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Hiroshima nuclear bombing, and the birth of the Doomsday Clock


August 8, 2019 Posted by | history, Japan, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The saga of Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant AND what happened to the Grand Jury documents??

Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant Closed Long Ago, but Is Still a Hot Topic,  | AUGUST 7, 2019

Colorado almost had its own Chernobyl.

That’s what then-congressman Jared Polis told the U.S. House of Representatives on May 12, 2009, the fortieth anniversary of a fire at what was then called the Rocky Flats National Munitions Plant, sixteen miles upwind of Denver.

“I rise today to commemorate one of the most fateful days in the history of the State of Colorado, the day the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant outside of Boulder nearly became America’s own Chernobyl, some thirty years before that terrible accident in the Ukraine,” Polis told his colleagues. “On Mother’s Day of that year, a fire broke out amid the glove boxes in Building 776, where plutonium spheres were being manufactured for use as cores for some of the most powerful weapons in human history. The fire quickly spread throughout the facility, as many of the fire alarms had been removed to make room for more production. It is estimated that between 0.14 and 0.9 grams of plutonium 239 and 240 were released before a heroic band of perhaps forty firefighters were able to control and eventually douse the fire. Those firefighters faced the immense decision of whether to battle the blaze with water, which could have set off a chain reaction, with the resulting explosion literally contaminating the entire Denver metropolitan area. Luckily for us all, they chose correctly.

“Still, plutonium was released into the environment from that accident, through the air vents in the roof of the building and via firefighters extinguishing it. Thousands of Coloradans were exposed, although how many we’ll never know. The firefighters, of course, were exposed most severely, and everyone nearby faced greatly increased risks of serious disease. Indeed, many of those involved have since contracted and died from cancers and other conditions tied to radiation exposure.”

Unlike Chernobyl, the site of a massive nuclear explosion on April 26, 1986, that exposed at least half a million Russians to radiation, decimated the land for miles around and inspired HBO’s Chernobyl that educated a new generation to collateral damages of the nuclear age, Rocky Flats was not a nuclear power plant. In fact, Colorado’s only nuclear-generating facility, Fort St. Vrain near Platteville, had its own problems from when it  began generating electricity in 1976 and was shut down entirely in 1989.

By then, what became known as the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant had been in operation for almost three decades; it was a manufacturing facility that created plutonium triggers for this country’s nuclear arsenal. But it still dealt with one of the most toxic elements on the planet, one with a half-life of 24,000 years, as well as many deadly chemicals. By the time of the 1969 Rocky Flats fire, the plant had been manufacturing those triggers for sixteen years, largely in secret.

Rocky Flats was not Chernobyl. But what happened there was bad enough — though just how bad may never be known. Documents about the plant, like some of the plutonium that was processed there, have a way of disappearing.\


“Good News Today,” the Rocky Mountain News trumpeted on March 23, 1951, when the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) announced that it had chosen a site near Denver for a $45 million federal facility that had gone by the code name Project Apple. The 6,500-acre-plus spot was on a high plateau near the foothills, with stunning views, some ranching, creeks running through the land, and not much else. The announcement didn’t get into many details — the site-location team had warned the AEC that there might be an “undesirable reaction of the public” if it learned of the project’s secret mission — but it was bringing jobs to the area, and those jobs paid well. It wasn’t until June 1957 that the Denver Post dropped the bombshell that handling plutonium was a routine part of the job, a detail shared by the plant after two employees were injured in an explosion and fire at the facility; they’d been handling radioactive materials in building 771. Three months later, there was another fire at the plant, when filters over the glove boxes designed to keep plutonium from escaping caught fire. Firefighters turned on the ventilation fans, which spread the flames; seven days later, monitors showed that smokestack emissions still contained levels of radioactive elements 16,000 times greater than the standards of the day.

By then, scientists had realized that they’d misread the wind patterns when siting Rocky Flats; they’d relied on measurements taken at Stapleton Airport northeast of Denver, without accounting for how winds shifted as they came over the mountains and through the canyons. Rather than being safely out of the path of any plutonium release, Denver was at ground zero, sixteen miles downwind. Even so, residents were not warned of potential dangers after the fires.

Then came another fire, in 1969, which again started in glove boxes in buildings 775 and 776; it triggered the costliest industrial accident in the United States up until that time. Firefighters managed to contain the fire, and the government and plant operator Dow Chemical contained the fallout from more revelations of the work being done at Rocky Flats.
But word did slowly leak out. In 1975, the year that Rockwell International took over operations at Rocky Flats, nearby landowners sued the government for contamination problems they were finding on their property. Workers at the plant were also complaining about significant health problems. And demonstrators regularly gathered outside the gates, though they were usually protesting against nuclear weapons in general, not the environmental problems that the manufacturing of those weapons might create.
By 1978, Rocky Flats was regularly exploding in the headlines as those demonstrations grew larger. That fall, Daniel Ellsberg — yes, the Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame — went on trial in Jefferson County, along with nine other members of a group that had been accused of trespassing and obstruction outside the plant seven months earlier. Using Colorado’s choice-of-evils statute, which suggested they could break the law if they were pushing for a greater public good, the defendants decided to put Rocky Flats itself on trial, arguing that it was a public health hazard to nearby residents and also threatened world security by increasing nuclear stockpiles. But on November 20, 1978, Judge Kim Goldberger ruled that the defendants could not use the choice-of-evils defense. While the dangers at Rocky Flats were “real and continuing,” the judge said, “the courts may not be used as political or legislative forums.” After an eleven-day trial, the protesters were found guilty.

