Nuclear mishap withheld by Air Force from review team

The Associated Press reports: In the spring of 2014, as a team of experts was examining what ailed the U.S. nuclear force, the Air Force withheld from them the fact that it was simultaneously investigating damage to a nuclear-armed missile in its launch silo caused by three airmen.

The Air Force on Friday gave The Associated Press the first substantive description of the accident after being questioned about it by the AP for more than a year.

The accident happened May 17, 2014, at an underground launch silo containing a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The silo, designated Juliet-07, is situated among wheat fields and wind turbines about 9 miles west of Peetz, Colorado. It is controlled by launch officers of the 320th Missile Squadron and administered by the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Air Force said that while three airmen were troubleshooting the missile, a “mishap” occurred, causing $1.8 million in damage to the missile. [Continue reading…]

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How to tell the difference between a nuclear test and an earthquake

Patrick Tucker writes: Shortly after North Korea claimed it had tested a hydrogen bomb—a weapon potentially hundreds of times more powerful than the fission bombs the country had already set off—seismologists at the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, went to work trying to understand the event. Their early findings suggest that a nuclear-bomb test did occur but that it wasn’t a hydrogen bomb. So how do you tell the difference?

First, you try to rule out the possibility that North Korea was just trying to claim credit for an earthquake. Geologists and seismologists look at several factors to determine whether a seismic event is natural or manmade. One is the location: Is it on a known fault line, a place where there’s a lot of mining activity, etc.? Another factor is the seismological waveform itself—the waving lines that appear on the seismograph. An explosion forms wiggles that are different from the ones generated by an earthquake, according to USGS seismologist Paul Earle.

Lay a Slinky on the floor, grab one end, and move it back and forth to create a wave that propagates down its length. This is called shear wave propagation, the kind created by tectonic plates slipping beneath the surface of the earth. “That side-to-side motion, you’ll get less of it in an explosion,” said Earle. [Continue reading…]

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What’s the significance of North Korea’s latest nuclear test?

north-korea

North Korea claims to have successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen nuclear device which, if this indeed happened, would mark a major advance in its weapons program. The announcement is being viewed with some skepticism.

Reuters reports: South Korean intelligence officials and several analysts, however, questioned whether Wednesday’s explosion was indeed a full-fledged test of a hydrogen device.

The device had a yield of about 6 kilotons, according to the office of a South Korean lawmaker on the parliamentary intelligence committee – roughly the same size as the North’s last test, which was equivalent to 6-7 kilotons of TNT.

“Given the scale, it is hard to believe this is a real hydrogen bomb,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

“They could have tested some middle stage kind (of device) between an A-bomb and H-bomb, but unless they come up with any clear evidence, it is difficult to trust their claim.”

Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert who is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security organization, said North Korea may have mixed a hydrogen isotope in a normal atomic fission bomb.

“Because it is, in fact, hydrogen, they could claim it is a hydrogen bomb,” he said. “But it is not a true fusion bomb capable of the massive multi-megaton yields these bombs produce”.

The United States Geological Survey reported a 5.1 magnitude quake that South Korea said was 49 km (30 miles) from the Punggye-ri site where the North has conducted nuclear tests in the past.

North Korea’s last test of an atomic device, in 2013, also registered at 5.1 on the USGS scale.

The test nevertheless may mark an advance of North Korea’s nuclear technology. The claim of miniaturizing, which would allow the device to be adapted as a weapon and placed on a missile, would also pose a new threat to the United States and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea. [Continue reading…]


Jeffrey Lewis, who teaches a class on the evolution of China’s nuclear weapons program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, points out that current assessments of North Korea’s technical capabilities should not lead to false assumptions about their aspirations. He writes:

One of the major themes of the early part of China’s nuclear program is how committed China was to matching the other nuclear powers in the possession of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles armed with multi-megaton thermonuclear weapons. A lot of Americans had trouble accepting this idea. We thought of China as being too backward to have such aspirations. That was, I argue, precisely why China wanted such weapons: because China’s communist leaders had a different vision of China’s place in the world and the development of thermonuclear weapons was a way of achieving that vision.

