Nuclear Abolition Politics

Trinity 75 Years Later

Trinity Marker near Bingham, N.M.

Trinity was the code name for the first nuclear bomb detonation 75 years ago today.

The test explosion was conducted by the U.S. Army at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. It took place in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on what is now part of White Sands Missile Range.

The day after Trinity, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson flew to Potsdam, Germany where President Harry Truman was meeting with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Joseph Stalin to determine the fate of Germany which had surrendered unconditionally on May 8.

Truman wrote about this meeting with Stimson in his memoir:

We were not ready to make use of this weapon against the Japanese, although we did not know as yet what effect the new weapon might have, physically or psychologically, when used against the enemy. For that reason the military advised that we go ahead with the existing military plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

A committee had been established to evaluate use of the atomic bomb once testing was successful. Before Trinity, on June 1, the committee of government officials and scientists made their recommendation, which Truman recounts in his memoir:

It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.

Ultimately Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 the U.S. Air Force delivered it. Truman threatened to drop a second atomic bomb. On Aug. 9 the Air Force bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered Aug. 10.

A friend and fellow Veteran for Peace, the late Samuel Becker, was in Guam in August 1945 preparing for the invasion of Japan. I recently asked him about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said the reaction in Guam was positive, they were in favor of it because it brought a quick end to what could have been a prolonged, bloody conclusion to World War II. In the years before he died, Sam didn’t believe it was a good idea. With time and reflection, the notion that the atomic bombings saved many lives turned out to be a myth. The Japanese were already in a position to surrender. At a Zoom call on Monday, author of the book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Gar Alperovitz said that to a person contemporary military leaders went on the record to say there was no need to use the atomic bombs on Japan. The war had already been won.

On July 1, 1968, states began to sign the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which entered into force on March 5, 1970. Every state on the planet has joined the treaty with the exception of India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan. India, Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. The treaty has three interrelated parts: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Article VI states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” 75 years after Trinity we missed the “early date” by a country mile.

Progress is measured in a meeting of the parties every five years. This year’s scheduled NPT review conference was postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Trump administration nuclear arms control is not even up for discussion, except to eliminate constraints on “American freedom.” The U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion on the nuclear complex in the coming years. That will drive Russia to do likewise. FOX News personality Chris Wallace recently wrote a popular book regurgitating false myths about the history of the atomic bomb. Alperovitz debunked some of Wallace’s claims on Monday.

Also on Monday Sueichi Kido spoke about his experience as a five-year-old during the bombing of Nagasaki. People like him are called hibakusha or survivors of the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945. Over the years he and other hibakusha told their story many times. The hibakusha are aging and will soon all be gone. Along with them will go living memory of the effects of a nuclear weapon.

Truth matters and one truth is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary. Atomic bombs were never needed for defense. Their existence, as demonstrated at Trinity, would fuel the Cold War and the idea of mutually assured destruction should they be used. This is crazy talk. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated and the only way to do that, to pierce the wall of our federal government, is citizen action demanding it. On the 75th anniversary of Trinity it’s past time we took action.

Social Commentary

Wheels Coming Off

Two Wagon Loads of Onions

This weekend was unsettling beginning with Friday’s news that OPEC couldn’t reach consensus on reducing crude oil supply. Russia dissented. In response, Saudi Arabia decided to slash prices and increase production by as many as 2 million barrels per day.

“This OPEC summit was among the worst meetings I have ever seen during the history of this organization,” Bijan Zanegneh, Iranian petroleum minister told reporters on Friday.

Oil prices fell so far, one could purchase two barrels of crude for less than the cost of a liter of Purell hand sanitizer in Manhattan.

Futures trading in the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield dipped below 0.50 percent for the first time ever last night. It should be hella day when markets open this morning. One aspect of our being in debt is we own no stocks and therefore are insulated from daily market peaks and valleys, but still…

Speaking of hand sanitizer, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced last night the first three cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in Iowa. The individuals live in our county seat and have been quarantined at home. I’m weighing whether or not to attend meetings in town this evening because of it. National leadership on identifying the emerging risks of coronavirus, and doing something to prevent a national crisis over the pandemic, has been absent. Our local warehouse club was rationing basic food stuffs, even though few Iowans seem likely to starve if they have to stay home for a while to avoid contact with the disease.

