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No Nukes is Good Nukes

Richland was built to produce plutonium, and the highschool shows its pride about their contribution to the WWII effort
Richland, WA is a town built upon Atomic pride. When the men at Los Alamos needed to create radioactive Plutonium for the Manhattan Project they quickly set up a production site a few hours outside of Seattle. Plutonium doesn't occur naturally, but has to be created from Uranium. Since so many workers were needed to staff the project, the town of Richland provided a place to house them. These employees and their families felt extremely patriotic - they thought that their government needed a new weapon to win World War II, and they were proud to do what they could to help out. So proud, in fact, that there are symbols of atomic energy and bombs evident all around town. The bowling alley is named Atomic Lanes. A local bar is called Atomic Ale. And the highschool sports teams are the Richland Bombers, with an exploding mushroom cloud as their mascot.

During our trip to Richland, Stephanie and I couldn't find a single person who thought that this celebration of nuclear destruction was strange. Most people were somehow connected to the Hanford nuclear site there, and don't question atomic pride. There are a few reasons, however, that perhaps they should.

The plutonium that was manufactured at Hanford was used to make the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. It devastated 1/3 of the city and horrifically killed over 70,000 people. The citizens of Nagasaki were not the only casualties of the plutonium bomb however. The people of Richland have to deal with the consequences of its production as well. Radioactive material is a tricky thing once it's been created. You have to find something to do with the waste, which remains deadly poisonous for hundreds of thousands of years. Since there seemed to be no other plan, the nuclear facility at Hanford became a storage site for this waste as well.

Today the underground tanks at Hanford "hold half a century's worth of highly radioactive and poisonous biproducts of nuclear weapons production." Scary stuff, right? It gets scarier: the tanks at Hanford are leaking. Their horrifying contents are seeping into the soil around the tanks, and inching their way to the nearby Columbia River (the largest river in the state.) Were these materials to contaminate the river, they would become "incorporated into the food chain and could expose people to radiation for centuries." Right now, the clean up of this mess is estimated to cost "tens of billions of dollars" and will take over 50 years to complete.

Which gives a lot of people a lot to be upset about. Nuclear weapons are dangerous at every stage of the game. Production, storage, use, and disposal of radioactive materials all provide risks to the workers and general public that some people feel should never be allowed to occur. These people have banded together in protest groups to voice their disgust with nuclear weapons.

Stephanie and I met with Fred Miller, an organizer at Peace Action Washington to learn more about the anti-nuclear movement that has been working to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons for the past 50 years.

Their job is a tough one, since all American presidents since Harry Truman (who dropped the bombs on Japan in 1946) have believed that deterrence is our best national defense policy. They think that if we have the biggest, baddest weapons around then no other countries will ever try to mess with us. Except that we're not the only ones with these weapons. The former USSR had no desire to see the United States dominate the world power structure. They too created an atomic bomb in the 40's, and have been matching our technological advancements every step of the way since then.

Years ago this Arms Race reached the point where each country could completely annihilate the other several times over. But each side kept thinking that eventually they would outsmart the other and gain the upper hand with a weapon or defense system so powerful they would unquestionably rule the world.

The weapons we continue to develop are almost unfathomable in their destructive power. After creating the atomic bomb through nuclear fission (splitting an atom,) we wanted an even more powerful hydrogen bomb using nuclear fusion (pushing atoms together.) Then we set out to make these weapons smaller, farther reaching, and more accurate. We now have stockpiles of nuclear weapons in all shapes and sizes that we can fire from land, air and sea (and soon, if Washington has its way, from space too!)

Since this build up was matched by the soviet union, military experts assured the public that no one was ever going to actually use these weapons. They said that we had created a state of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. Were one country to fire their weapons, the other would retaliate immediately, and both nations would incur disaster. The theory goes that no one will start a war if they know they will destroy themselves in the process.

So far, this thinking has held true. There has never been another nuclear weapon used on people since we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But that is a fragile reality. Many more countries have developed the technology to produce atomic bombs. With so many bombs in so many different hands, the odds are that one day, by mistake or on purpose, one of these weapons is going to be used.

Peace activists around the world are doing what they can to prevent this from happening. As early as 1958 9,000 scientists in 43 countries signed a petition calling for "an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear bombs" which they presented to the UN. Through protests, rallies and legal procedures, protestors have had several successes throughout the years. Their first victory was when above-ground nuclear testing was prohibited internationally in 1963. Groups like SANE and FREEZE have raised American consciousness about nuclear issues, and lobbied for a Freeze to all nuclear arms creations. Although several international treaties were attempted to scale down production, none of them ever actually cut back the amount of weapons that existed on earth. Instead, they put caps on how many more of each weapon the USSR and the US could make. The warheads, once created, cannot be destroyed, which means that the radioactive center of a dismantled weapon sits in storage in the New Mexico dessert somewhere. SANE and FREEZE merged in 1986 to become what is now Peace Action. This group has continued to protest the building of nuclear facilites, the testing of weapons, and the advancement of new nuclear submarine weapons.


It's April, right?

Protestors address these issues because of the environmental, health and economic problems that the arms race brings. Plutonium production and waste storage facilities like Hanford create huge health risks to their employees and the people living around their plants. The weapons themselves could feasibly end millions of lives, destroying much of the planet as we know it. Then there's the money spent on more and more weapons that hypothetically should never be used. Anti nuclear protestors point out that the US government spends $589,802 every single minute on the military. That's 310 billion dollars every year. Were we to spend that money on meeting basic human needs instead, many of our nation's problems (homelessness, disease, hunger, adequate health care, education etc...) could be eased.

Peace Action looks at solving the problem holistically. They believe that true peace can only be attainted through justice. To them, this means ensuring that all people everywhere have their basic human needs met. Fred Miller believes that when people have food to eat and clothes and medicine for their children, the dissatisfaction and disillusionment that inspire violence will go away. He believes that if the US were to give humanitarian aid to struggling countries rather than military aid, the threat of war would be diminished.

Fred believes that since kids are the ones who are left to live with nuclear weapons, war and waste, they are the most powerful advocates for cleaning it up. Peace Action of Washington offers several ways that you can get involved to inspire change in our military policies:

1. Write a letter to your member of Congress and insist that Congress stop funding unnecessary weapons.
2. Call talk radio programs and ask why corporations get money to sell weapons abroad while 10 million children are living in poverty
3. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
4. Share this information with a friend and ask them to join in
5. Join Peace Action. Together we can change our nation's priorities.

Were we to have the same pride in destroying nuclear weapons as Richland had in creating them, imagine what a difference we could make!


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


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