I think something similar is happening with North Korea. We think of the country as impoverished, both in terms of economy and leadership. Well, that’s not how the government in North Korea sees itself—and anyone who does, keeps such thoughts to himself. Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus argues—and this is what Kim was saying—that North Korea is a technological powerhouse. The North Korean propaganda line argues that this power is demonstrated by a series of achievements culminating in space launches, nuclear weapons and, yes, even thermonuclear weapons.

So, while a staged thermonuclear weapon is likely more than North Korea can, at the moment, achieve technically, it is a mistake to rule out the aspiration by Pyongyang. An H-bomb might not conveniently fit our perception of North Korea, but perhaps that is Kim’s point.

This is today’s announcement being made on North Korean state television:

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Stranger than Strangelove: How the U.S. planned for nuclear war in the 1950s

By Paul Lashmar, University of Sussex

Those who have written about the nuclear Cold War remain grateful to Stanley Kubrick for giving us the satirical 1964 film Dr Strangelove which captures the madness that swept the world for 40 years. The name Strangelove may be overused but the United States has now released a secret file that really does justify the sobriquet: “Stranger than Strangelove”. Almost anodyne in title, Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959 is a truly shocking document, revealing the scale of the holocaust that would have been unleashed in a nuclear war.

But a little context first. Back in 2006, the journalist Michael Dobbs filed requests for the declassification of many Pentagon Cold War documents. Dobbs optimistically hoped these documents would illuminate his book on the Cuban Missile Crisis. After years in the review system, in October 2014, some 2,200 documents were released – and with Dobbs’ help, the not-for-profit National Security Archive in Washington DC (not to be confused with the National Security Agency) has been working on the bundle ever since.

The archive has recently released its assessment and the highlights are that major cities in the Soviet Bloc, including East Berlin, were high priorities in “systematic destruction” for nuclear attack and that H-bombs were to be used against priority “air power” targets in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe. The report also found that plans to target people (“population”) were in violation of international legal norms.

The cover of the SAC assessment.
National Security Archive, George Washington University

Meanwhile, Strategic Air Command (SAC) wanted a 60-megaton bomb – a weapon with the equivalent destructive power of over 4,000 Hiroshima devices.

[Read more…]

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Putin’s doomsday machine: A dirty thermonuclear weapon

Jeffrey Lewis writes: On Nov. 9, President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting in Sochi on the state of the Russian defense industry. He gave a pretty boring speech about defeating U.S. missile defenses to some pretty bored-looking generals.

But there was one aspect of the event that was downright terrifying. Russian television cameras caught a page in a briefing book describing the development of a new nuclear weapons system called Status-6.

It’s nothing less than an underwater drone designed to carry a thermonuclear weapon into foreign ports. If detonated, Status-6 would be capable of dousing cities like New York in massive amounts of radioactive fallout.

At the risk of understating things, this project is bat-shit crazy. It harkens back to the most absurd moments of the Cold War, when nuclear strategists followed the logic of deterrence over the cliff and into the abyss. For his part, Putin seems positively nostalgic.

The Russian government reacted to the broadcast of the briefing-book images as if a major security breach had occurred. The offending footage was edited out of future broadcasts, and when asked about the incident, a Russian presidential spokesperson said: “Indeed, some secrets hit the camera lens, so were subsequently removed. We hope that in the future this will not happen again.”

The Russians doth protest too much. As Dr. Strangelove observed of the Soviet doomsday machine, “Of course, the whole point of a doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!” (As an aside, it’s worth noting that Status-6 bears more than a passing resemblance to the weapon in that Stanley Kubrick classic; more on that in a bit.)

This isn’t the first we’re hearing of such a project. Details of a similar Russian nuclear underwater drone, armed with a megaton-class thermonuclear warhead, were reported this fall by Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon. (Whatever you think of Gertz’s right-wing politics, he gets some decent scoops.) Gertz’s sources seemed to be describing the same system revealed this week, though they gave him a different name — Kanyon, rather than Status-6. (That shift in nomenclature shouldn’t come as a surprise: Russian military hardware acquires multiple names and numbers as it goes through research and development.)