At the time, Dr. Carl Johnson, head of the Jefferson County health department, was revealing his own concerns about the evils of Rocky Flats. He released studies suggesting that Denver’s overall cancer rates were higher than expected, and the rates around Rocky Flats higher still. Property near the plant set for the development of 10,000 homes exceeded the state’s plutonium soil contamination standard by a factor of seven, he reported. As a result, federal housing officials directed realtors to warn prospective homebuyers who wanted government loans in order to purchase houses in the area that there could be potential liabilities.

In 1981, Johnson was fired by Jefferson County. The feds soon removed its directive to realtors.

The protests continued. So did the production of nuclear triggers at Rocky Flats.


On June 6, 1989, more than seventy FBI agents raided Rocky Flats, the first-ever raid of one federal agency by another. Led by FBI agent Jon Lipsky, the raid was based on more than two years of investigations inspired by information leaked by whistleblowers, including Jim Stone, an engineer laid off from the plant in 1986 whose case against Rockwell eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Stone had given a 1986 DOE memo to Lipsky noting that some of the hazardous waste treatment facilities at Rocky Flats were “patently illegal,” and that the plant was “in poor condition generally in terms of environmental compliance.” Stone warned that proper permitting measures weren’t being filed, waste was being improperly stored, and some plutonium was even missing. Along with an investigator from the criminal enforcement division of the EPA, Lipsky looked into all of the allegations, then prepared an affidavit that guided the raid. Agents took such a staggering amount of material during their three weeks at the plant that U.S. District Court Judge Sherman Finesilver decided to impanel the state’s first-ever special grand jury to focus on this single case.

In the first week of August 1989, two dozen citizens from across Colorado were sworn in as members of Special Grand Jury 89-2. The grand jurors met for a week every month for over two years, and after hearing from dozens of witnesses and going through hundreds of boxes of documents, they were prepared to consider charges not just for workers at the plant, but for their federal overseers. “We didn’t care who they were or how high up the chain of command they were,” one grand juror later told Westword.

Ultimately, they decided that eight individuals should be indicted for environmental crimes — five from Rockwell and three from the DOE. But in November 1991,then-U.S. Attorney for Colorado Mike Norton told the jurors that he wouldn’t sign any indictment naming a DOE or Rockwell employee. A month later, prosecutors told the grand jurors that they were done presenting evidence, and that the grand jury’s work was essentially over.  On December 30, 1991, grand jury foreman Wes McKinley, a rancher from the very southeastern corner of Colorado, sent a note to Finesilver’s clerk, asking for a final session so that the grand jurors could do their duty, fulfilling the obligation that Finesilver had charged them with more than two years before, “to look out for the best interests of the people of Colorado and the national interest.”
That winter, the grand jurors had one last official meeting in Denver, when they drafted three documents: an indictment charging DOE and Rockwell officials with specific crimes (the document Norton had said he wouldn’t sign); a “presentiment” outlining the proposed indictments, which they hoped Finesilver would release even if the indictment itself never saw the light of day; and a report outlining their investigation and their findings of non-criminal conduct that they felt the public had a right to know. Nineteen of the grand jurors gathered to sign these documents, which they placed in a vault. And then they were sent home, with reminders that all grand jury work is done in secrecy; if they broke confidentiality, they could be charged with contempt of court, fined and even jailed.
There was hot stuff in that report, including this: “The Department of Energy, its contractors — Rockwell International, Inc., EG&G, Inc. — and many of their respective employees have engaged in an on-going criminal enterprise at the Rocky Flats Plant, which has violated federal environmental laws. This criminal enterprise continues to operate today…and it promises to continue operating into the future unless our government, its contractors and their respective employees are made subject to the law… .” Instead, in March 1992, Norton announced a deal with Rockwell, in which the company pleaded guilty to assorted environmental crimes and was fined $18.5 million. Norton noted that it was the largest fine ever collected by the federal government for violations of hazardous waste disposal laws, but it was about $3.8 million less than the bonuses Rockwell had been paid to operate the plant during the time it was, by its own admission, knowingly breaking those laws. No individuals were named in the settlement. In fact, the deal assured that none would be charged later, and the company was protected from future legal fees.
That June, Finesilver signed off on the settlement after rejecting a request to release the report the grand jury had written. But the grand jurors concerns didn’t stay secret. The result was Bryan Abas’s “The Secret Story of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury,” published September 30, 1992, in Westword.

It wasn’t Chernobyl, but the story about Rocky Flats exploded just the same.


After the raid, Rocky Flats never made another nuclear trigger. The feds and Rockwell agreed to an early termination of the Rockwell management contract in September 1989, the day after the company filed a civil suit against the DOE, the EPA and the Department of Justice, arguing that the feds had failed to provide proper waste-disposal sites for radioactive materials. A week later, Rocky Flats was named a Superfund site, and EG&G signed a contract to operate the facility starting January 1, 1990.  By then, the focus had been changed from nuclear-materials production to cleanup, and most of the 5,000-plus employees stayed on to do the job. Among other things, nearly 3,600 containers of pondcrete and saltcrete — 4.3 million pounds of low-level solidified waste that had been packaged like barrels, until they started to crumble and leak (the grand jurors had heard considerable testimony about that failed system) — were moved, and the solar ponds where waste had been stored were drained. Plutonium located in the ducts, which Stone had warned about, was removed.

