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In the News
Last Updated: 08/11/2003Nuclear Weapons
August the 6th 2003 saw the 58th anniversary of the day the atomic bomb was launched upon the city of Hiroshima. News Roundup this week focuses on the Nuclear Age.
In the midst of 1942 the US government speeded up its research into nuclear weapons. Codenamed the Manhattan Project and with virtually an unlimited budget July 16 1945 saw the test of the worlds first nuclear weapon in New Mexico. A matter of days after this the order was green lighted to launch a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The speed of the decision came principally because the US wanted the Japanese to surrender with as few American casualties as possible and secondly because they wished to use the atomic bomb before the Soviet Union entered the war to ensure their post war dominance. However later testimonies reveal that the Japanese were virtually on the verge of surrender and were solely planning their strategies to do so, to try and save as much face as possible. It has been argued that the US went ahead with the bombs because they were curious to see its effects in an actual attack. The test bomb in New Mexico had been carried out under careful restrictions but could not really give an actual idea to the impact and effect it would have if launched on a city.
Hiroshima was chosen as the sight of the first bomb for a number of reasons:
Due to the nature of the bomb’s explosion it is difficult to calculate the true details however estimates suggest that the bomb exploded 580metres over the Shima Hospital. During the blast temperatures surpassed a million degrees Celsius, a white hot fireball released immensely powerful heat rays and radiation in all directions. Those aiming downwards created a updrafts that spread out to cover a several Km squared area. From the released energy 50% came from the actual blast, 35% in the form of heat and 15% was radiation.
The destruction caused by the bomb led to 140,000 deaths by the end of December 1945. The physical destruction of the city was estimated at approximately 90% of the cities buildings either collapsed or incinerated.
Three days later saw similar events in the Japanese city of Nagasaki with an even more devastating bomb. Despite these horrific acts against mankind we have witnessed massive nuclear proliferation. The improvements in technology have amplified the current weapons and improved their delivery systems. This amplification of weapons makes it much harder to control especially in countries in the midst or on the brink of conflict. Many stories are available to remind us of their devastating power
The past year has seen startling movements in the nuclear situation in North Korea (NK). Starting in October 2002 when suspicions were raised that North Korea was developing a nuclear energy and missile programme. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea agreed to stop all nuclear developments in return for two constructed light water nuclear power reactors and oil from the US.
Following these months of stalemate with the US accusing North Korea of having a nuclear weapons programme, North Korea initially agreed to allow international weapons inspectors into the country. This was quickly reversed.
The misunderstanding came after the US interpreted the statement to read as an admission of the North Koreans owning weapons. The Koreans responded by accusing the US of deliberately misconstruing the statement, which in actual fact was supposed to read that they have the “right” to own weapons if they wish. The US response to this was to stop all shipments of oil to the country under the 1994 pact. This then opened the doorway for NK to reinitiate nuclear plants for energy generation.
Following this NK asked the UN international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to remove their monitoring equipment from a power plant and also threatened to ask the weapons inspector to leave the country.
What followed was a serious frenzy of talks between the involved parties: North and South Korea, The US, China and the UN. For many months nothing was resolved and it appeared that the deadlock situation might lead to one of the parties using military force.
However the latest (August 1st 2003) saw the North Koreans agreeing to 6 way talks between the US, North and South Korea, china, Japan and Russia to discuss its Nuclear Programme. So far the South Koreans have approved of the talks and it looks as though progress will finally be made in the peninsular.
Use of Nuclear Weaponry in Iraq
As the US military prepared to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq earlier this year they also launched a dual campaign to promote a “new highly effective weapon that would protect the lives of innocent Iraqis”. A Pentagon briefing that took place on March 14 2003 Col James Naughton of the US Army announced that US army had decided to use DU munitions in the war in Iraq. DU (Depleted Uranium) is a toxic and radioactive substance, a by-product from enriched uranium (the core material in nuclear weapons). It burns instantly upon impact with an extreme density, making it an effective choice to use against enemy tanks or reinforced bunkers. However DU is likely to lose 40 – 70% of mass upon firing and releases a fine dust that can be scattered by winds or enter soil and ground water.
Research on DU has shown that it is linked to birth defects, cancers and symptoms virtually mirror those seen amongst those suffering from the Gulf war syndrome (fatigue, shortness of breath, lymphatic and bronchial problems and weight loss). Pentagon officials defended the use of DU by saying that its military advantages far outweigh the health and environmental effects.
However the use of DU is by no means new to the US army, in the Gulf War approximately 320tonnes were used, 10 tonnes in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia and reports also suggest that it was used in Afghanistan in 2001.
