Seven minutes to midnight

The minute hand of the "Doomsday Clock," the symbol of nuclear war danger, has been moved from nine to seven minutes to midnight by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "Moving the clock's hands at this time reflects our growing concern that the international community has hit the "snooze" button rather than respond to the alarm" sounded by the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Board asserted in a statement released February 27.

The Bulletin, founded by a group of World War II-era Manhattan Project scientists, has warned the world of nuclear war dangers since 1945. This is the third time since the end of the Cold War in 1991 that the hand has been moved forward.

Moving the hands takes into account both negative and positive developments. The negative developments cited include too little progress on global nuclear disarmament; growing concerns about the security of nuclear weapons materials worldwide; the continuing U.S. preference for unilateral action rather than cooperative international diplomacy; U.S. abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; U.S. efforts to thwart the enactment of international agreements to constrain proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the crisis between India and Pakistan; terrorist efforts to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons; and the growing inequality between rich and poor around the world that increases the potential for violence and war.

Despite a campaign promise to re-think nuclear policy, the Bush administration has taken no steps to significantly alter nuclear targeting doctrine or reduce the day-to-day alert status of U.S. nuclear forces. If Russia is no longer an adversary, what is the rationale for retaining the ability to incinerate more than 2,000 Russian targets in as little as 30 minutes or at all? This is a dangerous anachronism.

More than 31,000 nuclear weapons are still maintained by the eight known nuclear powers and more than 16,000 are operationally deployed. Even if the United States and Russia complete their recently announced arms reductions over the next 10 years, they will continue to target thousands of nuclear weapons against each other.

Furthermore, many if not most of the U.S. warheads removed from the active stockpile will be placed in storage (along with some 5,000 warheads already held in reserve) rather than dismantled, for the express purpose of re-deploying them in some future contingency. As a result, the total U.S. stockpile will remain at more than 10,000 warheads for the foreseeable future. Russia, on the other hand, seeks a verifiable, binding agreement that would ensure retired U.S. and Russian weapons are actually destroyed.

The global community must recognize that poverty and repression breed anger and desperation, making therm easy prey for charismatic leaders with easy answers, and do much more to address the growing disparities between rich and poor. The success of the war on terrorism depends not only on disrupting and destroying terrorist organizations, but also on eradicating the conditions that give rise to terror.

On the positive side, U.S. funding and technical assistance continues to make significant contributions to international security by working to ensure that Russian nuclear weapons are dismantled, and that nuclear materials and expertise do not leave Russia. If it were not for the positive changes cited, the hands of the clock might have moved even closer to midnight.

- PeaceMeal, March/April 2002

"A drop in the bucket"

Fifty-six years ago, the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a swift conclusion to World War II. Some of those who helped create "The Bomb" opposed its immoral use on civilian populations. They and others became outspoken advocates for nuclear disarmament. But the fears and politics of a Cold War engendered an even more deadly weapon the hydrogen bomb and an arms race that produced tens of thousands of weapons capable of wreaking unimaginable death and destruction.

The first atomic bombs were a thousand times more powerful than the chemical explosives that preceded it. The hydrogen bomb is a million times more powerful.

You can conduct a very effective audio demonstration of nuclear weapons yourself using a grain of sand, some BBs, and an empty metal bucket, pan, or mixing bowl.

Hold the bucket or pan in midair and drop in the grain of sand. It represents the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, which had an explosive power equivalent to 12-20,000 tons of TNT. By today's standards, those bombs were puny.

Then drop in one BB. One BB represents all the explosive power used in World War II, including the atomic bombs - 3 megatons or 3,000,000 tons of TNT. Today, all the explosive power of World War II can be contained in a single hydrogen bomb.

Next, slowly pour in 31 BBs representing 31 World War IIs. That is the explosive power carried by one Trident II submarine equipped with D5 missiles.

The Trident II submarine carries 24 ballistic missiles; each D5 missile carries 8 independently targeted W-88 nuclear warheads; each of the 192 warheads on a single submarine has an explosive yield up to 475 kilotons more than 20 times the destructive power of the Nagasaki bomb.