As the story of the Rocky Flats grand jury became national news, Congress held hearings to determine whether justice had been denied. The hearings made headlines, but secured nothing more than a promise of more transparency from the DOE. Foreman McKinley even ran for Congress, in hopes that he’d be able to tell the full story from the floor of the House of Representatives. (Although that attempt failed, he ultimately served in the Colorado Legislature and co-authored a book titled The Ambushed Grand Jury…and thus far has avoided any contempt-of-court charges.)

In 1995, EG&G staff and the DOE held a Rocky Flats Summit with 150 community activists, regulators, state officials and members of citizen oversight committees to discuss cleanup plans, including reducing the risk of plutonium to site workers and the public, and deferring some environmental restoration and cleanup in order to reduce that risk. When EG&G declined to sign up for a second round, Kaiser-Hill took over the project. The draft Rocky Flats Vision and Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement were released in March 1996, four years after the Justice Department had made its deal with Rockwell; Governor Roy Romer signed them that June. What had been predicted to be a cleanup project that would take decades and tens of billions of dollars was put on the fast track.

After nearly ten years and $7.7 billion, the remediation job was declared complete in 2005. More than 800 structures had been decontaminated and demolished, including five major plutonium facilities and two major uranium facilities. While much of the low-level radioactive waste was shipped to other disposal sites, the most contaminated rubble was buried far below the ground in the Central Operable Unit: 1,308 acres at the center of the facility, where most of the manufacturing had been done, which would be declared off-limits forever. The 5,000-plus acres around the COU, in the Peripheral Operable Unit, were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007 to revamp into a wildlife refuge, much as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal had been two decades earlier.

Even though the grand jurors were still silenced, the secrets of Rocky Flats seeped out in other ways. Workers who’d become sick sued the government, and public officials took up their cause. Nearby homeowners who’d suffered bad health and other losses filed a class-action suit against Rockwell and Dow; their case was finally heard in U.S. District Court Judge John Kane’s courtroom, where former FBI agent Lipsky testified as to what he’d found at the plant. Despite the testimony about problems on those properties, houses were popping up along the southern border of Rocky Flats, and some new homeowners started to wonder if they’d bought more than they bargained for. And as plans to finally complete the northwest segment of the beltway around Denver progressed, municipalities began questioning whether construction of the Jefferson Parkway, set to go along the east side of Rocky Flats, would really be safe.

As the date of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge’s opening neared, activist groups filed suit to keep the gates closed. Last September, Congressman Polis made a last-second request to Ryan Zinke, then-secretary of the Department of the Interior, which oversees Fish and Wildlife, to consider “my constituents’ request that the DOI complete further testing of air, water, and soil at the Refuge site by March 2019, and that until further testing has been completed, the Refuge site remain unopened to the public.”

Although Polis never heard from Zinke, he got his answer: The refuge opened to the public on September 15, 2018 (the suits filed to prevent its opening are still pending). But even those who have no concerns about the refuge’s safety were taken aback last November when a British company proposed fracking alongside Rocky Flats: While cleanup experts had considered the effects of water runoff, and burrowing animals, and even prairie fires, they’d never considered that drilling operations would bore down and then up into the property from the sides. The proposal was pulled, and last month Representative Joe Neguse, who took over the first congressional seat when Polis was elected governor, introduced legislation that would prohibit oil, gas and mineral drilling beneath federally owned Superfund sites, such as Rocky Flats.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether the surface is really safe continues.

In January, attorney Pat Mellen decided to try a different tack. On behalf of seven groups — the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups, Rocky Flats Downwinders, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Environmental Information Network, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, Rocky Flats Right to Know and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center — she filed a motion asking that materials considered by Colorado’s first-ever special grand jury be released. “The documents gathered by the Grand Jury and now under seal are a unique resource that provides the detailed evidence of whether specific locations or hot spots of unremediated or undiscovered hazardous substances must outweigh a site-wide ‘safe’ determination made for other purposes,” she argued.


And then on July 24, Mellen received an email from Kyle Brenton, assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s office where Mike Norton had negotiated the Rockwell deal thirty years before, that the grand jury documents were missing.  “Can you imagine that?” says McKinley. “The Justice Department has a long history of losing stuff. They lost all kinds of stuff…plutonium, reports.”

And some things never change, he notes. When the grand jury was sent home back in 1992 and its files first sealed, the head of the Department of Justice was William Barr. Today, Barr is again the attorney general.

Lipsky, who was transferred to the FBI’s Los Angeles gang unit not long after his investigation of Rocky Flats, is now a private investigator who continues to push for the release of the real story about Rocky Flats. When he heard that the documents were missing, “the only thing I could do was laugh,” he says. Brenton’s email estimates that “60-some boxes are not physically in our office space now.” Lipsky’s agents filled many times that many boxes with documents seized during the raid at Rocky Flats.

According to Brenton, his office had custody of the requested documents until at least 2004. He’s now going through boxes of documents from linked cases, such as whistleblower Stone’s suit against Rockwell, and the Cook class-action litigation that finally found victory and a $375 million settlement in Kane’s courtroom, to see if they were misfiled.

