On the Anniversary of Hiroshima, Humanity Still Faces Threat of Nuclear Catastrophe

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67 years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity still faces the threat of nuclear catastrophe as the result of an accident, a political miscalculation, or even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons, says Dr. David Krieger, co-founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

67 years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity still faces the threat of nuclear catastrophe as the result of an accident, a political miscalculation, or even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons, says Dr. David Krieger, co-founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

This is not fear-mongering. Since the dawn of the Nuclear Age, there have been numerous near-disasters and threats to use nuclear weapons. For example, in January 1961, a B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear weapons caught fire in the air over Eureka, North Carolina. Three of the eight crew members died in the accident, which resulted in the release of the plane’s nuclear weapons. One bomb's parachute deployed, lowering the bomb to the ground with minor damage. The other bomb's parachute did not deploy and the bomb broke apart upon impact. Five of the six interlocking safety triggers on the bomb failed. Only a single switch prevented the 24-megaton bomb from detonating. The bomb was nearly 2,000 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

A year later, the US and Soviet Union stood at the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite the “rationality” of the countries’ leaders, first hand observers from both sides of the crisis confirm that the world came precipitously close to nuclear catastrophe. Today, in a world with more nuclear-armed states, more complex tensions, more hair-trigger communications—and where rationality is by no means assured—the potential for a nuclear disaster is multiplied exponentially.

Even more disturbing, in recent months the nuclear weapons states have appeared to retreat from the disarmament portions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which call for continuing good faith negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament. The May 2012 NPT preparatory conference failed to result in any commitment by nuclear weapons states to additional disarmament. A month later, at a summit in Chicago, the 28 member states of NATO “reaffirmed” their commitment to nuclear weapons—and indeed, to a further nuclear militarization of Europe. In particular, the United States is insisting on installing missile defenses on Russia’s border. Despite the United States’ verbal assurances that the missile defense installations are aimed at Iran, the Russians fear that they could easily be used in support of a first-strike attack against Russia. In retaliation, Russia recently tested a new long-range missile intended to “improve its ability to penetrate missile defense systems, the military said, in Moscow's latest warning to Washington over deployment of a missile shield in Europe” (Reuters, May 23, 2012).

Despite promises to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the nuclear weapons states continue to increase budgetary allocations for the maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons. According to Global Zero, a U.S.-based disarmament advocacy group, in 2011, the nuclear states spent approximately $105 billion on their arsenals, including $61 billion by the United States alone.

“The amount still being spent on nuclear arms makes no sense, just as continued reliance on the weapons themselves makes no sense,” says Dr. Krieger. “While millions of people across the world suffer from hunger, disease and homelessness, our spending on weapons that could cause a global extinction event is obscene. Nuclear weapons absorb resources that could be used instead to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—and make a much more lasting contribution to peace,” he said.

To counter these disturbing developments, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is increasing its efforts to raise public awareness of the continuing threat posed by nuclear weapons. The Foundation conducted a week-long Peace Leadership Training for activists from all over the country at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, July 22-29. It has three new books on peace and disarmament available on its website: http://www.wagingpeace.org (The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers by Richard Falk and David Krieger; Peaceful Revolution: How We Can Create the Future Needed for Humanity’s Survival, by Paul K. Chappell; and Never Enough Flowers: The Poetry of Peace II, a collection of winning poems from the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards for the years 2003-2010.) And on August 6, the Foundation is holding its 18th Annual Sadako Peace Day ceremony at La Casa de Maria, commemorating Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and who became an international symbol of the innocent victims of war.

“Nuclear weapons are a sword hanging over humanity’s future,” Dr. Krieger said. “We live on a single planet on which all life depends, and we cannot destroy that planet without also destroying ourselves. We must find more effective means of maintaining the peace than threatening each other with mutual destruction.”

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation was founded in 1982. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, its mission is to educate and advocate for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons and to empower peace leaders. The Foundation is comprised of individuals and organizations worldwide who realize the imperative for peace in the Nuclear Age. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is recognized by the UN as a Peace Messenger Organization. For more information, call 805.965.3443.

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Leslee Goodman
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