The briefing-book slide fills in plenty of details about the project. A Russian attack submarine would be able to carry one or more of the drones, which could be remotely launched into the sea. The specs on the slide seem a little optimistic, but they suggest that once roaming wild, the underwater drone could travel a total distance of 10,000 kilometers, or 5,400 nautical miles. It would be designed in such a way that it could be navigated undetected into a U.S. port where it could then detonate its “combat payload” — a thermonuclear weapon. The system would never come up for air or encounter any pesky American missile defenses.

That’s bad enough, but the slide contains an additional gruesome detail: The purpose of the warhead would be to damage “the important components of the adversary’s economy in a coastal area and [inflict] unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

Yes, you’re reading that right. It’s not just a thermonuclear weapon. It’s a dirty thermonuclear weapon. [Continue reading…]

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Unheeded cybersecurity threat leaves nuclear power stations open to attack

By Nasser Abouzakhar, University of Hertfordshire

There has been a rising number of security breaches at nuclear power plants over the past few years, according to a new Chatham House report which highlights how important systems at plants were not properly secured or isolated from the internet.

As critical infrastructure and facilities such as power plants become increasingly complex they are, directly or indirectly, linked to the internet. This opens up a channel through which malicious hackers can launch attacks – potentially with extremely serious consequences. For example, a poorly secured steel mill in Germany was seriously damaged after being hacked, causing substantial harm to blast furnaces after the computer controls failed to shut them down. The notorious malware, the Stuxnet worm, was specifically developed to target nuclear facilities.

The report also found that power plants rarely employ an “air gap” (where critical systems are entirely disconnected from networks) as the commercial and practical benefits of using the internet too often trump security.

In one case in 2003, an engineer at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio used a virtual private network connection to access the plant from his home. While the connection was encrypted, his home computer was infected with the Slammer worm which infected the nuclear plant’s computers, causing a key safety control system to fail. A more serious incident in 2006 at the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama nearly led to a meltdown.

[Read more…]

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Nuclear smugglers tried selling radioactive materials to ISIS

The Associated Press reports: In the backwaters of Eastern Europe, authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts in the past five years by gangs with suspected Russian connections that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists, The Associated Press has learned. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium — enough to contaminate several city blocks — and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State group.

Criminal organizations, some with ties to the Russian KGB’s successor agency, are driving a thriving black market in nuclear materials in the tiny and impoverished country of Moldova, investigators say. The successful busts, however, were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling, AP found.

Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the nuclear black market has become. They say the breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it has become much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials — an unknown quantity of which has leached into the black market.

“We can expect more of these cases,” said Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer who investigated all four cases. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”

In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found a troubling vulnerability in the anti-smuggling strategy. From the first known Moldovan case in 2010 to the most recent one in February, a pattern has emerged: Authorities pounce on suspects in the early stages of a deal, giving the ringleaders a chance to escape with their nuclear contraband — an indication that the threat from the nuclear black market in the Balkans is far from under control. [Continue reading…]

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Stanislav Petrov and the day the world almost ended (really)

David Wright writes: Every day since Sept. 26, 1983 has to some extent been borrowed time.

That was when — during one of the most tense periods of the Cold War — Soviet warning systems announced an incoming attack by U.S. nuclear missiles. Urgent checks and rechecks of the warning system showed it was operating correctly and the attack was real. The Soviets kept their nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert so in a situation like this they could launch them before incoming U.S. missiles landed and destroyed them. This left only minutes for the Soviet launch officers to decide what to do.

The officer on duty, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, knew this situation was what the entire Soviet nuclear weapons enterprise had been built for. His job as a launch officer was to follow orders and set in motion a retaliatory nuclear launch. It was what all his training was about.

He also knew that once the U.S. detected the launch of Soviet missiles, it would respond with whatever nuclear weapons it had left. The exchange would likely destroy both countries and, we now know, put enough soot into the atmosphere to disrupt global agriculture for years and add perhaps billions to the death toll.

We’re here today because — despite the data he was getting — Petrov had doubts and broke the rules: He told his superiors it was a false alarm before he actually knew that to be true.

Soon after Petrov’s decision it became clear that it had been a false alarm: The Soviet warning satellites had been fooled by reflections of sunlight no one had anticipated. Luckily, Petrov ignored protocol and literally saved the world.