“It is incidents like this that continue to foster uncertainty and fear within the communities that are the most impacted,” Polis’s office says of the missing grand-jury documents. “Our administration is committed to government transparency and public access to information. That’s why our Department of Public Health and Environment recently requested that these records be unsealed for the public.”

For a time, there was a stash of grand jury documents at U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch’s courtroom. At one point, the grand jurors had petitioned Matsch to allow them to tell their story; that request was denied, and Matsch passed away this spring. Judge Finesilver had relevant documents, too; before he died in 2006, he gave 180 boxes of records to the Denver Public Library, with the stipulation that they be kept closed until 2009.
That August, a librarian began cataloguing the contents, then ran across two boxes holding various forms of the grand jury report marked “Not for public release.” He called the clerk of the U.S. District Court to ask if the documents could be made public. Instead, the clerk picked up the boxes and demanded that anything else that surfaced involving Rocky Flats be sent to the court. The missing grand jury materials are not the only documents devoted to Rocky Flats, of course. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment still has voluminous files, including a giant binder detailing all the different chemicals once used at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. For a time, Front Range Community College hosted a Rocky Flats Reading Room, though much of the materials are now in the University of Colorado archives, which has a “wealth of information,” according to David Abelson, executive director of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council. “Walling off these documents from public view creates an impression that there’s a lack of information regarding management of the site.”

That impression is misguided, he thinks: His group includes representatives from most of the local governments around Rocky Flats, all but one of which supports recreation at the refuge. Still, in June the council passed a resolution against allowing fracking near the plant, and it’s keeping an eye on three studies being done of environmental conditions at the refuge, the results of which are due this fall. The current samples will be compared to historic samples…if those can be found.

For now, Mellen is drilling down into the case of the missing documents. On July 31, she filed a motion asking the judge to give the U.S. Attorney’s Office thirty days to find them. “I actually believe it’s a bigger number of boxes than that,” she says of Brenton’s estimate. “But right now, I’d be happy with that.”

Rocky Flats isn’t Chernobyl, but this could still blow up.

August 8, 2019 Posted by | environment, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Malaysian President urges Japan to lead the world in rejection of nuclear weapons

In Japan, Dr M urges Tokyo to turn its back on nuclear weapons August 2019, BY JUSTIN ONG  The US is the first and only country to have deployed nuclear weapons offensively, bombing Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later.

August 8, 2019 Posted by | Japan, Malaysia, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Putin And Trump are ‘normalising’the increasing numbers, and the use, of nuclear weapons

The more that Putin and Trump revalidate the role of nuclear weapons in strengthening national security, the more they normalise the discourse of nuclear weapons use and embolden calls for nuclear weapon acquisition in other countries. 

A nuclear world in disarray 7 Aug 2019, Ramesh Thakur  We are in a uniquely dangerous period in the atomic age. Geopolitical tensions have spiked in Europe, in the Middle East, on the subcontinent and in East Asia. The nuclear arms control architecture is fraying and crumbling, but no negotiations are underway to reduce global nuclear stockpiles.

A hostile international security environment, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the emergence of new space, cyber and AI technologies have increased the risk of accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons. The growing strategic risks and uncertainty in turn fuel the vicious cycle of renewed interest among US allies in a nuclear deterrent as a hedge against receding US primacy and reliability.

At the conclusion of a United Nations conference on 7 July 2017, 122 states parties of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty adopted a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. All nine countries that possess the bomb (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK and the US) boycotted the conference and rejected the treaty. They have done their very best since then to invalidate the concerns behind the drive to adopt it.

The 2018 US nuclear posture review will guide the Trump administration’s nuclear decision-making, modernisation, targeting and signalling. With an expansive vision of the role of nuclear weapons, its threefold effect is to enlarge the US nuclear arsenal, lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, and broaden the contingencies in which the threat of nuclear weapons can be wielded as a tool of diplomatic coercion.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal established a robust dismantlement, transparency, inspections and consequences regime. Last year, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran, despite its still being in compliance with its obligations. That put Washington in breach of the multilaterally negotiated and UN-endorsed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump’s decision will have reconfirmed North Korea’s belief that the one thing standing between its security and a US attack is the bomb. It has also caused the recent surge in tensions in the Persian Gulf.

On 1 February, Trump decided to suspend US participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces  Treaty—an arms control agreement with Russia that contributed to the end of the Cold War and underpinned European strategic stability for three decades. It lapsed on 2 August. Trump has also rebuffed Russian overtures to discuss a five-year extension of New START beyond 2021. His second summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in Februarycollapsed without agreement and Pyongyang now seems to be expanding its nuclear arsenal. Still, at least the US and North Korea are engaged in high-level and working-level discussions and the fear of an imminent war has faded.

The altered US nuclear posture will have cascading effects on the arsenals, doctrines and deployments of other nuclear-armed states. On 1 March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of a new array of invincible nuclear weapons that can penetrate any defences anywhere in the world. He noted the US had not heeded Russian warnings when it pulled outof the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002. ‘You didn’t listen to our country then. Listen to us now’, he said. Putin’s language was reminiscent of the Cold War.

