Earth Notes: The Nuclear Age and what it Portends

164ASP944757289-443By Peter Bollen

Science has brought forward this danger, but the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men. We will not change the hearts of other men by mechanism, but by changing our hearts and speaking bravely,” — Albert Einstein, 1946

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy warned that there could be nuclear weapon states by the end of the 1970s. This warning helped motivate initiatives leading up to the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968. President Kennedy had already agreed to a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in an attempt to thaw relations during the ongoing Cold War.

The Nonproliferation Treaty (NT) in recent years has been eroding to the extent the United Nations Committee (High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Charges) has warned that the NT may be irreversible beyond which there could be a “cascade of proliferation.” Today, 189 nations, including scores that have the capability to build nuclear arsenals, have renounced nuclear weapons. Despite the intentions of the NT, and four decades holding back the powerful pressures of nations adding to a proliferation of their nuclear stockpile, continuing pressures are mounting in this now fragile Nuclear Age.

In 2004, North Korea withdrew from the NT and has expanded its nuclear arsenal and continues testing its nuclear weapons defying United States Security Council resolutions in their production of uranium — enough to produce their first nuclear bomb. Iran has been impervious to any warnings by the United States and the United Nations to halt their nuclear production. Iran remains a major threat to their ideological enemy, Israel (which possesses nuclear weapons), and which pits Israel’s ally, the United States, into this nuclear quagmire. Thus far, the United States has stated in potential negotiations, to leave “nothing off the table” to settle this international dispute.

It’s worth recalling that Iraq’s perceived weapons of mass destruction threat in 2002 had President Bush publicly stating this scenario could end up as “a mushroom cloud.” This threat was also echoed publicly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which helped convince Congress to allow the president to invade Iraq. None of these threatened weapons were found.

There is presently more of a worldwide threat with Iran actually in the process of building nuclear armaments while continuing egregious threats toward their nemesis, Israel, while ignoring the stance of most nuclear states. The United States continues to take a stern public stance toward Iran’s continuing threats while not ruling out military strikes. The nuclear threat and what it portends continues apace despite efforts by the United Nations and the international anti-nuclear advocate nations.

Part of the legacy of decades of nuclear weapons production in this country is the protracted cleanup of radioactive waste, which would take longer than the Cold War itself according to government reports. The largest environmental cleanup is expected to leave hundreds of acres contaminated with buried debris. Other areas would be suitable only for limited uses.

Thomas Grumbly, former assistant secretary of Environmental Management, explained that radioactive cleanup may cost upwards of $300 billion dollars over several decades and “it is not technically possible to return all parts of a facility to pristine conditions.” The estimated cost to decontaminate more than 80 facilities in 30 states with most of the money spent over several decades.

A by-product of nuclear production has been the many lawsuits by workers over the years in nuclear facilities. The largest lawsuit was settled in 1995 as a result of a class action suit against the Energy Department and National Lead, asserting that they had inhaled radioactive dust and were exposed to radioactive material, leading to excessive rates of cancer and leukemia. The case involved 6,000 employees, who were employed at the Fernald nuclear weapons plant north of Cincinnati from 1952 to 1985 — 4,000 employees were still alive when the survivors were compensated.

Paul DeMarco, lawyer for the workers, said the settlement could prove to be a pattern for tens of thousands of workers at 16 other nuclear weapons plants around the country, some of whom also said that they received injuries from radiation exposure.

Today, living in the Nuclear Age is an increasing test of concerned world leaders as the international Nonproliferation Treaty is being chipped away by increments. The dangers are manifold between worldwide terrorism and saber-rattling nations to the increasing development of nuclear armament buildups.

Enlightened leadership by members of the nuclear nation family will need to continually instill the viability of a strengthened Nonproliferation Treaty. This is the only and best hope to prevent and deter a nuclear tragedy.

Peter Bollen is a resident of Bridgton and the author of Nuclear Voices.

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