A movie about this incident — The Man Who Saved the World — is now showing in New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Portland (OR).

Unfortunately, this was not the only time the world came close to a nuclear war due to false warning, misperceptions, etc. And this problem is still with us since the U.S. and Russia each keep many hundreds of nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert. [Continue reading…]

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Krushnic and King: The corporate nuclear complex

They’ve run the most profitable companies in history and, to put it bluntly, they are destroying the planet.  In the past, given an American obsession with terrorists, I’ve called them “terrarists.”  I’m referring, of course, to the CEOs of the Big Energy companies, who in these years have strained to find new ways to exploit every imaginable reservoir of fossil fuels on the planet and put them into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide emissions.  One thing is certain: just as the top executives running tobacco companies, the lead industry, and asbestos outfits once did, they know what their drive for mega-profits means for the rest of us — check out the fire season in western North America this year — and our children and grandchildren.  If you think the world is experiencing major refugee flows right now, just wait until the droughts grow more extreme and the flooding of coastal areas increases.

As I wrote back in 2013:

“With all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it.  Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed.  Each used that time-disconnect as protection.  One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product.  In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it’s also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).”

Remarkably enough, as Richard Krushnic and Jonathan King make clear today, the profits pursued by a second set of CEOs are similarly linked in the most intimate ways to the potential destruction of the planet (at least as a habitable environment for humanity and many other species) and the potential deaths of tens of millions of people.  These are the executives who run the companies that develop, maintain, and modernize our nuclear arsenal and, as with the energy companies, use their lobbyists and their cash to push constantly in Washington for more of the same.  Someday, looking back, historians (if they still exist) will undoubtedly consider the activities of both groups as examples of the ultimate in criminality. Tom Engelhardt

Privatizing the apocalypse
How nuclear weapons companies commandeer your tax dollars
By Richard Krushnic and Jonathan Alan King

Imagine for a moment a genuine absurdity: somewhere in the United States, the highly profitable operations of a set of corporations were based on the possibility that sooner or later your neighborhood would be destroyed and you and all your neighbors annihilated.  And not just you and your neighbors, but others and their neighbors across the planet. What would we think of such companies, of such a project, of the mega-profits made off it?

In fact, such companies do exist. They service the American nuclear weapons industry and the Pentagon’s vast arsenal of potentially world-destroying weaponry.  They make massive profits doing so, live comfortable lives in our neighborhoods, and play an active role in Washington politics.  Most Americans know little or nothing about their activities and the media seldom bother to report on them or their profits, even though the work they do is in the service of an apocalyptic future almost beyond imagining.

[Read more…]

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Why an apparent Israeli nuclear test in 1979 matters today

Leonard Weiss writes: At a time when the Iran agreement is in the headlines and other Middle Eastern countries — notably Saudi Arabia — are making noises about establishing their own programs for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, it is worth giving renewed scrutiny to an event that occurred 36 years ago: a likely Israeli-South African nuclear test over the ocean between the southern part of Africa and the Antarctic. Sometimes referred to in the popular press as the “Vela Incident” or the “Vela Event of 1979,” the circumstantial and scientific evidence for a nuclear test is compelling but as long as many items related to the test are still classified, all the questions surrounding it cannot be resolved definitively. Those questions allow wiggle room for some observers (a shrinking number) to still doubt whether the event was of nuclear origin. But more and more information revealed in various publications over the years strongly supports the premise that a mysterious double flash detected by a US satellite in 1979 was indeed a nuclear test performed by Israel with South African cooperation, in violation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. The US government, however, found it expedient to brush important evidence under the carpet and pretend the test did not occur.

The technical evidence — evidence that has been reviewed in earlier publications — led scientists at US national laboratories to conclude that a test took place. But to this should be added more recent information of Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation in the 1970s, and at least two instances — so far unverified — of individuals claiming direct knowledge of, or participation in, the nuclear event, one from the Israeli side and one from the South African. And information provided by national laboratory scientists regarding the state of the satellite’s detectors challenges the view given by a government panel that the flash was likely not that of a nuclear test.