After the US–Russian suspensions of the INF Treaty, Putin warned that Russia could place hypersonic nuclear weapons on submarines deployed near US waters to match the time in which US missiles based in Europe could strike Russia. He also warned of a radioactive tsunami that could be triggered in densely populated coastal areas by a new nuclear-powered underwater drone dubbed ‘Poseidon’.

The more that Putin and Trump revalidate the role of nuclear weapons in strengthening national security, the more they normalise the discourse of nuclear weapons use and embolden calls for nuclear weapon acquisition in other countries. In Australia, this debate has been restarted most recently by Hugh White.

Meanwhile, the official newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army has called for China to strengthen its nuclear deterrence and counterstrike capabilities to match the US’s and Russia’s developing nuclear strategies. China is upgrading its relatively small nuclear arsenal. It rejected Germany’s request to save the INF Treaty by agreeing to trilateralise it, emphasising that its warheads in the low hundreds cannot be compared with US and Russian arsenals in the several thousands.

India and Pakistan are enlarging, modernising and upgrading stockpiles, while investing in battlefield tactical nuclear weapons and systems to counter them. The INF Treaty was the first disarmament agreement of the nuclear age. In an unwelcome symmetry, on 26 February we witnessed the first airstrikes by one nuclear-armed state against another, and the two engaged in a deadly dogfight above the skies of Kashmir the next day. Another India–Pakistan war is a question of when, not if.

The US, described by former Canadian disarmament ambassador Paul Meyer as ‘the high priest of nuclear orthodoxy’, has left its allies looking rather foolish. Washington had led them in dismissing the nuclear weapon ban treaty as impracticable virtue-signalling, instead extolling the decades-long efforts at step-by-step measures to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament that had seen global stockpiles plummet by over two-thirds from their Cold War peak.

When unkind critics noted that the only steps that were visible were leading backwards, Washington responded by launching a new initiative on ‘creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament’. Lest some conditions be specified and met, however, Washington suddenly embraced the more nebulous and inherently subjective language of ‘creating an environment for nuclear disarmament’.

During the Cold War, Soviet citizens who kept to the straight path as the communist party veered sharply to the left or right were denounced as ‘deviationists’. For decades, US allies have been singing from the same hymn book, joining it in the insistence that the step-by-step, progressive approach was the only realistic path to nuclear disarmament. Instead of embracing the new orthodoxy from their fallible high priest, they should do a hard-nosed analysis of the merits of the changing risk–reward calculus of integrating more deeply with the nuclear alliance structure or joining the majority of countries in trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

August 8, 2019 Posted by | Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Hiroshima Day – a time to review America’s “presidential first use” nuclear weapons policy

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and no first use  By Elaine ScarryZia Mian, August 5, 2019  On August 6 and August 9, we again take time to contemplate the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The arrangements that permitted a US president to drop an atomic bomb on tens of thousands of civilians continue to be in place today.

The United States has a “presidential first use” policy which means that President Trump, acting alone, can issue the order for a nuclear strike, even if our own country is not under nuclear attack. This concern has been raised in the Democratic Party presidential primaries for the 2020 election, with some candidates arguing for a shift to a US policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. There is already legislation pending in Congress to this effect.

A conference held at Harvard in 2017, “Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?” brought together a US congressman, a US Senator, a former missile launch officer, several constitutional law professors, a former secretary of defense, a physicist, and several philosophers to address this question as it applies to the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Youtube videos of all their lectures can be found here.    An edited transcript of some of the talks at the conference is available here.

August 6, 2019 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

As USA leaves the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Putin warns that Russia will follow if USA develops new nuclear missiles

Putin to Trump: We’ll develop new nuclear missiles if you do, Andrew OsbornPolina Devitt, 5 Aug 19, 

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday that Moscow would start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the United States started doing the same after the demise of a landmark arms control treaty.

The U.S. formally left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia on Friday after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty and had already deployed one banned type of missile, an accusation the Kremlin denies.

The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km), reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

Putin on Monday ordered the defense and foreign ministries and Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service to closely monitor any steps the U.S. takes to develop, produce or deploy missiles banned under the defunct treaty.

If Russia obtains reliable information that the United States has finished developing these systems and started to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles,” Putin said in a statement.

U.S. officials have said the United States is months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any deployment would be years away, they have said.

Putin issued his warning after holding a meeting with Russia’s Security Council to discuss the U.S. move, which Moscow had argued against for months, warning it would undermine a key pillar of international arms control.

Putin said Russia’s arsenal of air and sea-launched missiles combined with its work on developing hypersonic missiles meant it was well placed to offset any threat emanating from the United States for now.

But he said it was essential for Moscow and Washington, the world’s largest nuclear powers, to resume arms control talks to prevent what he described as an “unfettered” arms race breaking out.

In order to avoid chaos with no rules, restrictions or laws, we need to once more weigh up all the dangerous consequences and launch a serious and meaningful dialogue free from any ambiguity,” Putin said.

Officials from President Donald Trump’s administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Russia has deployed “multiple battalions” of a cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the defunct pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets”.

Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile’s range put it outside the treaty and rejected a U.S. demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729, known as the SSC-8 by the NATO Western military alliance.

Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Ed Osmond

August 6, 2019 Posted by | politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors calling for Japan to sign the UN Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

August 6, 2019 Posted by | Japan, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Senator Elizabeth Warren causes a stir with her proposal for a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons

Warren’s pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback, The Hill

Republicans slammed the proposal as sending a dangerous signal to both allies and enemies about a lack of U.S. resolve — previewing a potential attack line from President Trump should the two face off in the general election.