The commander of a Trident submarine is the third largest nuclear power in the world, because he commands more explosive power (91 megatons) than the entire nuclear arsenal of either China, Great Britain, or France.

Washington State with eight Trident submarines based at Bangor, only 20 miles from downtown Seattle is a greater nuclear power than China, Great Britain, and France combined.

Finally, pour in 1,550 BBs representing 1,550 World War IIs. That is the destructive power of the operational nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.

The 13,000 warheads in the operational arsenals of the U.S. and Russia have a total explosive power of 4,650,000,000 tons of TNT. And those are only the weapons loaded on delivery systems that are on hair-trigger alert to be launched on 15-minute warning. Both countries have a comparable number of warheads in storage for a combined total of about 30,000 nuclear warheads (United States - 10,000, Russia - 20,000).

We have enough nuclear warheads in our arsenal to destroy every major city on earth ten times over. Why do we need to pulverize every major city on the planet and then make the rubble bounce nine times, especially when making it bounce just three times would save $15 billion a year?

As Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, observed: "weapons that would only make the rubble bounce do not count as capability."

Our monstrous nuclear arsenal is not even an issue today because there is no strong, politically active constituency for nuclear disarmament in this country.

Do we care enough to make it an issue?

The Abolition 2000 global network does care enough. More than 2000 nongovernmental organizations around the world are now working together for the abolition of nuclear weapons. World Citizens for Peace is one of them. Our vision is a world free of nuclear weapons.

We encourage you to make abolition of nuclear weapons an issue, too to lobby our elected representatives to dealert all nuclear weapons; to vow that we will never again be the first to use such weapons; and to abandon the folly, expense, and destabilizing effect of a National Missile Defense system.

Remember! Compared with today's nuclear arsenals which are on hair-trigger alert, not only Hiroshima and Nagasaki but all of World War II was only a drop in the bucket.

- Jim Stoffels, Chairman and Editor
PeaceMeal, July/August 2001

Would you survive a nuclear blast?

Nuclear Blast Mapper on the PBS "Race for the Superbomb" web site show how horribly destructive thermonuclear weapons are. The fission bomb detonated over Nagasaki had an explosive power equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. Blast Mapper's 1-million ton hydrogen bomb, hypothetically detonated on the earth's surface at any location you choose, has 50 times the explosive power of that 1945 explosion. Video clips of actual A-bomb detonations and their effects can also be viewed at:

The adjoining map of the Tri-Cities, Washington, shows circles of destruction from a 1 megaton surface blast centered on Columbia Center mall.

Blast map key

NOTE: Blast pressure within the circles is greater than the indicated values and is less outside the circles. The zones of destruction in the map are broad generalizations and do not take into account factors such as weather and topography. Fatality numbers do not include the significant delayed effects of trauma, fire, or radioactivity.

12 psi (pounds per square inch), Radius: 1.7 miles

At ground zero lies a crater 200 feet deep and 1000 feet in diameter. The rim of the crater is composed of highly radioactive soil and debris. Nothing recognizable remains within about 0.6 mile from the center except, perhaps, the remains of some buildings' foundations. At 1.7 miles, only some of the strongest buildings — those made of reinforced, poured concrete — are still standing. Ninety-eight percent of the population within this area are dead immediately.

5 psi, radius - 2.7 miles

Virtually everything is destroyed between the 12 and 5 psi circles. The walls of typical multi-story buildings, including apartment buildings, are completely blown out. The bare, structural skeletons of some buildings rise above the debris as you approach the 5 psi circle. Single-family residences within this area are completely blown away — only their foundations remain. Fifty percent of the population between the 12 and 5 psi circles are dead. Forty percent more are injured.

2 psi, radius - 4.7 miles

Any single-family residences that are not completely destroyed are heavily damaged. The windows of office buildings are blown away, as are some of their walls. Everything on these buildings' upper floors, including the people who were working there, are thrown onto the street. Substantial debris clutters the entire area. Five percent of the population between the 5 and 2 psi circles are dead. Forty-five percent are injured.