The US government’s use of classification and other means to suppress public information about the event, in the face of the totality of technical and non-technical evidence supporting a nuclear test, could be characterized as a cover-up to avoid the difficult international political problems that a recognized nuclear test was assumed to trigger. [Continue reading…]

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Fukushima: The price of nuclear power

Michael Ignatieff writes: Four years ago, the fishing town of Namie, on the northeast coast of Japan, lived through an experience of malediction biblical in scope. Beginning at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, without warning, the town’s population of 23,000 was struck by a triple disaster in quick succession: an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale that severely damaged the upper town, a fifteen-meter tsunami that carried away the entire lower town, and finally, in the days that followed, a blanket of radioactivity, from explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant just six miles away, that settled over the town’s ruins.

Today grass grows on the sidewalks in Namie. There are no cars, no people, anywhere. Through shop windows you can still see goods that tumbled off the shelves and remain on the linoleum floors gathering dust. Everything is as it was left in the panicked evacuation. In one building, the earthquake has left behind a three-inch fissure in a wall, a vase lies in pieces on the floor of a sitting room, and the windows of a sunroom have collapsed in shards. Nearby a store sign—in English—“Suzuki watch, jewelry, optical”—lies collapsed on the sidewalk; the bus shelter where the municipal buses turned around is empty; a sign saying “Louer: Total Beauty Salon” still hangs over a shuttered shop; and at the town’s main intersection, the single traffic light is still blinking on and off.

Four years after the calamity, no one from Namie can return home. It remains in the “red zone,” a contaminated area fifty miles by ten where the winds and rains carried a plume of radioactivity in the days after the disaster. Today there are parts of town where radiation measures twenty-six times the Tokyo level. Caesium-137 is washed down by the rains and accumulates in the weeds that grow near the gutters. Yet Japan — along with much of the world — still considers nuclear power an essential part of the energy mix necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. [Continue reading…]

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Noam Chomsky: Rogue states and nuclear dangers

The first prime-time Republican primary debate of 2015 was an eye-opener of sorts when it came to the Middle East. After forcefully advocating for the termination of the pending nuclear deal with Iran, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unleashed an almost indecipherable torrent of words. “This is not just bad with Iran,” he insisted, “this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.” That prescription, as vague as it was incoherent, was par for the course.

When asked how he would respond to reports that Iranian Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani had recently traveled to Russia in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, GOP billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump responded, “I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite.” He then meandered into a screed about trading Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for “five of the big, great killers leaders” of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but never offered the slightest hint that he had a clue who General Soleimani was or what he would actually do that would be “so different.” Questioned about the legacy of American soldiers killed in his brother’s war in Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush replied in a similarly incoherent fashion: “To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to stop the Iran agreement,” and then pledged to annihilate ISIS as well. Senator Ted Cruz seemed to believe that merely intoning the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” opened a surefire path to rapidly defeating ISIS — that, and his proposed Expatriate Terrorist Act that would stop Americans who join ISIS from using their “passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans.” Game, set, match, ISIS. 

Of the 10 candidates on that stage, only Senator Rand Paul departed from faith-based reality by observing that “ISIS rides around in a billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Humvees.” He continued, “It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.” On a stage filled by Republicans in a lather about nonexistent weaponry in the Middle East — namely, an Iranian A-bomb — only Paul drew attention to weaponry that does exist, much of it American. Though no viewer would know it from that night’s debate, all across the region — from Yemen to Syria to Iraq — U.S. arms are fueling conflicts and turning the living into the dead.  Military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales. That represents a jump of 57% since 2005.  Some of the largest increases have been among U.S. allies buying big-ticket items from American weapons makers. That includes Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in U.S. weapons deals from October 2010 to October 2014), which, by the way, haven’t fared so well against smaller, less well-armed opponents. Those countries have seen increases in their arms purchases of 286% and 112%, respectively, since 2005.

With the United States feeding the fires of war and many in its political class frothing about nonexistent nukes, leave it to the indomitable Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular and institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to cut to the quick when it comes to Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the regional balance of power, and arms (real or imagined). He wades through the spin and speechifying to offer a frank assessment of threats in the Middle East that you’re unlikely to hear about in any U.S. presidential debate between now and the end of time. Nick Turse

“The Iranian threat”
Who is the gravest danger to world peace?
By Noam Chomsky

Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”

There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat.  After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?

Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”

[Read more…]

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Mikhail Gorbachev: U.S. military an ‘insurmountable obstacle to a nuclear-free world’

Der Spiegel: Mikhail Sergeyevich, during your inaugural speech as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, you warned of nuclear war and called for the “complete destruction of nuclear weapons and a permanent ban on them.” Did you mean that seriously?

Gorbachev: The discussion about disarmament had already been going on for too long — far too long. I wanted to finally see words followed by action because the arms race was not only continuing, it was growing ever more dangerous in terms of the number of weapons and their destructive capacity. There were tens of thousands of nuclear warheads on different delivery systems like aircraft, missiles and submarines.

SPIEGEL: Did you feel the Soviet Union was under threat during the 1980s by the nuclear weapons of NATO member states?

Gorbachev: The situation was that nuclear missiles were being stationed closer and closer to our adversary’s borders. They were getting increasingly precise and they were also being aimed at decision-making centers. There were very concrete plans for the use of these weapons. Nuclear war had become conceivable. And even a technical error could have caused it to happen. At the same time, disarmament talks were not getting anywhere. In Geneva, diplomats pored over mountains of paper, drank wine, and even harder stuff, by the liter. And it was all for nothing.

SPIEGEL: At a meeting of the Warsaw Pact nations in 1986, you declared that the military doctrine of the Soviet Union was no longer to plan for the coming war, but rather to seek to prevent military confrontation with the West. What was the reason behind the shift in strategy?

Gorbachev: It was clear to me that relations with America and the West would be a lasting dead end without atomic disarmament, with mutual distrust and growing hostility. That is why nuclear disarmament was the highest priority for Soviet foreign policy.

SPIEGEL: Did you not also push disarmament forward because of the financial and economic troubles facing the Soviet Union in the 1980s?

Gorbachev: Of course we perceived just how great a burden the arms race was on our economy. That did indeed play a role. It was clear to us that atomic confrontation threatened not only our people but also all of humanity. We knew only too well the weapons being discussed, their destructive force and the consequences. The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl provided us with a rather precise idea of what the consequences of a nuclear war would be. Decisive for us were thus political and ethical considerations, not economic ones.

SPIEGEL: What was your experience with US President Ronald Reagan, who many saw as a driving force in the Cold War?

Gorbachev: Reagan acted out of honest conviction and genuinely rejected nuclear weapons. Already during my first meeting with him in November of 1985, we were able to make the most important determination: “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This sentence combined morals and politics — two things many consider to be irreconcilable. Unfortunately, the US has since forgotten the second important point in our joint statement — according to which neither America nor we will seek to achieve military superiority. [Continue reading…]

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Five ways that nuclear weapons could still be used

Alex Wellerstein writes: On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb to be used in anger detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, it was Nagasaki’s turn. That was the last such attack. Despite the worst of the cold war’s close calls, like the Cuban missile crisis, no other nuclear weapons have ever been used outside of testing. Seven decades later, it is worth asking: could it happen again? Here are five possible nuclear use scenarios. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post: At 8:15 a.m., Little Boy dropped. The fall to the burst altitude of 1,968 feet lasted 43 seconds. At that moment, Little Boy was moving faster than the speed of sound.

The bomb exploded with a blinding flash above the center of the city.

The burst temperature was estimated at more than 1 million degrees Celsius. It ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball about 900 feet in diameter.

Thirty seconds after the explosion, the Enola Gay circled to get a better look at what was happening. The city itself was engulfed in black smoke and, although the bomber was flying at 30,000 feet, the mushroom cloud had already risen above it, eventually reaching almost 56,000 feet.

The bomb, which exploded near its target over the center of the city, leveled two square miles. A firestorm incinerated everything within 6,000 feet of ground zero.

The blast wave shattered windows within 10 miles and was felt as far away as 37 miles. More than two-thirds of Hiroshima’s buildings were demolished. The heat ignited fires as far as two miles from ground zero.

