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Absolutely no need for Russia and the US to be adversaries and enemies

I visited Russia’s nuclear city and don’t want to relive the Cold War  

Commentary: One era of nuclear brinksmanship was enough for CNET’s Stephen Shankland, who visited the Russian nuclear weapons center of Sarov just after the first Cold War ended. CNET, BY STEPHEN SHANKLAND
AUGUST 18, 2019  I spent more than five years as a reporter in Los Alamos, New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb, home to a major national laboratory, and the 18,000-person town where I grew up. I covered everything from President Bill Clinton visiting the lab to mostly harmless radioactive cat poop triggering radiation alarms at the county landfill. But the story that made the biggest impression on me took place thousands of miles away, in Russia.

In May 1995, I was part of a seven-person civilian delegation that traveled to Los Alamos sister city Sarov, about 230 miles east of Moscow. It’s the home of the institute where Russia developed its first atomic bomb. Our visit was timed to coincide with a 50th anniversary celebration of the end of the Great Patriotic War, aka World War II, which for the Russians ended when the Germans capitulated in May 1945.

It was a sobering visit — the economic devastation; the Soviet-era microphones bugging away in our hotel; the angry and impoverished veterans; and the daunting quantities of vodka, champagne and cognac that accompanied us during a weeklong series of banquets. I spoke with Viktor Adamsky, one of the designers of the biggest nuclear bomb of all time, the 50-megaton Tsar Bomba, which was more powerful than all the bombs dropped in World War II.

I’m remembering it now because I’ve recently interviewed Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and a key leader of the US-Russian lab collaboration that led to my trip.

Back when US-Russian relations were thawing

During the time of my trip, relations between Russia and the US were warming, but now they’re cooling once again. That troubles Hecker — even though he spent much of his career designing the nuclear weapons the US aimed at the then-USSR.

It troubles me, as well. I grew up during the Cold War, and I’m not eager to introduce my children to concepts like nuclear winter and megadeath. And even as treaties between the US and Russia fizzle out and the two countries rev up another arms race, worries are piling up about the nuclear weapons capabilities of Iran and North Korea, too.

But Hecker stresses the similarities between the US and Russia — “They’re so much like us,” he says……

Each city benefited from its government’s largesse during the Cold War. “When I first came here, I thought it was a paradise. Such food!” one Sarov man told me. Meanwhile, Los Alamos received a federal funding boost for its schools and its police and fire departments. Each city suffered when government funding dropped with the end of the Cold War. Both cities teem with elite researchers who play important military roles and are curious about what makes the universe tick. Both cities have nuclear weapons museums showing off the hulking casings of early bombs…….

Hecker has a lot more of those connections. He’s friends with plenty of Russians and sees their cultural values as very similar to ours. And he’s keeping his communication links alive even though the US-Russia lab-to-lab collaboration project he helped begin is now all but dead. He’ll take his 57th trip to Russia in November.

The two countries can move past sticking points like NATO’s eastward expansion and Russia’s military action in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Hecker says. Today’s nationalistic fervor might make it hard to defrost the relationship, but seeing the world from the other side’s perspective will help, he says.

“There is absolutely no need for Russia and the US to be adversaries and enemies,” Hecker tells me. “Absolutely none.” https://www.cnet.com/news/i-visited-russia-nuclear-city-sarov-dont-want-to-relive-cold-war/

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August 20, 2019 - Posted by | PERSONAL STORIES, politics international, Russia, USA

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