1 psi, radius - 7.4 miles

Residences are moderately damaged. Commercial buildings have sustained minimal damage. Twenty-five percent of the population between the 2 and 1 psi circles have been injured, mainly by flying glass and debris. Many others have suffered flash burns from thermal radiation generated by the explosion.

Fallout effects

Radiation effects are for downwind areas.

Assumptions: wind speed - 15 mph, time frame - 7 days

3,000 rem*, distance - 30 miles

Much more than a lethal dose of radiation. Death can occur within hours of exposure. About ten years will need to pass before levels of radioactivity in this area are low enough to be considered safe by U.S. peacetime standards.

900 rem, distance - 90 miles

A lethal dose of radiation. Death occurs from two to fourteen days.

300 rem, distance - 160 miles

Causes extensive internal damage, including harm to nerve cells and the cells that line the digestive tract. Also results in a loss of white blood cells and temporary hair loss.

90 rem, distance - 250 miles

No immediate harmful effects, but does result in a temporary decrease in white blood cells. Two to three years will need to pass before radioactivity levels in this area are low enough to be considered safe by U.S. peacetime standards.

*rem stands for "roentgen equivalent man." It is a measurement used to quantify the amount of radiation that will produce certain biological effects.

NOTE: This information is drawn mainly from "The Effects of Nuclear War" (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, Washington DC, 1979).

Nuke still loose on U.S. coast

In February 1958 after a mid-air collision, an Air Force bomber was forced to drop a nuclear bomb into the shallow waters off the Georgia coast. A B-47 bomber on a training mission collided with a fighter jet near Savannah and had to drop the bomb to land safely. The 7,600-pound bomb has never been recovered and has lingered for decades only in vague memories and folklore.

Now, 43 years later, questions raised by a former military pilot and a Georgia congressman have caused the government to consider renewing its search for the lost bomb near Tybee Island, 12 miles east of Savannah. The bomb was dumped on the south side of Tybee's uninhabited sister island, called Little Tybee. The military spent weeks searching for the sunken weapon, then gave up.

The Air Force insists the bomb lacks a key plutonium capsule needed to cause a nuclear explosion, though it still contains radioactive uranium and the explosive power of 400 pounds of TNT. But Derek Duke, a former Air Force pilot who's been researching the case for two years insists, "It's a nuclear bomb. It's like if I take the battery out of your car, then I try to convince you it's not a car."

Air Force officials aren't so sure. After weighing the potential dangers of leaving the bomb against the cost of finding it, possibly $1 million or more, they plan to decide soon whether a new search is warranted. Officials believe the bomb sank at least five miles off the coast, beneath about 20 feet of water and an additional 15 feet of sand and silt. But there's no guarantee the bomb could be found. Experts have cautioned that tides and strong weather patterns over the years could have moved the bomb out to sea.

Duke's own search revived what had become a largely forgotten tale on Tybee Island, a beach community of 4,000 where rustic bungalows sit beside $500,000 homes. For residents who remembered, the bomb was ancient history. Others had never heard the story or discounted it as local myth.

"Savannahians have all kinds of tales and legends," said U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who represents coastal Georgia in Congress. "And part of the Savannah lore was there's a bomb off Tybee. And you'd go, 'Is there really?'"

Kingston was skeptical until Duke came to him last summer with a proposal to find the lost weapon himself using a team of former military experts with technology capable of scanning the ocean floor. Newspaper clippings from 1958 and government documents indicated the bomb was real. But how dangerous was it?

At Kingston's urging, the Air Force checked its original records on the bomb and concluded that the bomb off the coast of Savannah is not capable of a nuclear explosion. If it exploded, the bomb "would create maybe a 10-foot diameter hole and shock waves through the water of approximately 100 yards,"said Maj. Don Robbins, deputy director of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counter Proliferation Agency. "Even boats going over it would not even notice. They might see some bubbles coming out around them."

A month after the Tybee Island incident, in March 1958, a second B-47 dropped a similar bomb, without its nuclear payload, in Florence, S.C. The resulting explosion blasted a crater into the ground and injured six people.