Some Democrats do back the idea. But others say a “no first use” policy like the one Warren proposed is too simplistic for a complex world……

The United States has long reserved the right to be the first country to launch a nuclear weapon in a conflict.

Former President Obama reportedly thought of declaring a no first use policy toward the end of his tenure, but was talked out of it by advisors who argued it would worry allies and embolden adversaries.

“No first use. To reduce the chances of a miscalculation or an accident, and to maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world, we must be clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal,” she said in a November foreign policy speech.

Arms control advocates hold that declaring a no first use policy would improve U.S. national security by lowering the risk for miscalculation.

Warren made no first use a key part of her foreign policy early on in her run.

The speech was delivered before she officially jumped in the race but was considered an early sign she was running.

In January, she introduced the Senate version of a bill to make no first use official U.S. policy. The bill has six co-sponsors, including follow presidential contenders Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), a longtime no first use advocate, also introduced the bill in the lower chamber. The House version has 35 co-sponsors, including presidential candidates Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio.).

Only Warren, though, was asked to defend the policy at this week’s Democratic debates.

“We don’t expand trust around the world by saying, ‘You know, we might be the first ones to use a nuclear weapon,’” Warren said Tuesday night from the stage in Detroit.

“That puts the entire world at risk and puts us at risk, right in the middle of this,” she said.

She also noted that Trump’s policies, including pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran, had gotten the world “closer and closer to nuclear warfare.”

“We have to have an announced policy that is one the entire world can live with,” she concluded……..

n response to criticism of the policy, Warren’s campaign sent The Hill seven tweets and articles from nonproliferation advocates in support of Warren. The support included former Defense Secretary William Perry, who tweeted that “our nuclear arsenal is intended to deter a nuclear attack, not to initiate a nuclear war.”

Warren campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma added that “our bill sends a clear signal to the world that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal.”

August 5, 2019 Posted by | politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Significant disappearance of files about Rocky Flats former nuclear weapons plutonium site

U.S. Nuclear Arms Plant Files Reported Missing,more Jul. 31, 2019,

The U.S. Department of Justice won’t turn over 60 boxes of files about a nuclear arms plant in Colorado because it says it can’t find the files. The missing documents were presented to a grand jury during a two-year criminal investigation that looked into environmental crimes committed at Rocky Flats, which produced plutonium triggers for the nation’s nuclear arsenal throughout the Cold War, as the Denver Post reported.

The nuclear plant, just outside of Denver, operated from 1952 to 1989 when it shut down amid the grand jury investigation. While running, it had a history of fires, leaks and spills. Files about the plant, however, have remained a state secret since the grand jury investigation concluded in 1992.

The site was cleaned and opened up last year as a national wildlife refuge. But a coalition of environmental activists, former nuclear workers, nearby residents and public health advocates filed a motion in federal court asking that the files be made public, as the Associated Press reported.

“This is not a quest for guilt,” Patricia Mellen, one of the group’s attorneys said, as the Associated Pressreported. “We need the information to protect the public. That’s the issue.”

The group will file a motion to ask a federal judge on Wednesday to demand that the U.S. Department of Justice find the missing documents within 30 days. They say the documents could show whether the government did enough to clean up the site before turning part of it into a wildlife refuge and opening it to hikers and bicyclists.

Last week the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in an email that 62 to 65 boxes of documents were last confirmed in the Justice Department’s custody in 2004. He wrote that the boxes were not found in the Denver office or at the federal records center.

“… I have been attempting to reach out to former USAO staff and attorneys who touched the Rocky Flats matter over the years to see whether they have any memory of where the boxes might have ended up,” Kyle Brenton, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Denver, wrote in the email seen by The Denver Post. “That effort is ongoing, but has not yet yielded results.”

In 1992, the grand jury determined that eight individuals, including Department of Energy officials and employees from Rockwell International — the company contracted by the DOE to manage the plant — should be indicted for environmental crimes. The indictments never happened and the Justice Department struck a deal with Rockwell, fining the company $18.5 million. The settlement also covered Rockwell’s legal bills and protected Rockwell executives from further legal action, according to Westword.

Since then, the grand jury foreman ran for Congress on the platform that winning a seat in Congress would give him the legal protections to talk about the evidence he saw. A former FBI agent who led the raid on Rocky Flats has discussed the site since retiring from the FBI. He believes the wildlife refuge is far from safe, even after a $7 billion cleanup effort, as Westword reported.

n addition to concerns about the safety of the current wildlife refuge, the documents could reveal important information for former Rocky Flats employees who may have developed health problems from working there.

“These documents could help individual complainants prove their case,” said Terrie Barrie, from the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups told The Denver Post. “I am honestly frustrated by this because they are supposed to keep this stuff.”

So far, 11,823 former Rocky Flats workers have filed claims with the U.S. Department of Labor, and 4,290 of those claims had been settled, totaling over $642 million in medical bills paid by the U.S. government, according to The Denver Post.