Also Sunday night, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported North Korea launched three projectiles toward the East Sea. The projectiles are believed to be missiles being developed as a result of stalled talks over denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. The U.S. is not leading efforts to rid the north of nuclear weapons, but rather seeking to distract us from our own nuclear complex modernization and testing of new nuclear weapons. American leadership is absent in compliance with Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Changes announced this weekend include the orchard where I worked the last seven seasons. On Friday they posted job openings for my manager and the bakery manager, who have worked there since before the current owners bought it in 2009. There have been discussions about extending the season to include other activities and produce for a couple of years. It looks like plans are coming to fruition (yes, that’s an apple joke), which means changes in staffing to accommodate new demands.

We’ll see if I’m invited back for the fall season, and if I am, whether I would work for a new manager in a new retail environment. Our personal situation has changed since 2013 when I first applied for a job there. The changes at the orchard are evidence of the shifting sand of a small business trying to survive in a competitive marketplace. If the job ceases to be fun, I won’t return.

Why all this now? It may be the beginning of all the wheels coming off the wagon of society. Whatever the causes, it is going to be a rough ride at least through this year, and maybe for a lot longer.

When I returned from my Sunday shift at the farm I walked the garden. It’s still pretty barren, garlic hasn’t begun to emerge. The plot where I sowed lettuce was dry with a few deer footprints in it. I went to bed worried about late winter drought. When I woke there was rain against the bedroom window. Welcome relief from the dry spell and a sign that all hope is not lost.

Environment Nuclear Abolition

Nuclear Power Transition

Google Maps Image of Duane Arnold Energy Center

In 2018 NextEra Energy Resources announced plans to retire the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) — a 615-MW nuclear power plant located in Palo, Iowa — before the end of 2020.

NextEra’s main customer at DAEC, Alliant Energy, will buy out its contract in September for $110 million, sourcing electricity instead from NextEra’s wind generation fleet. The move is expected to save Alliant Energy customers $300 million over 21 years.

There are no plans to replace Duane Arnold with new nuclear generating capacity.

Two essential problems with nuclear power plants are they cost too much, and a lack answers to the question of what to do with spent nuclear fuel. These problems are political. In our current political climate that makes them unsolvable, practically speaking, even though potential solutions exist for both.

Certain environmental groups favor nuclear power to replace coal as an emissions reduction tactic. On its face this is belied by the urgency of the climate crisis.

“Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” climatologist James Hansen said on Dec. 3, 2015. “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools (such as nuclear energy) to solve the problem is crazy.”

The challenge for nuclear energy is the timeline for market penetration in the industrial age. It will take too long.

Cesare Marchetti of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis did research which suggests the historical trend on implementation of new technologies such as wood, coal, oil and gas takes 40-50 years to go from one percent to 10 percent of market share. Nuclear energy occupies about 12 percent of current global market share. It will take almost a century for an energy source to occupy half the market. The world doesn’t have 50 years, and likely longer, to wait for nuclear energy sources to gain acceptance and growth the way coal, oil and gas have.

Even if political issues surrounding nuclear waste disposal could be resolved, the financial cost of building out a fleet of new nuclear power plants would likely follow the course of the Georgia Power Vogtle Plant expansion, which, when they broke ground, was the first nuclear power plant contemplated in 30 years. Despite proclamations of “making American nuclear cool again,” by then Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the Georgia Public Service Commission questions whether the plant will be economically viable if going on line is delayed much longer. New nuclear energy remains too expensive, especially when compared to renewables and natural gas.

Renewable energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric) is further along than nuclear in its evolution as an energy source. At 31 percent of global market share, we remain decades away from achieving 50 percent market penetration, according to Marchetti’s analysis. At the rate we are going, elimination of coal, oil and natural gas from the energy production mix for electricity won’t occur in my lifetime, and likely not the lives of the millennial cohort. By then all of this electricity talk may be rendered moot by the climate crisis.

There are no big-picture answers to the trouble of an over-heating planet in a 500-word blog post. What remains clear is our problems are driven more by politics than by technology and reason.

It is critical we root out influence and corruption in government. To do that it will take voters who care about our future and are willing to make the hard choices necessary to address the climate crisis.

In any case, from my vantage point, it seems unlikely nuclear power plants will be part of our energy future.

Nuclear Abolition Social Commentary

Anniversary No One Wants to Remember

Wildflowers – Summer 2019

Friday will be the anniversary of one of the most sensational mass murders in United States history.

