This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the Trinity test in the New Mexico desert. Shortly after the test, the United States dropped nuclear bombs, one each on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Residents of those two cities so far are the only civilian populations to suffer the widespread destruction and hundreds of thousands of deaths just one nuclear bomb can cause.
It is my belief that the real challenge going forward is to prevent nuclear war through a worldwide ban on the possession of nuclear weapons. The terror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ought to convince anyone of that. Otherwise, the sword of nuclear menace will hang above our heads for the indefinite future.
As I peruse the news, there is just one nuclear story dominating the headlines — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the nuclear control agreement signed on July 14 in Vienna by Iran and the P5+1 countries: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany. I support the agreement, but I feel this story vastly is over told at the expense of news about much more pressing nuclear weapons concerns. There are many such issues, but I will describe just two.
First, the most dangerous and expensive nuclear weapons program in the world is the one run by my own country, the United States of America. In each budget year since 2010, President Barack Obama has signed measures to undertake an extremely aggressive plan to maintain, upgrade and replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. The total cost may exceed $300 billion in the first 10 years and could break $1 trillion during a proposed 30-year cycle, massive expenditures during a time of budget cuts. Big-ticket items slated for major spending are new nuclear bomb materials facilities, replacement of both land- and sea-based ballistic missiles along with delivery platforms, and huge new investment in command and control systems.
In one project, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is proceeding to build a new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) for warhead component manufacturing at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), estimated over-budget costs have skyrocketed to $11 billion.
Beyond extreme expense, the Obama nuclear rebuilding program raises serious questions of war and peace. Will potential adversaries try to counter the new, aggressive U.S. program? Will a permanent arms race with all the potential for disaster that entails be the Obama nuclear legacy?
Second, the original intent of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been turned on its head. Though NPT-signer Iran was singled out while not possessing a single actual nuclear warhead, there are several countries beyond the original nuclear powers that are allowed actual operational nuclear arsenals. Three of these countries — India, Pakistan and Israel — each with deployed warheads numbering in the hundreds, are not signatories to the NPT.
It’s remarkable to me how the principles of the NPT are in tatters and never reported as such. Non-signatory bomb possessors are completely tolerated, a signer with no bomb receives incredible scrutiny, and the recognized bomb possessors (U.S., Russia, U.K., France and China) are allowed to maintain and modernize their nuclear bomb complexes in stark contrast to the supposed principles of Article VI — which requires them to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
I support the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. According to its Facebook page, “the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a global campaign coalition working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.”
It’s time to focus a lot more attention and reporting on the real dangers we face 70 years into the nuclear age.
Eric T. Olson is a member of the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine. He received his Master of Science degree in physics from the University of Maine. He resided in the Bangor area for many years and now lives in Iowa.