A World without Nukes

Patricia Hynes

January 22 marks the second anniversary of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a global lifeboat supported by 70% of the world’s countries. Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy’s 2023 budget request for nuclear weapons’ upgrade is more than $21 billion and close to $8 billion for radioactive and chemical cleanup at nuclear weapon sites across the country.

Hanford, Washington is the site of the largest plutonium-production reactors in the world from 1944 to 1987 (including for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). The Hanford land, bordering the Columbia River, was effectively stolen from four Indigenous tribes and peasant farmers by the federal government and is now “arguably the most contaminated place on the planet,” according to Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days.

The Hanford plutonium-making site has killed and contaminated fish, waterfowl and other biological life in the Columbia River and polluted two hundred square miles of the aquifer beneath.

While nuclear weapons governments and their bomb-making industries are criminally sleepwalking into what could mean the end of the planet’s life, many others–scientists, high-level military, citizens and whole countries–are countering the weapons holders’ political idiocy with principled intelligence.

*    At their 40th reunion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, 70 of 110 physicists who worked on the atomic bomb signed a statement supporting nuclear disarmament. When have the brightest scientists of their day ever admitted that their most notable work was a colossal mistake?

*    Against immense pressure from nuclear-armed states, most aggressively the United States, 122 countries agreed in July 2017 to ban nuclear weapons. At the heart of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is an explicit ethical goal: to protect the world’s peoples from the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue were nuclear weapons employed.

*    By the end of 2022, 68 countries ratified the Treaty and 23 more are in the process. At least 30 more countries have promised to join the Treaty.

*    Since 2007, ICAN, an international organisation with partners in over one hundred countries, has mobilised people throughout the world to convince their governments to support a ban on nuclear weapons.

*    Mayors for Peace from over 8,000 global cities call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The new UN Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons bolsters the hope that the United States and the eight other nuclear giants will grow up into pragmatic, if not ethical adult governments and eliminate forever their genocidal weapons. One nation did so: South Africa developed nuclear weapons capability and then voluntarily dismantled its entire programme in 1989.

In 1963 President John Kennedy gave at American University’s commencement what has been deemed the most important speech by a US president–a speech on peace with the Soviet Union. But “what about the Russians?” everyone asked. Kennedy responded “What about us…Our attitude [toward peace] is as essential as theirs.” According to historian Jim Douglass, “John Kennedy’s strategy of peace penetrated the Soviet government’s defences far more effectively than any missile could have done.” Promoted across the Soviet Union, Kennedy’s speech and his behind-the-scenes diplomacy with Khrushchev led toward de-fusing Cold War tension and planted the seed of a world without nuclear weapons and war. This seed awaits germination.

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Vol 55, No. 32, Feb 5 - 11, 2023