While the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan was far worse in terms of premeditation, number of human deaths, and physical destruction, I’m talking about the 50th anniversary of the murders of actress Sharon Tate and friends, followed the next night by the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

I’d be willing to bet major news media coverage mentions the Tate-LaBianca murders and not Nagasaki. We’ll see grainy images of the late Charles Manson whose colleagues committed the crimes. Then the narrative will move on, perhaps to one of the president’s posts in social media, or some both-sider discussion of administration policy.

No one was prosecuted for the bombing of Nagasaki, even though it was the greater crime. Who will even remember Nagasaki other than nuclear abolition advocates and the few remaining people who were there?

Here is bomber co-pilot Fred Olivi’s account of his experience dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki:

Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit. Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from “ground zero” and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant. I had never experienced such an intense bluish light, maybe three or four times brighter than the sun shining above us.

I’ve never seen anything like it! Biggest explosion I’ve ever seen…This plume of smoke I’m seeing is hard to explain. A great white mass of flame is seething within the white mushroom shaped cloud. It has a pinkish, salmon color. The base is black and is breaking a little way down from the mushroom.

One would think the “light of a thousand suns” eclipses sensational coverage of a gruesome murder binge fifty years ago. We’ll see if major news outlets see it the same way on Friday.

Nuclear Abolition

Deteriorating Trust on Hiroshima Day

Summer flowers by the front door – August 2019

President Ronald Reagan famously said, “trust but verify,” about the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), quoting a Russian proverb.

The Trump administration believes Russia can’t be trusted, was in violation of the treaty, and formally withdrew last week. The Russian Federation accused the United States of being in violation and declared it was open to dialogue to resolve differences. It’s over now.

A background article on the INF by Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association is here. Reif explains what our country has been doing to prepare for exiting the treaty, including exploration of options regarding new intermediate-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs.

We knew we were in for the worst regarding foreign policy when Donald Trump won the 2016 general election. Our knowledge didn’t help us through the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, described as a malign influence on U.S. arms control and international security objectives. With Trump we entered a new arms race.

Last year, President Trump told reporters he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control,” according to Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. This seems all talk. Trump may be the first president since John F. Kennedy to fail to conclude any form of agreement with Russia regarding nuclear weapons. Without treaties, the door is open to a new and dangerous arms race, Kimball said.

In a time of America first, the administration has little appetite for elimination of nuclear weapons and wants more of them. They seem likely to let the New START Treaty expire and in so doing would create an arms control regime with no legally binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century. Both countries are required to eliminate nuclear weapons by Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by 188 nations, the Holy See and the State of Palestine.

Dr. Maureen McCue, coordinator of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, emailed a group of Iowans favoring nuclear abolition and her colleagues around the country this disheartening report:

At our booth at the county fair we spoke to almost 3,000 individuals and found that of all the issues and concerns out there, concern about nuclear weapons their costs, and risks was just not on the minds of very many.  On a list of seven concerns, it came in far to the bottom, dead last — even given the dangerous moves of this administration to increase spending on nuclear weapons updates and delivery systems… We live in dangerous times, but the opportunities to engage and educate a new generation are sorry lacking.

We must prevent what we cannot cure and eliminate nuclear weapons. The Trump administration seems intent on doing the opposite, opening the door to a new nuclear arms race. With every new nuclear weapon developed our likelihood of using them by intent or by accident increases. This is no kind of world to leave our children and grandchildren.

Aug. 6 is the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Who will notice what we should never forget?

Nuclear Abolition

Iran Deal Update

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

Except for the president and members of his administration, the world supports the Iran Deal negotiated by the Obama administration with key allies and Iran.

On June 28, Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, which are not party to the agreement, issued a statement supporting the Iran Deal:

“(We) attach the utmost importance to the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by Iran and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, as a key instrument for the non-proliferation regime and a major contribution to stability in the region.”

The purpose of the agreement was to restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The United States, under President Donald Trump, chose to violate the JCPOA because the chief executive thought it was a “bad deal.”

Last week the president authorized new sanctions against Iran, but they already felt economic pain from previous ones. What this round of sanctions tells Iran and the rest of the world is the U.S. is running out of options, according to Jarrett Blanc at Politico,

With Iranian oil sales down to 300,000 barrels per day (from 2.5 million before sanctions were reapplied) and Iran’s economy suffering, the United States has effectively cut Iran out of international commerce already. The real signal Iran will take from the new sanctions is that the Trump administration either does not understand this reality or cannot come up with a more effective option to improve upon it.