The nuclear fireball and the ensuing blast killed 60,000 to 80,000 people in the time it has taken you to read this paragraph, and mortally wounded or seriously injured an estimated 50,000 more. [Continue reading…]

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Susan Southard: Under the mushroom cloud — Nagasaki after nuclear war

The nuclear age. Doesn’t that phrase seem like ancient history? With the twin anniversaries of the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming around again, this is its 70th birthday. Just a year younger than me, it was my age-mate, my companion all those years I was growing up. Those unshakeable fears, the “unthinkable,” turned out to be eminently translatable into the world of dreams. I still vividly recall my own world-ending nightmares from my teen years and I know I’m not alone. Thoughts of nuclear destruction were then part and parcel of our lives. Once, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it felt as if we might not even make it out of this lifetime.

The byproducts of that moment — raging dinosaurs, world-ending death rays, giant ants, and destroyed planets — ran rampant in pop culture, the classic stuff of B-movies. In those years, when the U.S. and the USSR were each building their arsenals to unimaginable heights and planning for something like world’s end, all of us were, in a sense, “on the beach.” Who didn’t read Neville Shute’s classic novel (or see the movie) and think about that vast cloud of fallout from the ultimate apocalyptic battle of the Cold War heading south or experience what curtains might mean, even in Australia? Who didn’t read the burgeoning post-apocalyptic mutant pulp fiction of that era even as, with A Canticle for Leibowitz, it became “literature”?

And doesn’t all of that, the fearful and the eerily fun-filled, seem the product of another time, long gone and half-forgotten? And yet here’s the eeriest thing of all: on this very day, nine countries with nuclear arsenals of varying sizes still possess, according to the latest estimates, a total of more than 15,000 such weapons, enough, that is, to obliterate countless Earths. And as it happens, 93% of those weapons are in the hands of either the United States or Russia, both of which are proudly and openlymodernizing” their nuclear stocks — in the case of the U.S. at a planned cost of a trillion dollars over the next three decades. Consider that a reminder that, in August 2045 on the 100th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the former Cold War rivals still have every intention of being nuclear powers.

Most unnerving of all, the planners in those countries simply refuse to acknowledge the most basic nuclear facts — or at least they are utterly unmoved by them and by the thought of the eradication of humanity. It evidently matters little that if those “modest” nuclear powers, India (a mere 110 nuclear weapons) and Pakistan (a mere 120 of them), were to release just part of their arsenals in a South Asian nuclear exchange, the planet would enter “nuclear winter” and humanity would be decimated.

So, on a 70th anniversary in which the madness shows no sign of ending, it’s good to turn to Susan Southard’s monumental new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, which offers a riveting, if chilling plunge into nuclear realities. Among other things, it reminds us that, unbelievably enough, humanity’s nuclear fate was never just prospective, never just a matter of thoughts, or plans, or dreams, or fantasies. Nuclear destruction of an almost unimaginable sort was the initial reality of the atomic age, with such weaponry actually used on two utterly defenseless cities. Thanks to the kindness of the editors of Viking, TomDispatch today takes you directly beneath the mushroom cloud in an excerpt from Southard’s book that follows five teenage nuclear survivors of the Nagasaki bomb through the very first moments of what has become an unending nuclear age. Tom Engelhardt

Entering the nuclear age, body by body
The Nagasaki experience
By Susan Southard

[This essay has been adapted from chapters 1 and 2 of Susan Southard’s new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, with the kind permission of Viking.]

Korean and Chinese workers, prisoners of war, and mobilized adults and students had returned to their work sites; some dug or repaired shelters, others piled sandbags against the windows of City Hall for protection against machine-gun fire. In the Mitsubishi sports field, bamboo spear drills in preparation for an invasion had just concluded. Classes had resumed at Nagasaki Medical College. Streetcars meandered through the city.

Hundreds of people injured in the air raids just over a week earlier continued to be treated in Nagasaki’s hospitals, and at the tuberculosis hospital in the northern Urakami Valley, staff members served a late breakfast to their patients. One doctor, trained in German, thought to himself, Im Westen nichts neues (All quiet on the western front). In the concrete-lined shelter near Suwa Shrine that served as the Nagasaki Prefecture Air Defense Headquarters, Governor Nagano had just begun his meeting with Nagasaki police leaders about an evacuation plan. The sun was hot, and the high-pitched, rhythmic song of cicadas vibrated throughout the city.

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