Particle Beams

"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

Posts Tagged ‘Obama

Nuclear weapons: the Razor’s Edge

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Our officials have a big problem: during the Cold War, they created tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and now, faced with the threat that terrorists could make dirty bombs out of unsecured nuclear materials, and the spread of nuclear weapons to less stable countries like North Korea, they don’t know how to get rid of them. It’s a mess. In Russia and in the United States, the waste created and dumped during those years will cost billions and billions of dollars to clean up, and no profit to be made from it. According to David Culp, the people in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, to say nothing of people in Congress, are so tired of talking about the insurmountable problems posed by the mounting waste that they don’t even want to think about it anymore. But unfortunately, they are still producing it.

President Obama has puzzled supporters and critics alike, ever since he made his fabulous commitment in Prague in 2009 to move to eliminate nuclear weapons and then knuckled under to Republican pressure to start modernizing the stockpile, at terrific expense, if he hoped to have their votes for the NewSTART treaty with Russia.

Last February, news leaked out, and spilled all over the Internet, that the President had convened a meeting of top Pentagon heads to analyze the safety of reducing the stockpile even further than NewSTART levels. Disarmament folks got all excited, but then the mollusk clamped shut around this pearl, and nothing more was said. In April, the President’s budget continued to fund modernization, a project expected to cost more than $80 billion over the coming decade.

Huh? What happened to the disarmament president now, we whined? It was a heartbreaking setback.

But in fact, Obama had not actually said that he was planning on holding further negotiations with Russia. Indeed, he said nothing in response to the rumors, and the “implementation” document, as it was called, remained classified. It was an election year, and perhaps campaign politics dictated that it was not a good time to throw an atomic debate into the mix. That was Culp’s interpretation. In a talk at the Quaker House in Santa Fe on June 16th, the lobbyist on nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) presented an optimistic picture of past and potential future progress in the disarmament arena.

Since the end of the Cold War, he said, we have reduced our arsenal by 75 percent. We stopped the Reliable Replacement Warhead and the Robust Nuclear Penetrator. By we, he said, he meant grassroots voices, especially those of the people in New Mexico.

And now we’re going to stop the B-61, he said, distributing paper and pens for writing letters to our Senator, Tom Udall.

I recently wrote an article for La Jicarita, a northern New Mexico publication on regional environmental politics, in which I took a dim view of NNSA’s recent budget proposal that includes massive funding for the refurbishment of this warhead, at a projected cost of $10 billion. This, while Congress votes to cut people off Food Stamps! In the light of this exorbitant budget proposal to perpetuate the nuclear machinery at any cost, Culp’s optimism seemed shockingly unrealistic. But he’s been doing this work for more than 20 years.

Then this morning in Berlin, President Obama stepped out and confirmed that he is still working to curtail nuclear proliferation, and that he plans to negotiate with the Russians about further reductions of the two nations’ respective stockpiles.

Obama met with Putin just a few days ago, so one might infer that Obama had checked out Putin’s response before making this powerful public commitment.

Obama spoke of the conclusions of Pentagon officials involved in the “implementation” discussion that had sparked the February mania amongst disarmament watchdogs.

Even more important, perhaps, than the specifics about disarmament, whose fulfillment we must yet await — and the opposition is lining up as we speak; a debate between right-wing analysts will be held this evening entitled “Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget is a Gift to our Enemies” — was Obama’s overarching theme, that we live in the world together, and that we must find ways to create opportunity for everyone:

“For we are not only citizens of America or Germany — we are also citizens of the world.  And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.  We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous.

“I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experienceOur alliance is the foundation of global security.  Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy.  Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.  When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do.  So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.”

These words are the beginning of a vision of the world as one interrelated unit that is essential if we are to get out of the box of fear and hatred of one another, competition and wished-for supremacy, and begin to work together for a better, safer world.

