After the article, you can explore our Living Room Conversations topic guide about Nuclear Weapons here.
You may have missed the news last month, buried in the Trump administration’s budget sent to Congress: hundreds of millions of dollars cut from efforts to clean up nuclear weapons waste in Washington State, writes Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn and Living Room Conversations.
The Hanford site, which produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear missiles, has ballooning cleanup costs now into the billions. That’s not including the state compensation being put aside for the 100,000 workers who may become ill from having worked at the plant.
You may have also missed the $1.3 billion increase in the budget for the agency overseeing the nuclear stockpile’s $1.2 trillion (yes, with a ‘t’) modernization of the nuclear arsenal. There is no amount budgeted for the cleanup of those new nuclear weapons.
This grave existential crisis should have all of our attention. But even the recent North Korea-US Nuclear Summit was overshadowed by Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress.
Why are we missing these things? Somewhere along the line, we stopped talking about nuclear weapons.
There was a time when worry about nuclear annihilation was the disaster feared by masses. Somehow our successful avoidance of this catastrophe for more than 70 years has dulled this concern. For most people under forty, nuclear conflict isn’t even on their top 10 list of concerns.
Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the danger of our nuclear-denial when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize saying, “The fact that most of the time human beings put the truth about the nature and risks of the nuclear war out of their minds because it is too painful and therefore not “acceptable”, does not alter the nature and risks of such war.”
I do not like thinking about nuclear weapons. I understand why others prefer not to think about them as well. It is easy to feel powerless watching world leaders play political games.
Forty years ago, leaders prioritized the reduction of nuclear weapons because nobody wanted the world to end in nuclear winter. The stockpile of nuclear weapons was dramatically reduced. At one point there were 65,000 nuclear weapons available for use. Leaders reduced that number to 15,000.
But instead of the gradual breakdown of nuclear tensions, and the dismantling of nuclear weapons stockpiles, we are now seeing the breakdown of arms control and the dismantling of international agreements designed to reduce those stockpiles.
It is all part of a ‘new Cold War’: the rapid escalation of the nuclear crisis through the modernization of nuclear weapons and a doubling down on them for our military strategies.
This was far from a foregone conclusion. For as long as there have been nuclear weapons, even those who wielded them have agreed the goal is to eliminate them altogether. The first petition against nuclear weapons was from the scientists on The Manhattan Project who built them.
How do we get back there, before this trillion dollar madness locks us into decades more risk of one foolish human ending life as we know it for all of us?
Here is my radical solution: we start talking about nuclear weapons again.
We are currently the beneficiaries of a “crisitunity” – an opportunity created by crisis. The crisis is manifold: North Korea developing nuclear weapons, and the US rattling its sabre in response; India and Pakistan engaging in a nuclear eyeball-to-eyeball over Kashmir; Russia developing new weapons like the one which will release a 300ft nuclear tidal wave to consume entire coastlines.
This crisis gifts us the opportunity of kickstarting anew the types of conversations common in my childhood, “what can we do to ensure nuclear weapons do not end us all?”
Conversations are not innocuous. They are the key to overcoming the seismic fault-lines that currently divide our nation. In 2013, I sat down — the founder of liberal MoveOn.org — with Mark Meckler, the founder of the Tea Party, to prove that conversations are the key to finding a common ground and that maybe Americans aren’t that far apart after all. We did just that.
No less is required to start us down the path of nuclear disarmament — an abrupt about-face from the current path we are on. So if we are to prevent nuclear annihilation, or best case scenario prevent more billion dollar cleanups of sites like Hanaford or St Louis, then we need to begin as a first step talking about the problem.