Hiroshima/Nagasaki/Fukushima—Never Again

From the July-August 2011 PNL #806

by Diane Swords

Syracuse Peace Council, Peace Action and local congregations will mark the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US and commit ourselves to abolish nuclear power and weapons. While there have been commemorations in Syracuse every year since 1945, this year is different, with the meltdown of three of the four units at the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plants on everyone’s minds. Contrary to nuclear industry claims that nuclear power is a different issue from nuclear weapons, the Japanese tragedy vividly illustrates that human bodies and the environment feel no difference.

The question for anti-nuclear organizers worldwide is: “Can we turn this latest tragedy into an awakening for publics lulled by industry reassurances and presidential promises?”

Nuclear Weapons are Used Even When Not Exploded
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only times nuclear bombs have been exploded in war. Yet in another sense, nuclear weapons have been used in every war since 1945. Daniel Ellsberg points out that the US uses nuclear weapons in the way that a gun is used when pointed at someone’s head. Even if not fired, it forces compliance.1 Joseph Gerson’s 2006 book Empire and the Bomb chronicles 40 times when the US used this form of “nuclear blackmail.”2 The Bomb is the ultimate instrument of imperialism.

We Are All Downwinders
Even when nuclear weapons are not detonated, many people are exposed to the effect of the nuclear cycle. The Western Shoshone in the Great Basin area of Nevada and Utah, whose land was taken to create the nuclear test site, are the most bombed nation on earth. The nuclear cycle, from mining, to waste, to nuclear tests and power plant emissions, causes human illness and environmental destruction. We all know people who are radiation victims (though cancer tumors do not do the courtesy of announcing their source). When we include economic harm from absurd expenditures on nuclear weapons and power, the effects devastate us all.

Pushing the Nuclear Industry Since the 1950s
Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech in 1953 made nuclear power a tool of US foreign policy and a stimulus for the nuclear industry that grew from the atomic establishment of World War II.  After touting benefits for “peace, international prosperity and goodwill” to the world, Ike gave industry access to private ownership of reactors. One of the results is described by Dr. Shoji Sawada, theoretical particle physicist, Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan, and survivor of the Hiroshima bomb. In the mid 1950s, “[the] Japan Scientists Council recommended the Japanese government not use this technology yet, but the government accepted to use enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power stations, and was thus subjected to US government policy.”3

When Fukushima’s reactors 1, 2, and 3 experienced full meltdowns in March 2011, it took Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) until June to admit it, and announce that the accident probably released more radioactive material than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record. Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan is now likely uninhabitable. US doctors connect substantially elevated rates of infant mortality in several west-coast US cities to radiation from Fukushima.4

Presidential Promises and Realities
In 2009, President Obama called for nuclear abolition. Yet his 2012 budget requests funds for new nuclear weapons plants and subsidies for new nuclear power plants. His budget includes more money for nuclear warheads than the previous administration, and more than many Cold War administrations. A former official from the Office of Management and Budget states “After accounting for inflation, the $7.63 billion request is 21 percent more than Ronald Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget and 19 percent more than President George H.W. Bush’s highest spending level.”  Besides new warheads, this budget increases spending to develop delivery vehicles. One stunning example is plans for 80 to 100 nuclear capable “drones.”5

In spite of the Japanese disaster, Obama continues to promote nuclear power and press for subsidies for new plants. Speaking of Georgia plants that Obama supports, a former nuclear engineer notes:  “In addition to a cornucopia of biochemically and radiologically hazardous waste materials, the proposed power plants will also manufacture plutonium-239, raising the question of whether the Obama administration’s underlying intent is to provide electricity to Georgia citizens or to further escalate the nuclear weapons race.”6

Perhaps this can all be explained by huge campaign donations to Obama’s senate and presidential races from Exelon, the nuclear giant that owns 12 power plants in Illinois.7


Organizing for Change

Help seize this moment of attention to nuclear issues to rebuild a movement for nuclear abolition and peace. Work with Syracuse Peace Council and Peace Action CNY to accomplish these goals: no new bomb plants; no wars; bring troops home; phase out nuclear power; close GE Mark I reactors in the US that are identical to the Fukushima plant (including Nine Mile Point I and Fitzpatrick near Syracuse).

1 Gerson, Joseph (1995). With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination. Philadelphia, PA, New Society Publishers. p. 4.
2 Gerson, Joseph (2007). Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. Ann Arbor, MI, Pluto Press. pp. 37-38.
3 Jamail, Dahr “Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think” . Al Jazeera, June 16, 2011. http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/06/201161664828302638.html
4 ibid
5 Ibid
6 Green Party press release, February 18, 2010. http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=297
7 McCormick, John “Nuclear Illlinois Helped Shape Obama View on Energy in Dealings With Exelon. Bloomberg, March 23, 2011.