The use of DU in urban and civilian areas in Iraq earlier this year also questions the use of this “highly effective weapon”. DU was used to take down the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in downtown Baghdad, (the building located in a highly populated neighbourhood would obviously be easily mistaken for a armoured tank or a reinforced bunker).
One argument as to why the US army is so keen to use DU focuses on its availability. DU is offered to weapons manufacturers free of charge by the US government. DU comes from the waste material from years of nuclear weaponry research. Stockpiles of DU in the US are estimated at 728,000 metric tones by offering DU to the manufacturers they are ridding themselves of the task of disposing of the radioactive waste.
Nuclear Weapons Conference in the US
Stratcom the headquarters of US Strategic Command will host a 2-day conference this week to discuss the future of the US Nuclear weaponry. 150 senior officials and scientists will meet to confer about a number of topics including the possibilities of building a number of mini nuclear weapons.
The mini weapons normally contain around 1,000tonnes of explosives and produce small amounts of radiation. Manufactured as earth penetrating devices they are designed to attack underground bunkers and weapons stores.
Possibly a method to by-pass the treaty the US signed with Russia agreeing to reduce the number of nuclear warheads to between 1700 and 2200 by the year 2012. The use of small weaponry or “mini nukes” might not come under conditions of the treaty.
Also open to discussion at the conference will be the topics of testing. Since 1992 the US has abided to a freeze on testing of nuclear weaponry. They have been building a computer generated simulation programme but questions have been raised as to how they will preserve their existing stockpile without being able to carry out actual tests.
Organizations Against Nuclear Weapons
There are a large number of organizations and associations trying to rid the world of Nuclear weapons:
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) - http://www.caat.org.uk/index.php
CAAT is a broad coalition of groups and individuals working to stop the international arms trade. With the point of view that Arms have a negative effect on human right and security CAAT looks towards peace and the use of the UN and civil societies to resolve international conflicts peacefully. Also high up on the list of objectives are to steer economies against the military industry and towards civil production.
Currently CAAT are seeking to protest at the Defense Systems Equipment International Fair due to take place in London on the 9-12 September. This fair (funded by the UK Ministry of Defense) is set to be the UK’s biggest ever arms exhibition and is likely to attract some 600 arms companies and supplier and more worryingly so international buyers from countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Colombia, Lebanon, Bulgaria and Kenya (a number of which are tied up in internal and international conflicts). During the same fair in 1999 journalists uncovered 2 separate breaches of international law by buyers attempting to purchase anti personnel landmines.
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation - http://www.napf.org/
NAPF aims to free the world from the threat of war and weapons of mass destruction. Through their Nuclear Weapons abolition program they are producing educational and analytical resources on issues relating to nuclear weapons. They are also working together with a number of other projects to promote non-proliferation and disarmament.
Moving Beyond Missile Defense – http://www.mbmd.org/
A project between NAPF and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation (INESP) they are looking for alternative security policies to missile defense systems.
Middle Powers Initiative - http://www.middlepowers.org/mpi/index.shtml
MPI works with 8 international NGOs to back middle power governments to encourage the nuclear states to take steps to reduce nuclear dangers and start the process to eliminate nuclear weapons. The focus is aimed at strengthening the voices of middle power countries. Those that are politically and economically stable and are well respected in the international community to try and use these states to convince the nuclear powers to give up nuclear arms.
UC Nuclear Free Campaign - http://ucnuclearfree.org/
This campaign is seeking to rid the University of California of Nuclear weapons and to sever links with the US department of Energy. For more than 50 years the University has managed the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons’ laboratories. Responsibilities of the university include: research, design, testing and general development of the US nuclear store.
Abolition 2000 – http://www.abolition2000.org/
Abolition 2000 is a network of over 2000 organizations based in 90 different countries worldwide. They have an 11-point programme for nuclear disarmament and are calling for negotiations to take place to eliminate nuclear weapons.
During the annual NPT conference, Abolition 2000 together with the Mayor of Hiroshima launched the Mayors for Peace campaign. This aims to unite mayors worldwide to discuss nuclear disarmament by 2005. For the following NPT conference in 2004 they are already planning and preparing a massive anti-nuclear protest.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - http://www.cnduk.org/index.html
CND’s nonviolent campaign seeks to have a nuclear and weapons of mass destruction free world and to secure the future for future generations. They aim to achieve this by changing government policies and raising awareness on the alternatives to the nuclear cycle and military methods to resolve conflicts.
Amisha Koria is News Editor for Peace and Conflict Monitor. firstname.lastname@example.org