62 Years of Nuclear Fallout

Bright morning sunlight filtered through the leaves of a giant weeping willow tree outside a bedroom window in my uncle and aunt's modest country farm house creating a quilt of dark and light patterns on my bed as I first stirred from my night's sleep.

It was a picturesque country morning on this mid-summer August day and as I awoke I saw that my aunt had left the morning's Los Angeles Times on my bed for me to scan through. Knowing I had been, since its outset, carefully tracking the progress of the World War II in both Europe and the Pacific my aunt knew I would want to read of the latest developments in that war.

An Allied victory in Europe had already been achieved and it was thought victory over Japan was only a few months, if not weeks away. As I picked up the paper I found myself first in wonder and then for a fleeting moment unsettled, the latter feeling that in the years to come a genie had been uncorked and to our shame we wouldn't be able to recork it.

Spread out in dark bold print across the top of the front page was the headline "Atomic Bomb Hits Japan." It was Aug. 7, 1945, and the previous day the US had dropped a bomb on a Japanese city by the name of Hiroshima that killed some 70,000 individuals, mostly civilians, and injured an equal number, if not more, and even today 62 years later continues to take a deadly human toll.

And just to prove it was no mistake we repeated the same act two days later at Nagasaki, Japan, thus establishing the fact that to this very day the United States of America is the only country in the history of civilization that has used such a weapon of mass destruction in anger.

Little did I realize that August morning as I read the details of this new weapon that our leaders were promising would end the war in a matter of days, if not hours, that the mixed feelings I had while reading about the bomb's development and destructive power would lead me years later to nuclear pacifism and an outspoken advocate of non-violence.

Years later in April, 1965 I wrote an article for St. Joseph's Magazine titled "America's Great Need: A Nuclear Conscience." I suggested, "as a beginning, it might be well to admit that the US made a horrible mistake in dropping the first bomb on Hiroshima."

Today as we witness the wars in the Middle East, the animosity between two nuclear capable nations India and Pakistan and the events in Iran it is nothing short of hypocritical for us to be pointing fingers at others in their rush to develop nuclear powers. While we wag our finger at nations seeking to develop their own nuclear weapons while we make plans for the massive "upgrading" of our own nuclear arsenal.

We should be a world leader in seeking to establish treaties, negotiations and face-to-face talks that lessen tensions and the fears of nations throughout the world that its lone super power reserves for itself the right to possess nuclear weapons and the technology to develop and produce even more powerful bombs than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Here at home we should pay more attention to the still-lingering human costs associated with the development of our nuclear arsenal and the environmental disasters waiting to happen.

This past July the US Energy Department transferred 4,000 acres of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production site, 16 miles northwest of Denver, Colo., to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for use as a nature refuge. During the Cold War, the Rocky Flats plant made triggers for nearly every nuclear weapon in the United States. The manufacturing process released radiation, hazardous chemical compounds and heavy metals including plutonium, uranium poisoning the air, water and ground, the DOE said.

Nearly 2,700 Rocky Flats workers have filed claims with the government over their illnesses, according to the United Steelworkers. So far, 807 have been approved and 617 denied. In 1983, 17,000 protesters joined hands encircling the site's 17-mile perimeter to protest the Cold War arms buildup.

The site closed in 1989 after federal agents raided it on accusations that environmental crimes were being committed by Rockwell International, the Energy Department's operating contractor. The EPA declared it a Superfund site. Cleanup took 10 years and cost about $7 billion. [See "The Ambushed Grand Jury" at ]

The Energy Department will retain about 1,300 acres (526 hectares) in the center of the site that still has low levels of residual contamination.

Internationally, we read that the Kashiwazaki Japanese nuclear power plant's operator "said they had found more than 50 problems at the plant caused by the July 16 earthquake," the New York Times reported, adding:

"While most of the problems were minor, the largest included 100 drums of radioactive waste that had fallen over, causing the lids on some of the drums to open, the company said. ... The company said that the earthquake also caused a small fire at the plant, the world's largest by amount of electricity produced, and the leakage of 317 gallons of water containing trace levels of radioactive materials into the nearby Sea of Japan."

Bloomberg News reports that accidents at two German nuclear reactors in June prompted German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to call for the early shutdown of all older reactors there. Concern about the safety of Germany's 17 reactors has grown after a fire at Vattenfall's Kruemmel site June 28 and a network fault at its Brunsbuettel plant on the same day.

As the Christian Science Monitor's Brad Knickerbocker observes: "Indeed, the frequency of problems occurring at Germany's aging reactors is on the rise. Just as old cars succumb to rust, nuclear power plants built in the 1970s and '80s are undergoing a natural aging process."

Lest we should make the same mistakes, the whole question of nuclear power, now appearing to make a comeback, should be carefully examined for its long-term consequences and not simply be subsumed as a peripheral cost of weaning ourselves off oil.

NOTE: To those readers who take exception to my inference that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not necessarily shorten the Pacific war -- since Japan was already on the brink of accepting our terms for an "unconditional surrender" -- save your emails and letters as I believe I have heard all the arguments against this theory and I still remain unconvinced.

A.V. Krebs publishes the online newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner, email He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2007

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