Which is worse?

Which is worse, flash annihilation by nuclear explosions, or slow mutilation from low-level radiation, the result of radioactive contamination of the air, water and earth essential to life? -- Leuren Moret, forward to Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium
Discounted Casualties:
The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium 

Akira Tashiro, Chugoku Shimbun June 2001
Chugoku Shimbun http://www.chugoku-np.co.jp/abom/uran/index_e.html
I met Akira Tashiro last summer in Hiroshima, when I was invited by Gensuikin to speak about Yucca Mountain and high-level nuclear waste at the Plenary Session of the 2000 World Conference Against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs. The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki live with the aftermath of the horrific power and annihilation of nuclear bombs dropped on a civilian population, and the extreme cruelty of the lifelong effects of exposure to flash external gamma rays and internal low-level radiation from fallout. This reality has changed the lives of all those who have visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and learned not only about the hibakusha (survivors) of Japan, but of those around the world in Kazakhstan, the Pacific Islanders, and the Western United States. Radiation respects no borders. It is a slow, silent, global mutilator of all life.
No Protective Equipment: These US soldiers are preparing to ship home US tanks destroyed by friendly DU fire. Here they are taking no measures whatsoever to protect themselves from radioactive contamination. All undoubtedly inhaled or ingested DU particles. (Courtesy of Douglas Rokke, taken May 1991, in Saudi Arabia) Original photo (not included--blj)
In the 1970's I worked as an earth scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. There the transuranium elements were discovered for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the use of depleted uranium (DU) on the battlefield was first discussed. Later I worked at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, where the design of nuclear weapons continues. Radiation and nuclear weapons are seldom mentioned in a climate of secrecy and denial. Many scientists work in isolation and are only dimly aware of the larger project.
In the moment that I stood in the Hiroshima Peace Museum on the anniversary of the bombing looking up at "Little Boy," I was overwhelmed as a scientist. I realized that engineering and technology had built devices, through the misapplication of science, that could destroy all life on Earth. I saw photos of women with vacant stares nursing dead babies. As a mother and giver of life I wondered how, without conscience, man could destroy 4.5 billion years of life evolving on this Earth. The unbelievably dangerous powers of nuclear weapons have been developed by divorcing science from ethics, a Western phenomenon.
The Chugoku Shimbun, Hiroshima's newspaper, has published two award-winning series on exposure to radiation. The first book, EXPOSURE: Victims of Radiation Speak Out, is a powerful message about the detrimental effects that radioactive substances from nuclear testing and "peaceful uses" of nuclear energy have had on people and the environment. In this second book, Discounted Casualties, personal stories about DU reveal the unbelievable immorality and cruelty of this new radioactive weapon.
Radioactive waste from nuclear weapons development, mixed with high-level waste front nuclear reactors, becomes a lethal cocktail in DU ammunition. In recent reports, the US Department of Energy has admitted that military reactor waste has been mixed with DU. The waste contains plutonium, uranium-236, neptunium and other isotopes thousands of times more radioactive than DU. Disposing of dangerous waste at a profit benefits US government agencies and the military industrial complex, while passing the liability for disposal and the biological and environmental damage to citizens around the world.
Tungsten is a biologically and environmentally safer alternative with greater density and penetrating power. DU bullets are pyrophoric and ignite on impact, producing a smoke that poisons life and travels great distances. The bullet fragments and dust left in the bodies of soldiers cause extended suffering, and cruel and inhumane deaths years after the war has ended. DU is radioactive. It is a toxic metal, and the toxicity is greatly increased when combined with chemicals. It disproportionately affects women and children.
DU munitions are illegal under international human rights and humanitarian law. Nevertheless, the US, the self-proclaimed "International Champion of Human Rights," has used this inhumane weapon on the battlefield, exposing its own soldiers, its allies, civilian populations, and future generations. DU testing in the US continues to expose unsuspecting citizens and the environment. Pilots at Fallen Naval Air Station in Nevada trained on nearby bombing and gunnery ranges for the Gulf War. Now, the "don't look, don't find policy" of the military is concealing the cause of a recent leukemia cluster among children in Fallon. Overseas, the use of radioactive trash in weapons has turned Gulf countries, the Balkans, Vieques Island, and Okinawa into dumpsites for the US government and the radiation industry. A single microscopic particle can cause a lethal disease. DU will continue to poison life from the dust and soils of the battlefields and testing grounds. In ten half-lives, or 45 billion years, the radioactivity will become an insignificant amount.
