deeply about the connection between the atomic bombings and the disaster at Fukushima, the nuclear power plant meltdown that began when Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Nobel laureate told the French newspaper Le Monde: “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”
After the Fukushima disaster, Oe said, “all Japanese people were feeling a great regret … the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. Because of this atmosphere, the government [in 2011], with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan.”
A-bomb survivors like Koji Hosokawa, writers like Kenzaburo Oe, and hundreds of thousands of others, now elderly, have lived through the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and seen its potential for devastation recently, at Fukushima. Nuclear-weapon arsenals and nuclear power plants each pose separate, horrific risks to humanity, yet the two are connected, with the byproducts of some power plants usable as material for nuclear warheads. Whether from an act of war, or an act of terrorism from a so-called loose nuke in the hands of a non-state actor, or from an uncontrolled meltdown at a nuclear power plant, nuclear disasters are massively destructive. Yet they are completely preventable. We need a new way of thinking, a new effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and shift to safe, renewable energy, worldwide.
As we were leaving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Koji Hosokawa told me to stop. He looked me in the eye, and told me not to forget the victims: “People lived here. They lived here.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Investigation reveals systematic exploitation of homeless by big business and organized crime
– Jon Queally, staff writer
Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, speaks during an interview with Reuters at Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan December 18, 2013. (Credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato)
Private labor contractors in Japan are “recruiting” homeless individuals throughout the country, luring them to perform clean-up work in the areas near the destroyed nuclear power plant at Fukushima for less than minimum wage.
That’s the finding of a new special Reuters investigation which says that shady business operators are employing men like Seiji Sasa to “prowl” train stations and other places throughout the country targeting “homeless men” who are “willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.”
The investigation found a shady but systematic labor scheme—much of it run by organized crime but also involving some of the nation’s top construction firms—in which day laborers are exploited by contractors receiving state funds to clean up areas near the plant.
“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” said 57-year-old Shizuya Nishiyama, a homeless man recruited at a train station in the city of Sendai. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”
In exchange for bringing workers to the sites, the middlemen receive a cut of their wages.
“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” said Sasa, one of these so-called “middle men,” in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”
Reviewing police records and conducting interviews with some of the people directly involved, Reuters reveals the ongoing and perilous nature of the clean-up work at Fukushima and the ways in which society’s most vulnerable are being exploited for profit in the aftermath of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.
According to Reuters, the scheme plays out when large construction firms like Obayashi, the nation’s second biggest and major contractor at Fukushima, employs sub-contractors like Sasa:
Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say. […]
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi’s top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
Roger’s note: I posted a few days ago a similar article by the same author. Frankly, what is happening at Fukushima scares the hell out of me, and it seems that nobody is listening. This should cause you to lose sleep: “As former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata has put it: full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
More than 48,000 global citizens have now signed a petition at www.nukefree.org asking the United Nations and the world community to take charge of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Another 35,000 have signed at www.rootsaction.org. An independent advisory group of scientists and engineers is also in formation. The signatures are pouring in from all over the world. By November, they will be delivered to the United Nations.
The corporate media has blacked out meaningful coverage of the most critical threat to global health and safety in decades.
The much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” has turned into a global rout. In the face of massive grassroots opposition and the falling price of renewable energy and natural gas, operating reactors are shutting and proposed new ones are being cancelled.
This lessens the radioactive burden on the planet. But it makes the aging reactor fleet ever more dangerous. A crumbling industry with diminished resources and a disappearing workforce cannot safely caretake the decrepit, deteriorating 400-odd commercial reactors still licensed to operate worldwide.
All of which pales before the crisis at Fukushima. Since the 3/11/2011 earthquake and tsunami, the six-reactor Daichi site has plunged into lethal chaos.
For decades the atomic industry claimed vehemently that a commercial reactor could not explode. When Chernobyl blew, it blamed “inferior” Soviet technology.
But Fukushima’s designs are from General Electric (some two dozen similar reactors are licensed in the US). At least four explosions have rocked the site. One might have involved nuclear fission. Three cores have melted into the ground. Massive quantities of water have been poured where the owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), and the Japanese government think they might be, but nobody knows for sure.
As the Free Press has reported, steam emissions indicate one or more may still be hot. Contaminated water is leaking from hastily-constructed tanks. Room for more is running out. The inevitable next earthquake could rupture them all and send untold quantities of poisons pouring into the ocean.
The worst immediate threat at Fukushima lies in the spent fuel pool at Unit Four. That reactor had been shut for routine maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami hit. The 400-ton core, with more than 1300 fuel rods, sat in its pool 100 feet in the air.