If nuclear proliferation and global warming don’t stimulate an urgent will for the nations of the world to overcome our differences and subscribe to a single mission, to rescue the world from the razor’s edge on which it wobbles perilously, then surely there is no hope for humankind.

Just at the critical moment, Obama has done his part to reframe the debate into one of larger vision. “We must care about people we don’t even know,” and “see ourselves as bigger than our own experience.” It’s a big leap from Manifest Destiny and the American exceptionalism we’ve heard in some of Obama’s speeches here at home. This is a wider embrace, and though it may be hard for some of us to see ourselves as allies with our erstwhile fanatic enemy, allowing ourselves to think of the citizens of Germany and America as people who share a common past is an exercise that may one day make it possible for both sides of the aisle to join hands in recognition that we are all citizens of one country.

Is Washington ready to embrace this shared mission in a spirit of hope and possibility? Is the world ready to join us?

And what about the pundits, and the critics, and the watchdog organizations, the disarmament advocates as well as the deterrence proponents? Is it possible for us to rally in support of these fine words, this high-minded intent, instead of disintegrating into opposition?

It all remains to be seen. We know what Obama is up against. I’d like to take him at his word and rally behind him. Now is the time to stop blaming him for what he has been unable to do, and acknowledge that his intention is true. Without widespread public support, he will go down in history as a president who tried.

We need him to be a president who succeeded.

I look forward to your comments!



Rumors of peace amidst rumblings of war

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Baffling contradictions go marching on, but at least there are a few hopeful sparks of intelligence amidst the tangles of plaque clogging the political process today.
The budget for nuclear weapons for the upcoming fiscal year is higher than ever, but funding for the Super-Walmart sized $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research and Replacement edifice at Los Alamos has been cut off for the next five years, at least. That’s very good news, and activists here are celebrating quietly, although the work of containing the nuclear octopus and getting it to use its well-endowed arms to clean up the mess it has made over the past seven decades is unlikely to come to an end for 24,500 years, the half life of plutonim-239.
Speaking of plutonium, which is now scattered over the landscape, I read this bit of trivia in Leslie Groves’ history of the Manhattan Project, Now It Can Be Told: “The group headed by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg …in March of 1941 succeed in creating the first submicroscopic amounts of Plutonium-239.” Submicroscopic amounts. To date, 1600 metric tons of plutonium has been produced in reactors; surprisingly, only 250 tons have resulted from military uses. (Nuclear Control Institute, Such are the ways of progress… Six metric tons of plutonium were to be stored in part of the new CMRR; where they will be stored now? That equals 13,200 pounds of the deadliest substance on earth – not a natural substance, by the way; manmade. There is undoubtedly much more plutonium up at LANL, no one knows how much, but at least 21 million cubic feet of various types of radioactive waste is the figure given by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. The point is, all this radioactive and toxic waste is loosely stored, not only in a region plagued by fires, but an earthquake zone, as geologist Robert Gilkeson meticulously pointed out to officials at the Defense Nuclear Safety Board and elsewhere.
The response of elected representatives in New Mexico to news of the project’s cancellation was to moan about jobs (and money) lost to the state as a result. But there were no permanent jobs to be had from the project; all those jobs the Lab boasted about were temporary construction jobs. New Mexicans need more than that, and many more permanent jobs would be created in performance of a complete clean-up; using figures provided by the Lab, CCNS suggests that 1700 permanent jobs would be required to clean-up just one area, Area G, with its 40,000 cans of mixed waste stored above ground under tents. The threat to the entire region from fire reaching Area G was up front last summer when the fast spreading Las Conchas blaze licked at its edges. We were spared, but unfortunately the fire was diverted toward undeserving Santa Clara Pueblo, where it severely scorched the watershed, perhaps irreparably. Now we know, if we didn’t know before, that proper disposal of these contaminants is mandatory.
Occupy Santa Fe has formed a LANL Working Group which is planning actions to be held this summer to demand the clean-up of all this nasty stuff and steps to transform the Lab to do research for making things that are good for people. What a concept.
Still, slow and steady wins the race, and all of this is PROGRESS on the nuclear front, where a manmade problem born of fascination with technology and fear of conquest has attained monstrous proportions, and, like Frankenstein, has turned against its own Progenitor. That threat still looms; a Plutonian reminder of man’s basest form of stupidity, it will be with us forever. Last night I viewed a film called Into Eternity that documents the construction of an enormous facility deep in the black bedrock of Finland for the permanent storage of waste from that country’s power plants alone. Men now working on the construction of the tunnels at Onkalo (“hiding place” in Finnish) will not live to see it completed in 2100, that is how vast it is. Just look at the cost and effort, to say nothing of the contamination of our lands and wildlife, that will be expended to construct this facility, merely to contain the waste of Finland alone! One hundred years after completion it will be sealed with a hope and a prayer that no future human will find a way to open the heavy gate to the tomb and wander into its dark, radioactive byways…