Which is worse, flash annihilation by nuclear explosions, or slow mutilation from low-level radiation, the result of radioactive contamination of the air, water and earth essential to life? Globally, we have been deceived about the health effects of radiation by bureaucratized governments informed by the military industrial complex and scientific power. In the past half-century, 1.3 billion people have been killed, maimed, and diseased by nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Millions more will be killed, maimed and diseased unless the citizens of the world demand an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear waste, and the new radiological weapons.
As the bell tolls, we must honor and respect the hibakusha around the world, who are living reminders that we are pulling the rope of our own death knell. Let us thank the citizens of Japan, The Chugoku Shimbun, and Akira Tashiro, for making us aware of the most important issue of this century. And thanks to the veterans, whose stories make it clear that democracies, as well as living bodies, can develop malignancies.
Berkeley, California
June 2001
Leuren Moret
President, Scientists for Indigenous People








Democracy Now!
KAI BIRD: Right. And, you know, Obama, when he was about to go to Hiroshima, he said, "I’m not going to offer an apology." He was very explicit about that. He said, "That is—that historical incident, that—what happened in Hiroshima, the decision to use the bomb, I will leave that for the historians." Well, you know, 70 years later, the historical consensus, looking at the documents and all the evidence from both sides, has really shifted enormously. And we now understand that the decision to use the bomb on Hiroshima was a redundant thing. It was not necessary. What really persuaded the Japanese emperor and the military generals around him to surrender was the entry into the war of the Soviet Union. They feared the Bolsheviks invading the Japanese home islands. And that’s really—that was the tipping point. So the bomb was redundant and, ultimately, unnecessary.
And by using it, though, we legitimized the use of nuclear weapons. And by legitimizing nuclear weapons, we made ourselves, for the last 50 years, 70 years, extremely vulnerable. And we are very lucky that these weapons have not been used on a third occasion in anger. And people forget that the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, within three months of Hiroshima, was saying things like, "If we continue to go down this road and rely on nuclear weapons and they are used again someday in war, people will curse the names of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." And so we’re still living with that threat.
Ticking Closer to Nuclear Midnight
May 27, 2016
Exclusive: President Obama embraced Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima bomb, but his policies, such as heightening tensions with Russia, have raised the potential for a far worse nuclear catastrophe, explains Jonathan Marshall.
By Jonathan Marshall
Even if you’ve never won an office raffle, a sports pool or a lottery, consider yourself supremely lucky. Unlike the atomic bomb victims who were recognized by President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, you’ve never experienced the horrors of nuclear war.
That’s nothing any of us should take for granted, says former Defense Secretary William Perry. On at least three occasions, he noted recently, the U.S. military received false alarms of a Soviet nuclear attack. At least twice the Soviet military went on high alert from similar alarms. And anyone who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 survived “as much by good luck as by good management,” he added.
The consequences of an accidental nuclear war would be staggering. Thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads, some of them orders of magnitude larger than the one that wiped out Hiroshima, are primed for launch on warning. Besides wiping out tens or hundreds of millions of people in urban centers, they would put a large fraction of the world’s population at risk from starvation.
A 2013 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that even a limited regional nuclear exchange — say between India and Pakistan — could “cause significant climate disruption worldwide” and jeopardize food supplies to as many as two billionpeople.
Many authorities believe the threat of accidental war is even greater today than during most of the Cold War. Last year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its famous Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, its “direst setting” since the nuke-rattling days of the early Reagan era.
The group cited continued bluster and brinkmanship between NATO and Russia, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey, as indicators of today’s risky nuclear environment.