Iran recently announced it would exceed the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium required by the Iran Deal. They did exceed it, which was widely reported on Monday. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association made this June 27 press release with Kelsey Davenport, ACA director for nonproliferation policy, which summarizes where we stand regarding the Iran Deal (emphasis mine):

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. re-imposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

If interested in following the progress of the Iran Deal, discussions with North Korea, and potential extension of the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States, follow Daryl Kimball on twitter @DarylGKimball.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa. Paul Deaton is, among other things, a member of the Arms Control Association.


Doubt No More

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

With recent moves to reduce the number of government advisory panels, overturn the Obama administration’s clean power plan, and increase the speed with which logging permits are approved in national forests, the Trump administration plows the field of deregulation in a way libertarians and conservatives could previously only dream about.

They have gone too far.

Even with regard to mitigating the impact of the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry indicated the world is proceeding on an unsustainable path. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019.

There is a growing mismatch between societal demands for action on climate change and the actual pace of progress, with energy demand and carbon emissions growing at their fastest rate for years. The world is on an unsustainable path.

In a special message to the Congress on Feb. 8, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said,

Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

A group of scientists explained to Johnson that burning fossil fuels could cause climate change, according to Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt. “Most thought that changes were far off in the future,” they wrote.

In 2019 we see the effects of climate change in real time. We are living them.

Johnson signed hundreds of conservation and environmental measures during his tenure, developing the strongest record for the environment of any president. In so doing, he laid the legal foundations for how we protect the nation’s land, water and air.

Given time I believe Republicans will destroy the Johnson era legal foundation while their leader is lying to the American people about the quality of our air and water in a way that conflicts with our personal experience.

“We have among the cleanest and sharpest — crystal clean, you’ve heard me say, I want crystal clean — air and water anywhere on Earth,” President Trump said at a June 18 campaign rally in Florida. “Our air and water are the cleanest they’ve ever been by far.”

The science of climate change — that carbon dioxide and other gaseous emissions warm the atmosphere creating the greenhouse effect that enables life on Earth — has never been in doubt. It’s science and as Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “When you have an established scientific emergent truth it is true whether or not you believe in it.”

When Trump lies and repeats his lies over and over again, believers and followers will set aside what is in their best interests, what is plainly visible in objective reality, and parrot his words. It creates turbulence in society, an argument about things which there is no arguing, and delays political action that should have been taken years ago. It creates doubt.

Now we have a climate crisis.

Environmental advocates don’t agree on the path to resolving the climate crisis, in fact there are broad divisions. Some favor a carbon fee and dividend as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Others want geoengineering, a deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems, to counteract climate change. Others want to keep fossil fuels in the ground and convert our electrical grid to sustainable, renewable electricity generation. Others favor implementing nuclear power as a way to get to zero emissions with electricity generation. There is no agreement about specific strategies and tactics to use.

What remains from the divisions is an elemental truth, we have to do something to mitigate the effects of climate change. While assertions like those of our president and his administration create doubt about the use of political action regarding climate change, doubt no more. We have to do something and soon.

If you’d like to learn more about the climate crisis I recommend David Wallace-Wells recent book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. It is a comprehensive look at the diversity of the climate crisis. My advice is read his book then get involved with climate action.

Nuclear Abolition

Prevent What We Cannot Cure

Hiroshima, Japan after U.S. Nuclear Attack. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

I’m mad about nuclear weapons spending.

The Trump administration plans to spend far more than President Obama on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Depending on time frame, the administration will see Obama’s trillion dollars and raise it another half trillion.

Why do we continue to spend money at all on a weapons system we are required by treaty to eliminate? Why do we spend money on weapons that should never be used?

I’m mad and that’s not the half of it.

I’m mad at President Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. I read Truman’s explanation in his memoir, Year of Decisions, and understand he thought it was a good idea. However, after Hiroshima, when our government understood the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, dropping a second on Nagasaki was criminal.

I’m mad at the greatest generation for failure to comply with Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which was signed in 1968 and went into effect two years later. By now, we should be finished with nuclear weapons. The treaty binds us as follows:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

The United States and Russia continue to hold the largest number of nuclear weapons even though reductions were made through treaty negotiations. Treaties are being dismantled by the current administration. If nuclear states had disarmed as the Non-Proliferation Treaty compels us, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

I’m mad at my generation of baby boomers. As the torch of nuclear non-proliferation was passed to us, my cohort chose to focus instead on personal liberation and financial well-being.