If the discovery of radioactivity doesn’t force human beings to become conscious of the consequences of what they do, surely nothing will serve to awaken us to the power of our responsibility to steward the creation we have been given.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press discovered, and apparently leaked, information that was not meant to go public just yet, due to the politics of arms policies in an election year, and the story, aired in the Wall Street Journal and a few other places, stopped dead in its tracks but not before Congress people rose up to protest in the usual imbecility of pork politics (your money or your life!)
The story is that President Obama is seriously considering the reduction of nuclear arms to a level considerably below that mandated by the New START, which was signed with Russia less than a year ago. He has asked the Pentagon to present three scenarios, each calling for fewer deployed nuclear weapons. (Keep in mind that there are many more weapons in storage.) This is a huge step forward, confirming that Obama meant what he said in Prague about moving toward the elimination of these dastardly toys of total destruction.
The press went silent on this story, because it was premature and politically untimely to release it. But we’ll be watching for developments. In the meantime, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation jumped in with its support. Nuclear Age immediately a new petition urging reductions of deployed strategic weapons to 300. Hope you will visit the web site to sign this petition.

These are good signs, but rumors of an Israeli attack on Iran continue to rise and fall. It’s nice to see the Great Dominator trying to wiggle out of this one, by which I mean, of course, the American government, hitherto so fond of wars and now, finally, trying to negotiate out of this one, telling Israel to please hold its fire at least until we see whether tougher sanctions work. Perhaps we’ve finally scared ourselves into a cautious pacifism; and indeed, we must. War with Iran is no small matter; in the eaves looms the monster we’ve been fearing ever since we invented this damnable Gadget. Russia and China buy oil from Iran and they are both nuclear powers, to say nothing of Israel, who continues to hold her one or two hundred bombs close to her chest. The line-up is just what the Armageddonists have been predicting with their Gogs and Magogs, their AntiChrist and Satan. It’s a topic for another column, but may all the Santorums and Gingriches be warned: the other side of such a war may or may not bring on the Second Coming, but the scorched earth it threatens will hardly be a welcoming place for the return of the long-awaited Messiah . . .
I hope you’ll sign on to receive updates to this little blog. I will be updating every Monday while working with the Occupy group here to bring international attention to this silent sleeper, the creeping issue of nuclear weapons. Perhaps I should change the name from Particle Beams (of Divine Intelligence) to something more arresting? If you have a suggestion please send it this way.
Divine Intelligence, I should say, is not the province of God alone. It is the Spark with which we have been endowed, though we’ve seen precious little evidence of its existence in the workings of our paralyzed government bodies for lo this many years. But things can change… and are changing, as people continue to wake up to the reality, that we have been entombed in patriarchal ignorance for far too long and the only way to survive is to break out!! It’s a choice of Evolution or Death, to rephrase Patrick Henry. There’s no third option at this crossroads.
Place your comments at the door! And thanks for reading.