60 Years of Disaster
by Jim Haber,
Coordinator of Nevada Desert Experience
January 27 marks 60 years since the first atomic bomb test in Nevada.
Codenamed “Able” it was tiny for a nuclear weapon: the equivalent of
1,000 tons of TNT, about 1/15 the size of the bomb that killed upwards
of 130,000 people in Hiroshima. Anniversaries are times to reflect, so
what is the legacy of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), now called the
Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)? What is the current state of the
NNSS and what is going on there? Are the nation and world safer for
all the Cold War and post-Cold War efforts? As the NNSS re-purposes
itself to focus more on detecting and containing national security
threats, it still stands as a world-wide symbol of the making of
weapons of mass destruction. The name change is intended to reassert
its relevance in the absence of exploding nuclear devices, but the
inherent problem of the NTS remains. The NNSS is always able to resume
testing nuclear weapons within two years should the president order
Testing of nuclear weapons didn't only happen at the Nevada Test Site.
Historians even argue that using the bombs on Japan rather than
demonstrating them on an unpopulated location constitute human
experimentation. Treating victims as research subjects rather than
patients was widely reported in Japan, as well as from victims of
atmospheric testing in the 1950s. Targeting civilians was and remains
a crime against humanity, as does threatening nuclear attack on
non-nuclear states, no matter how repressive their leaders.
We, as a people, caused much worldwide grief for our part in the Cold
War, which used small countries as battlegrounds with no concern for
local populations or environments. Official tours of the NNSS and the
displays at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas exhibit great pride
in the NTS' Cold War role. There is little mention in their history
about efforts to stop testing and other parts of the nuclear weapons
complex. Efforts to shut down the Soviet nuclear test site in
Kazakhstan or French test sites in Africa and the South Pacific garner
barely a word. Only a limited view is presented.
At the NNSS which is run by the Department of Energy (blurring the
lines between civilian and military in this country), military nuclear
waste is buried even as remediation efforts elsewhere are undertaken.
The detection and first responder trainings are only defensive in
nature if we concurrently support the leadership of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its mission to monitor nuclear programs
around the world. Unilateral or bilateral agreements that ignore the
mandate of the IAEA actually encourage other states to seek nuclear
weapons to be seen as worthy players on the international stage.
The United States military budget is on par with military spending of
all other countries combined. When the US attacks countries that don't
have nuclear weapons, it makes the possession of nuclear weapons seem
like a necessary deterrent. But if more countries have deterrent
forces, then we've lost the disarmament fight.
Taking the land of the Western Shoshone and other native peoples to
use it for nuclear testing is not just. Forcing the people of
Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to live on tiny Ebeye Island,
creating one of the most densely populated places on Earth is not
just. Stealing and contaminating native hunting and fishing grounds is
Thank God so few countries have tested or possess nuclear weapons. The
global consensus is clearly to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
"Stockpile Stewardship" tests at the NNSS, along with missile tests in
the Pacific are undermining the credibility of the U.S.'s agreement to
seriously reduce nuclear stockpiles. Sharing nuclear technology with
violators and abstainers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty while
threatening countries not in egregious, well-documented breaches of
the NPT is not just and promotes horizontal proliferation. Hence,
continued testing whether they're full-scale tests or not, signals to
the world that the US will keep its finger on the button and will
brook no new players in the nuclear game.
When we devise ways for nuclear weapons to be more precise and kill
fewer civilians, to be more militarily useful, we undermine the
international consensus against all weapons of mass destruction. And
how many design upgrades and revisions can be implemented and still
not require a real test? At some point, unless we in the United States
get serious about pressuring our government to cut its nuclear weapons
arsenal, the Nevada Desert will again quake with detonations...and be
filled with peacemakers crashing the gates like in the 1980s to shut
it down once and for all. This anniversary should serve as a time to
work for peace and disarmament.
Check out http://nevadadesertexperience.org/ for NDE action updates and
news about the Nevada Test Site and Creech Air Force Base's Predator
and Reaper, "hunter-killer," remotely piloted systems. Get our
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