- The Associated Press
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2001

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Weapons mega-laser fizzling

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a fusion mega-laser facility currently under construction at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory, is more than $350 million over budget and a year and a half behind schedule. Bigger than a football stadium, NIF is designed to focus 192 laser beams on a radioactive fuel target to produce a miniature thermonuclear, or fusion, explosion. The goal is to use NIF as a tool to study nuclear weapons physics without underground testing.

DOE has had to drastically increase its estimate for completing NIF, admitting that construction costs would almost double — from $1.2 billion to $2.1 billion. Furthermore, the NIF construction schedule would slip five years, from 2003 to 2008. A congressionally mandated General Account Office investigation of the problems at NIF reportedly has concluded that DOE's new estimate for completing the facility is still off by $1.5 billion and that the project actually will need a total of $3.6 billion.

Official panels have attributed the problems at NIF to mis-management, but outside critics point to monumental scientific and technical problems that have only recently been acknowledged publicly. The project is beset by serious, unresolved technical problems, particularly in the areas of optics (glass), target fabrication (radioactive pellets), and diagnostics.

One serious problem is with the manufacture of NIF's laser glass. Only a small amount of the glass has been delivered, and it did not meet specifications. No one know how to make enough glass — NIF's design calls for around 150 tons of it — that will meet the necessary purity and other specs. Moreover, NIF will be able to run at only half its design energy because the laser beams will cause damage spots on the optics to grow, which in turn will cause the lenses to shatter in very short order.

Budgetary fallout from NIF's problems has caused unprecedented dissension within the ranks of the other nuclear weapons labs. In May, Sandia National Laboratory issued a public statement calling for cuts in NIF's size and budget. Similar concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory were cited in the GAO report. Some scientists at other DOE laboratories advocate scaling NIF back from 192 to 48 laser beams.

Many prominent weapons physicists contend that NIF is not a necessary facility to ensure the 'safety' or the 'reliability' of existing nuclear weapons. In addition, NIF poses very real proliferation and environmental risks. Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CAREs), an activist group at Livermore, advocates cancellation of the entire NIF project.

- PeaceMeal, July/August 2000

India's nuclear weapon tests reveal U.S. hypocrisy

Official U.S. reaction to India's nuclear weapon tests in May is utter hypocrisy. It is a bombastic case of "Do as I say, not as I do."

The United States and other major nuclear powers have consistently acted to remain an exclusive club, maintaining their own arsenals of mass destruction while attempting to deny the same status to other nations.

That double standard was challenged by India in 1996 when it refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty specifically because the document contains no commitment by the nuclear powers to achieve nuclear disarmament. The double standard has now been challenged more resoundingly by India's five underground nuclear blasts.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cited this double standard in the ensuing political fallout: "Some countries think only of their own security and that they alone can take steps using nuclear technology to protect their borders and that others cannot do so. We cannot accept this."

Our condemnation of India is especially hypocritical in light of the underground nuclear tests we conducted last year in defiance of international opposition. And we have more tests planned. The fact that our nuclear tests are subcritical is an irrelevant difference allowed by our higher level of technical capability and our massive military budgets. What is relevant is that we are funding our nuclear weapons program at a higher level than during the Cold War and that we plan to maintain an arsenal of some 10,000 thermonuclear warheads into the middle of the next century.

This existing U.S. nuclear weapons policy violates our obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which we signed 30 years ago, to achieve nuclear disarmament. Our active program to renew tritium production is one inherent violation of that treaty obligation.

U.S. economic sanctions against India are another glaring exercise of the double standard when compared with our treatment of Israel. In spite of having an extensive nuclear weapons program in the volatile Middle East, we continue to send Israel billions in military aid.

Israel's secret nuclear weapons program, which had produced as many as 200 nuclear bombs, was revealed in 1986 by former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu was subsequently kidnapped on foreign soil by Israeli agents, drugged, chained, shipped back to Israel, tried in secrecy, and sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage and treason. He spent the first 11 years of his sentence in total solitary confinement and has become a human rights cause celebre.

The possibility of a regional nuclear arms race in Asia is now a clear and present danger. In clinging to nuclear weapons as a security blanket, our Administration and Congress share responsibility for that danger.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, we all remain their potential victims.

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
May/June 1998