Spent fuel rods are the most lethal items our species has ever created. A human standing within a few feet of one would die in a matter of minutes. With more than 11,000 scattered around the Daichi site, radiation levels could rise high enough to force the evacuation of all workers and immobilize much vital electronic equipment.
Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible. By some estimates there’s enough radioactivity embodied in the rods to create a fallout cloud 15,000 times greater than the one from the Hiroshima bombing.
The rods perched in the Unit 4 pool are in an extremely dangerous position. The building is tipping and sinking into the sodden ground. The fuel pool itself may have deteriorated. The rods are embrittled and prone to crumbling. Just 50 meters from the base is a common spent fuel pool containing some 6,000 fuel rods that could be seriously compromised should it lose coolant. Overall there are some 11,000 spent rods scattered around the Fukushima Daichi site.
Dangerous as the process might be, the rods in the Unit Four fuel pool must come down in an orderly fashion. Another earthquake could easily cause the building to crumble and collapse. Should those rods crash to the ground and be left uncooled, the consequences would be catastrophic.
Tepco has said it will begin trying to remove the rods from that pool in November. The petitions circulating through www.nukefree.org and www.moveon.org , as well as at rootsaction.org and avaaz.org, ask that the United Nations take over. They ask the world scientific and engineering communities to step in. The Rootsaction petition also asks that $8.3 billion slated in loan guarantees for a new US nuke be shifted instead to dealing with the Fukushima site.
It’s a call with mixed blessings. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency is notoriously pro-nuclear, charged with promoting atomic power as well as regulating it. Critics have found the IAEA to be secretive and unresponsive.
But Tepco is a private utility with limited resources. The Japanese government has an obvious stake in downplaying Fukushima’s dangers. These were the two entities that approved and built these reactors.
While the IAEA is imperfect, its resources are more substantial and its stake at Fukushima somewhat less direct. An ad hoc global network of scientists and engineers would be intellectually ideal, but would lack the resources for direct intervention.
Ultimately the petitions call for a combination of the two.
It’s also hoped the petitions will arouse the global media. The moving of the fuel rods from Unit Four must be televised. We need to see what’s happening as it happens. Only this kind of coverage can allow global experts to analyze and advise as needed.
Let’s all hope that this operation proves successful, that the site be neutralized and the massive leaks of radioactive water and gasses be somehow stopped.
As former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata has put it: full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
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Roger’s note: I sit here at my desk and wonder when someone is going to do something about an impending disaster of possibly unprecedented magnitude. Maybe a couple of hundred people will read this post, which makes me feel quite impotent. Please pass this on to someone who has access to someone with power in government. Anywhere!!!
Fence made of silt that sits in harbor has been breached, TEPCO admits, sparking further concern of ocean contamination
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer
IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of Unit 4 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013. (Photo: Greg Webb / IAEA)
In the latest in a series of mishaps to hit the crisis-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, a radiation-stopping “fence” around the reactors has developed a hole, plant operator TEPCO admitted on Thursday.
Fences made of earth and sand sit in the harbor next to the plant and were erected to help contain radioactive material from flowing into the ocean. They “are suspended from floats and anchored with weights on the seafloor,” the Japan Timesexplains.
One of the fences that sits next to still-intact reactors five and six was found to be breached, sparking further worry about the amount of radioactive contamination heading into the ocean.
As out of control as the situation seems, one expert has warned that it may actually be “much worse” than claimed. Also, long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman warned last week that a plan to “remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air” risked putting the “hand of global nuclear disaster… painfully close to midnight.”
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.
Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1,300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.
Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.
The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.
Why is this so serious?
We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.
Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool. Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.
Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific.
The water flowing through the site is also undermining the remnant structures at Fukushima, including the one supporting the fuel pool at Unit Four.
More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.
Spent fuel must somehow be kept under water. It’s clad in zirconium alloy which will spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Long used in flash bulbs for cameras, zirconium burns with an extremely bright hot flame.
Each uncovered rod emits enough radiation to kill someone standing nearby in a matter of minutes. A conflagration could force all personnel to flee the site and render electronic machinery unworkable.
According to Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with forty years in an industry for which he once manufactured fuel rods, the ones in the Unit 4 core are bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling. Cameras have shown troubling quantities of debris in the fuel pool, which itself is damaged.
The engineering and scientific barriers to emptying the Unit Four fuel pool are unique and daunting, says Gundersen. But it must be done to 100% perfection.
Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all of us.
Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within 10 days. Fukushima’s in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers.
For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.