Getting Lucky
National security experts and reporters such as Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control (2014), have compiled long lists of nuclear accidents and near-misses, some of which might have cost millions of lives but for a few quick-thinking heroes. Here’s a small sample:
–In 1958, a B-47 dropped a 30 kiloton Mark 6 atomic bomb into a family’s backyard in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Its high-explosive trigger blasted the home and left a 35-foot crater. A few months later, another B-47 dropped a Mark 39 hydrogen bomb near Abilene, again setting off its high explosives but not a nuclear blast.
–In 1961, a B-52 exploded over North Carolina, dropping two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. One of them nearly detonated after five of its six safety devices failed. The Air Force never did recover the uranium trigger.
–In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine thought it was under attack from U.S. warships, which were practicing dropping depth charges in the Sargasso Sea. The submarine commander ordered a launch of nuclear missiles, but was persuaded to stop by his second-in-command.
Other near misses during that mother of all nuclear crises in 1962 included a reckless U.S. spy plane over-flight of Siberia, the explosion of a Soviet satellite that U.S. authorities interpreted as the start of a Soviet missile attack, American test launches of two nuclear-capable ICBMs, and a screw-up at a Minuteman site that allowed a single operator to launch a fully armed missile.
–In 1966, a B-52 bomber collided with a refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain and broke apart, dropping its four hydrogen bombs. Two of them partially detonated, contaminating a wide region with radiation.
–Two years later, a B-52 crashed in Greenland, losing three hydrogen bombs and contaminating nearly a quarter million cubic feet of ice and snow.
–In 1979, a technician mistakenly confused NORAD’s computers with a war games simulation, triggering signals of a Soviet nuclear launch. The Strategic Air Command scrambled its bombers before learning of the false alarm.
–A year later, a defective computer chip prompted the Pentagon to waken President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser with reports of a massive launch of Soviet missiles from submarines and land-based silos.
–In 1985, a glint of sunlight confused a Soviet early-warning satellite, which reported that the United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles. Fortunately, the watch commander risked his career by not reporting the alarm, saving the day.
–In 1995, Russia’s early-warning system confused a small Norwegian weather rocket with an incoming U.S. Trident missile. The Russian military went on high alert, notifying President Boris Yeltsin and preparing a possible counter-attack before recognizing the mistake.
Tensions Reduce the Odds
As MIT nuclear expert Theodore Postol noted last year, “Had the false alert of 1995 occurred instead during a political crisis, Russian nuclear forces might have been launched. American early warning systems would have immediately detected the launch, and this might then have led to the immediate launch of US forces in response to the Russian launch.”
Recent years have brought us accounts of missing nuclear missiles, drug use by Minuteman missile crews, shocking security breaches, crew commanders falling asleep, computer failures, a silo fire that went undetected by smoke alarms, and much more.
And just this week we were reminded by the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon’s “Strategic Automated Command and Control System” uses 8-inch floppy disks and 1970s-vintage computers.
The Pentagon insisted in 2014 that the system “is extremely safe and extremely secure” — after all, how many hackers know how to operate such ancient technology? — but Princeton University’s Bruce Blair, a former Air Force ICBM launch-control officer, said this week, “The floppy disks are associated with a nuclear-communications system that was unreliable even when the system was upgraded in the 1970s.”
No doubt the odds of any one of these accidents triggering a war or mass catastrophe were low. But odds increase with the number of incidents. If the probability of a disaster from one incident is only one in 100, the odds of ruin from 20 such incidents rise to nearly one in five. Those are not comforting numbers.
That’s why it’s critical that the United States and Russia get serious about promoting world security by eliminating first-use and “launch on warning” policies that heighten the risk of accidental wars. They must also sharply reduce the size of nuclear arsenals that are difficult to track, safeguard and maintain.
Instead, President Obama has embarked on a trillion dollar program of nuclear modernization and a dangerous policy of confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe. (Russia is not blameless in these matters, of course.) Such policies are, in turn, prompting China’s military to pursue a nuclear expansion program of its own — including a dangerous shift to hair-trigger alerts and a launch-on-warning policy.
Former Defense Secretary Perry warns that all of this is putting the world “on the brink of a new nuclear arms race.” That’s not what we expected from the President who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his call to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. Let’s hope Obama’s visit to Hiroshima rekindles his commitment to helping create a safer world.
Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and“Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]