Nuclear Madness

SUBHEAD: From Nagasaki to Natanz, America's 70-year nuclear addiction and madness.

By Jon Letman on 9 August 2014 for Kauai Eclectic -

Image above: View of "Fat Man" atomic bomb detonation on Nakasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945. From (

Today is August 9, the day the U.S. dropped the word's first plutonium bomb on Nagasaki in 1945. That bomb killed an estimated 60-80,000 people, gravely injuring untold thousands more. You might expect that August 9 and the anniversary of Hiroshima three days earlier, would move people—especially Americans—to think seriously about our atomic past and future.

But people have a lot on their mind these days—Ebola, Gaza, Ukraine, Iran, government surveillance, police brutality, climate change, the economy, summer vacation, school supplies for the kids and so on. Who's got time to think about nuclear weapons? Besides, aren't those a thing of the past? Some people seem to think so.

As I learned recently, analysts who spend much of their careers closely following the manufacturer and movement of nuclear weapons, are concerned that most people—at least in the United States—really don't give much thought to nuclear weapons.

Earlier this summer, over a period of about seven weeks, I spent a fair amount of time listening to defense analysts and reading about America's multi-billion dollar efforts to modernize some of our own nuclear weapons as research for this article published at Truthout.

I heard a range of opinions from one defense policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who insisted nuclear weapons are "fundamentally a force for good" to an anti-nuclear advocate and director of the Peace and Economic Security Program with the American Friends Service Committee who said bluntly, "These are weapons that should not exist,” calling them “the most fundamental violation of basic human rights.”

One of the most insightful and measured voices in the world of nuclear weapons analysis today is Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. I spoke with him on the phone for about one hour in May, asking him very specific questions about the B61-12, America's most common and now most expensive nuclear gravity bomb.

I found Kristensen by chance when I happened upon an article he had co-authored which was posted on the Twitter feed of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The piece was about the B61-12 and how it was being redesigned for the twelfth time to make it more accurate so that with "just" 50 kilotons (kt) it could, at least in theory, be used to "hold at risk" the same targets which today require a 350 kt yield bomb (by comparison, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was estimated to have been around 15 kt and Nagasaki was destroyed by an estimated 20 kt bomb).

As Kristensen and I discussed the B61-12 and its $10 billion (and rising) price tag, I wondered what exactly this bomb was designed to destroy. Did its producers (primarily Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, Lockheed Martin and Boeing) see B61-12 as something that could destroy a major world capital or sprawling metropolitan area? Might it some day be used to threaten a city in Bush's "axis of evil?"

"These are not [targeted] against cities," Kristensen told me. "Generally speaking the U.S. military is not very happy about targeting cities with weapons. It's just so controversial," he said.

Besides, Kristensen added, nuking a major population center is "kind of pointless." Why would you want to fry millions of civilians? The real targets of these bombs are key military and political leadership and critical infrastructure, command and control facilities or a weapons lab and such.

But Kristensen pointed out that there is always the chance that such targets could be in or close to a city or other heavily populated area. After all, aren't most leaders based in cities—Tehran, Pyongyang, Baghdad, Washington, London, Paris...? So even if the U.S. wanted to take out a Iran's Natanz Enrichment Complex for example, it would still be bombing a facility less than 20 miles from a city of 12,000 with Iran's first and third largest cities, Tehran and Isfahan (combined population 9.3 million) less than 200 miles away.

Even a low-yield nuclear bomb (Kristensen explained that "low-yield" refers to a bomb 10 kt or less) would almost certainly have grave environmental, social and psychological consequences for people downwind of any nuclear detonation.

Looking back at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we can see that from the beginning of the nuclear age, the first targets were (at least by official accounts) primarily military in nature. Both Japanese cities (in fact, a third site called Kokura was intended to be bombed after Hiroshima and only spared when bad weather forced the U.S. to destroy its backup city Nagasaki) experienced unimaginable suffering as a result of the atomic bombings.

Despite this and all we've learned about the effects of radiation over the last seven decades, America and other nuclear nations continue to build newer, more accurate, more "useable" bombs. The U.S. alone is forecast to spend as much as $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.

This pursuit is not only maddening, it's also sheer madness. And quibbling over a few billion dollars or a few extra kilotons is meaningless if you live in a society that is being robbed of real security (universal healthcare and education, a well-funded public infrastructure and robust environment and climate protection) when you and your children are perpetually in the shadow of a country with an insatiable appetite for the bomb.

To learn more about America's nuclear weapons past and present check out this FAQ page from the American Friends Service Committee


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