There was a resurgence of interest in non-proliferation during the nuclear freeze movement in the 1980s. This global advocacy contributed to negotiation of the INF Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union on the elimination of their intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. It was signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev on Dec. 8, 1987. The current administration announced plans to abandon the INF Treaty.

Why am I so mad? The problem of the existence of nuclear weapons should have been solved soon after society found their destructive capacity. I don’t want to pass that problem along to our daughter and her generation.

Our community has outgrown our fire station and tax levies aren’t sufficient to build a new one. Fire fighters are determined to raise the funds and implore us to “fill the boot” they leave at local businesses. If we had eliminated nuclear weapons, we might have enough money to build thousands of fire stations. Where are our priorities?

As a society we must create a nuclear weapons free world. There is no cure for a nuclear war. We must prevent what we cannot cure.

~Published on May 5, 2019 as a guest opinion to the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Nuclear Abolition

No First Use

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

On Jan. 30, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced companion bills in the 116th Congress to establish the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.

That’s the bill, 14 words, “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.”

Sounds like a no-brainer for rational people. Nuclear weapons should never be used. Under what circumstances would our country ever consider using them first? No rational person could come up with a scenario to do so that would stand the light of public scrutiny.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack. He acknowledged the global catastrophe that would result from a nuclear war. “We can’t be those who initiated it,” Putin said.

H.R. 921 has 25 house co-sponsors, all Democrats. S-272 has six co-sponsors including five Democrats and one Independent. None of the six members of the Iowa delegation to the 116th Congress has signed on as a co-sponsor. That is unfortunate.

The reason Iowa’s lack of co-sponsors on this no first use policy is unfortunate includes:

Iowa’s agricultural industry would be particularly hard hit in the aftermath of a limited nuclear war elsewhere in the world. Smoke and debris thrown into the upper atmosphere would disrupt the growing season. Crop yields in Iowa and other Midwestern states, as well as in other parts of the world, would plummet according to a 2012 study, due to declines in precipitation, solar radiation, growing season length, and average monthly temperature. As many as two billion people would be at risk of food insecurity.

There is no adequate medical response to a limited nuclear war. “We know from the International Committee of the Red Cross’s first-hand experience in Hiroshima in 1945 that the use of even a relatively small number of nuclear weapons would cause death, injury and destruction on a massive scale, that there would be no effective means of providing aid to the dying and wounded, and that those exposed to radiation would suffer life-long and fatal consequences to their health,” Kathleen Lawand, head of ICRC arms unit said.

Preparing for a limited nuclear war, one which should never be fought, is costly. The Trump administration is planning to spend more than a trillion dollars to upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including improved weapons, delivery systems and labs. They are even considering development of so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapons which were phased out at the end of the Cold War. Those funds could be better used elsewhere or could even pay for tax cuts.

My ask is modest. The Iowa delegation to the 116th Congress should sign on as co-sponsors to the no first use bills. It is a rational first step in reducing global tensions surrounding the use of nuclear weapons. Those of us in the nuclear abolition community would ask for a lot more, but a no first use policy is something upon which people could agree without even considering more controversial aspects of a ban on nuclear weapons.

There is no cure for a nuclear war. We must prevent what we cannot cure.

Nuclear Abolition

Does Nuclear Weapons Spending Make Sense?

Garage Sign

Does it make sense for our federal government to spend almost one and a half trillion dollars on a nuclear weapons system that should never be used?


The Trump administration plan is to rebuild the entire American nuclear arsenal, including development of new, so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapons. During military training we prepared for deployment of such “tactical” weapons.

After spotting the signature flash or mushroom cloud of a nuclear detonation, while maneuvering among people’s farms, towns and businesses, we were to avert our eyes, find a low spot on the ground and cover ourselves as best we could with our poncho to prevent radioactive fallout from touching our skin and clothing. If we survived, we could go on fighting.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, and elimination of tactical nuclear weapons, developing them again sounds crazy. We could build thousands of new community fire houses with that kind of money.

As Iowa ramps up for the first in the nation caucuses, we should ask presidential candidates, “Will you oppose current plans to spend upwards of one and a half trillion dollars on a plan to rebuild the entire American nuclear arsenal?”

Voters will likely welcome the responses.

~ Published in the Solon Economist on April 11, 2019.