August 4, 2019 Posted by | secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | 3 Comments

US formally withdraws from nuclear treaty with Russia and prepares to test new missile

US formally withdraws from nuclear treaty with Russia and prepares to test new missile

August 3, 2019 Posted by | politics international, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

“No First Use” of nuclear weapons

What Exactly Is Nuclear ‘No First Use’? Jalopnik, Kyle Mizokami  2 Aug 19, During the Democratic presidential debates this week, candidates wrestledwith a particularly thorny national security issue: whether they would forsake the use of nuclear weapons first in a conflict. This policy, known as No First Use, is the policy of just a handful of the declared nuclear powers.

Those arguing for the policy say it would make accidental or impulsive nuclear war less likely. Those against say that, despite overwhelming U.S. conventional military capabilities, certain dire situations might call for the use of nukes and that a stance of ambiguity is the best deterrent. Let’s explore this debate a bit……..

The inherently extreme nature of nuclear weapons means that, unlike a machine gun or fighter jet, a country may not necessarily use them right away in a conflict. It also means that, if both sides involved in a war have pledged not to use nuclear weapons first and actually hold to that pledge, a war could remain non-nuclear. This is the concept behind No First Use.

The first country to adopt it was China in 1964. Since then India has adopted NFU, with the stated exemption that the gloves come off if Delhi is attacked with chemical or biological weapons. Other nuclear powers, however, including the United States, Russia, the UK, and Pakistan, all maintain a level of ambiguity about when they might use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

These countries argue, somewhat reasonably, that “maybe we’ll nuke you or maybe we won’t” is a deterrent to potential adversaries, heading off both conventional and nuclear war.

No First Use is an appealing policy because it takes the pressure off to rapidly respond to nuclear attack. China, unlike the United States and Russia, does not maintain an active nuclear alert force of missiles ready to launch in minutes. China intends to absorb an attack, evaluate the attack, and then launch a devastating nuclear counterblow that would probably include incinerating the attacker’s cities. In the Chinese view this is plenty enough to deter a surprise nuclear attack.

NFU is also seen as beneficial as it would prevent a crazy, impulsive, unpredictable leader (in the view of candidate Elizabeth Warren and others, President Trump himself) from suddenly ordering up a nuclear strike. It would also eliminate possibility of nuclear weapons launched on false warnings, such as the 1983 incident in which Soviet defenses warned that American ICBMs were headed towards the USSR. No First Use would build a useful delay into an American nuclear response while still ensuring the other side gets clobbered.

A pledge not to use nuclear weapons does not, readiness aside, mean the U.S. would let its nuclear guard down. The Pentagon would have just as many nuclear weapons as it had before. It could even have less: China has a reported 290 nuclear weapons to the 1,500 deployed weapons in American and Chinese arsenals. …

The idea of No First Use is a popular one in the United States, the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 67 percent of the American people supported the adoption of NFU in 2016…….

August 3, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war | Leave a comment

August 2- The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty expires- new arms race begins

Demise of US-Russian Nuclear Treaty Triggers Warnings, VOA News , By Charles Maynes, July 31, 2019  “………  “Gorbachev and Reagan had the goal of arms reduction and they did not allow themselves to be pushed off track,” Palazhchenko says.

 “[It was] definitely a huge step forward. Two great nations, two nuclear superpowers have finally been able to stop the arms race in at least two categories of nuclear weapons.”

With the agreement, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. formally renounced the development and deployment of ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Both sides were still armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy one another — and the rest of the planet. But George Shultz says the INF’s elimination of short- and medium-range arsenals made the world infinitely safer in one critical regard — time……….

the short-range weapons also magnified the risks of what some called a potential “Euroshima.”

Where once the Cold War threat consisted of missiles lobbed across oceans, the new quick delivery missiles incentivized a first strike and immediate response. There was little time to verify whether an attack was real — or a false alarm.

Fear of the superpowers stumbling into nuclear Armageddon gripped the European public. Thousands marched in opposition to the U.S. missiles — a factor that increasingly influenced Washington’s own decision-making.

“We were negotiating not only with the Soviets but the European public,” recalls Shultz. “Who would want a nuclear missile on their soil? It makes you a target.”

Indeed, public opposition in Europe — and a desire to grab the moral high ground — drove President Reagan to embrace a concept called the “Zero Option.”

The idea? That when it came to negotiating over intermediate and short-range nukes, Reagan wouldn’t just push for the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to limit their arsenals. They’d demand both sides give up everything.

Russian proverb

Critical to selling the idea to skeptics were intensive inspections — with Reagan often citing an old Russian proverb: doverai no proverai. Trust but verify.

“The INF treaty contains in it the most clear verification provisions — onsite inspections!” Schultz says. “People said we could never get that but we did.”

Over the next three years, inspectors observed as both sides destroyed their arsenals — over 800 missiles by the U.S. and nearly double that from the Soviet side.

Viktor Litovkin, a military journalist who covered the events for the the Soviet daily Izvestia newspaper, remembers watching as Soviet engineers carried out the treaty’s provisions — destroying missile after missile with tears in the eyes.   ………

INF 1987-2019 (RIP)

Today, the Trump administration argues it is the INF Treaty that has now outlived its use.

Last October, President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, traveled to Moscow to deliver the news: The U.S. would leave the INF agreement amid long-standing U.S. accusations that Russia was violating the treaty………..

Russian President Vladimir Putin soon followed suit — announcing that Russia, too, was leaving the pact.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, the INF treaty expires Aug. 2. Both sides have vowed to develop weapons once banned under the INF. 

A new arms race?

All of this has left Europe, once again, the battleground in a potential new arms race — with tomorrow’s weapons promising shorter warning times…..

August 1, 2019 Posted by | politics international, Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Elizabeth Warren proposed “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons

Warren, Bullock spar over ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, The Hill 

In defending the proposed policy, Warren argued for diplomatic and economic solutions to conflict, saying “we should not be asking our military to take on jobs that do not have a military solution.”

But Bullock opposed that proposal, saying, “I don’t want to turn around and say, ‘Well, Detroit has to be gone before we would ever use that.’”

Warren is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of a bill that would make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first.

It has long been the policy of the United States that the country reserves the right to launch a preemptive nuclear strike.

Backers of a no first use policy argue it would improve U.S. national security by reducing the risk of miscalculation while still allowing the United States to launch a nuclear strike in response to an attack.

During the debate, Warren argued such a policy would “make the world safer.”

“The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively, and we need to say so to the entire world,” she said. “It reduces the likelihood that someone miscalculates, someone misunderstands.”

Bullock argued he wouldn’t want to take the option off the table, but that there should be negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons……

August 1, 2019 Posted by | politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Samantha Smith – a 10 year old who acted to reduce nuclear weapons

Your voice matters in reducing nuclear weapons

August 1, 2019 Posted by | PERSONAL STORIES, Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The horrors of nuclear weapons testing – 460,000 premature deaths

460,000 Premature Deaths: The Horror That Was Nuclear Weapons Testing  As we mark the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in a handful of days, we will rightly remember the horrors of nuclear war.
by Zack Brown, Alex Spire 28 Jul 19,  For a brief fraction of a second on an early March morning in 1954, the United States summoned a second sun into existence above Bikini Atoll.

As the four-mile wide fireball bathed the Pacific seascape in its angry, white-red light, onlookers recognized something nearly divine—and unquestionably ominous. “It was a religious experience, a personal view of the apocalypse or transfiguration,” said one observer. Another remembered feeling “like you stepped into a blast furnace,” even though he was over thirty miles away.

This was the Castle Bravo thermonuclear test, one of several dozen nuclear detonations the United States carried out in the Marshall Islands during the Cold War. At 15 million tons of TNT—one thousand times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—it was the largest explosion ever set off by Americans.
It was also the dirtiest, as a new study published this month shows. Researchers from Columbia University, analyzing soil samples from several Marshall Island atolls, discovered widespread radioactivity. Bikini Island itself was declared unsafe for human habitation, while the three other atolls had significant radionuclide concentrations—mainly americium, cesium, and plutonium. In some cases, the level of radioactivity—more than sixty years since the last mushroom cloud loomed over Bikini’s azure lagoon—exceeded that found at Chernobyl or Fukushima.
The process that led to this long-standing radioactivity is relatively simple, even if it wasn’t fully understood as the Cold War heated up. As the Castle Bravo fireball ascended into the sky, it carried with it tons of vaporized coral, rock, and dirt. This debris intermingled with radioactive isotopes before settling back down to the ground as deadly fallout. In one case, ignorant of its lethal effects, children on a neighboring atoll played in the falling powder, believing it was snow.

But American nuclear testing didn’t just occur in the middle of the Pacific. Throughout the Cold War, the United States detonated hundredsof atomic bombs in Nevada at a test site just northwest of Las Vegas. Many of these tests were above-ground, exposing the continental United States to the same radioactive fallout that fell over those remote atolls.

As with the Marshall Islands, the radiological effects of this testing were widespread—and immense. A 2017 study from the University of Arizona suggested that the fallout generated by the Nevada nuclear explosions exposed millions of Americans to its lethal radiation.
The exposure mechanism wasn’t always direct, either. Once caught in high-altitude winds, fallout from these tests would travel for hundreds or even thousands of miles before settling back down over the vast fields of the American heartland. Unsuspecting cattle would graze on grass freshly laced with this fallout, including Iodine-131, a highly potent radionuclide that spews beta and gamma radiation.
The cows concentrated this iodine in their milk, which would then be quickly consumed by the local population through the dairy industry. Because they’re chemically indistinguishable, the human body can’t tell the difference between normal iodine and the radioactive variety, and so deposits both in the thyroid gland. Once securely lodged there, Iodine-131 bombards nearby tissue on a cellular level, damaging DNA strands and eventually causing cancer.

This was just one of the exposure mechanisms; there were many others. Taken together, the 2017 study suggested that fallout from the Nevada nuclear testing could have led to between 340,000 and 460,000 premature deaths, mostly Americans and mainly through cancer.

If that death toll seems unreal, consider the scale of the radiation involved. Using a figure of 81 million Curies for the radioactive material released at Chernobyl as a baseline, one estimate held that the Nevada-based nuclear testing emitted 12 billion Curies into the atmosphere between 1951 and 1963. That’s the equivalent of nearly 150 Chernobyl disasters—or one a month for more than a decade. If you added in the Marshall Islands nuclear tests over this same period, that figure would be even higher.

As we mark the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in a handful of days, we will rightly remember the horrors of nuclear war. But we should also recognize the deadly tests that followed. Because any nuclear explosion—even a “peacetime test” in a Pacific paradise or the dry desert of Nevada—can put human lives at risk.

Just ask the children who played in the snow.

July 29, 2019 Posted by | health, weapons and war | 2 Comments