Remove cat and warhead before flight

When I got the idea to propose July 15, 2045 as a goal for ending the nuclear age, I wasn’t aware that anyone else was thinking that far ahead and seeing it in the same way as a powerful and symbolic target that would bring the world together in a common cause. Recently, I noticed that General Lee Butler, former commander of U.S. nuclear forces between 1991 and 1994, is also suggesting that 2045 become a goal for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world. I’m not sure where he got the idea, but now that it’s only 30 years away, it’s an idea that has become obvious as the anniversary appears over the horizon.
Since I launched this blog, I’ve been told, mostly by people who don’t want the nuclear era to ever end, that 2045 would be impossible, even if we wanted to start shutting down nuclear facilities tomorrow. I'm a quixotic dreamer. Then there have been others who simply say shut it all down now! Someone else said that in 2045 what’s left of the human race will be dealing with mass extinctions and the collapse of civilization, and the uncontrolled collapse of the nuclear industry will just be part of this scenario. As they say in politics, if everyone hates your policy, then you've probably found the most pragmatic way to move forward.   
Of course, the pessimists are right. The situation is dire. Even if all bombs and nuclear power plants were decommissioned by the time of the 100th anniversary of the first atom bomb test, the nuclear age would still be around for a long, long time. All the nuclear waste created in this century will have to be safely rounded up and contained for hundreds of thousands of years into the future. The positive steps that can be taken are rather limited, but the only humane thing to do is to take those steps—dismantle the bombs and stop adding to the pile of accumulated nuclear waste.
In the interview with Lee Butler published by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the general advised that reaching the goal depends on capturing the attention of the vast majority of people, “the unaware, who have simply never thought about these matters. It’s just never gotten on their radar screen… The challenge… is to frame a message that captures their attention and gets them to think.”
On the same day this was published, the video Remove cat before flight went viral on Youtube. It had 15 million views within its first week. One would think that people around the world would be shocked by the fact that there are also hundreds of nuclear bombs hitching rides on planes and submarines throughout the world every hour of every day, hidden from our awareness just like the little kitten in that ultralight wing. It should be even more alarming when we know that this is what lies behind the recent "sabre rattling" being done by NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. But for some reason this danger never gets on the radar screen. Not even matters of existential importance can bring cats down from their perch at the top of Youtube rankings. I suppose I should feel like I’ve accomplished something by getting a mere 120 thousand page views over four years of blogging, but what I really need to do now is "frame a message that captures people’s attention." I need to make a video of a kitten comically stuck for a few moments in a nuclear missile silo.

By Robert Kazel, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
June 21, 2013

If you are an optimist, with respect to the future of mankind, you have to believe that more opportunities will come, like Sisyphus moving that ball up the hill. Sometime, you’re going to get to the top and it’s going to roll down the other side, and the era of nuclear weapons will be over.
If you wanted me to pick a date for that, I would say a possible prospect, and a happy one, would be July of 2045—the 100th anniversary of the first test of an atom bomb in the deserts of New Mexico… It’s possible. It has significance. It’ll be a hundred years in the Atomic Age. It’s far enough out, that enough things could happen serendipitously to make that possible.

Total nuclear disarmament by all nations by then?

Yes. What that requires, however, is for people to continue to stay focused, work very hard at it, keep advising sensible and acceptable alternatives that can be embraced by increasing numbers of people as opportunities present themselves—and they will… Your principal purpose is to understand who is your target audience. Political and military leaders are not your target audience. Their minds are made up, and they are not going to be changed. Your target audience is publics. I mean worldwide… [Among the public] there is one group that is simply not interested in the subject, and will not be. There’s a second group that is already interested and committed, and you would be wasting your time preaching to the choir. It’s a third group, the unaware, who have simply never thought about these matters. It’s just never gotten on their radar screen. That’s the vast majority of the people in the world. The challenge for [anti-nuclear groups] is to frame a message that captures their attention and gets them to think.

See Part I of the interview:
By Robert Kazel, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
May 27, 2015


The World Nuclear Association is Worlds Apart

On June 4, 2015, on Russia Today’s Worlds Apart program, the journalist Oksana Boyko interviewed the director general of the World Nuclear Association (WNA), Agneta Rising. Throughout the interview, Ms. Boyko attempted to portray her questions as tough and challenging, but she also made statements that indicated that she was sympathetic to the nuclear industry’s claim that nuclear energy is a viable way to offset the effects of burning fossil fuels. This overly friendly interview could lead the viewer to wonder if Russia Today really is a propaganda tool for the Russian government, as some American politicians like to say. While the French, German, American and Japanese nuclear giants have declined, the Russian state-owned nuclear giant, Rosatom, has been very aggressive and successful in recent years in closing deals in developing countries. Nonetheless, there have been other reports on Russia Today that provided comprehensive and critical coverage of the nuclear industry. But then again, one has to wonder if that was just to give Rosatom a competitive advantage. There is no critical reporting on RT about the Russian nuclear industry.
The only challenging questions were focused on weapons proliferation and the risk of terrorism, and Ms. Rising’s answers were not probed deeply at all. There were no questions about nuclear waste management, the impacts of uranium mining,[1] and the severe financial crisis within the nuclear industry. Because Ms. Boyko was poorly informed about these issues, or perhaps complicit in wishing not to mention them, the interview fell fall short of being hard-hitting and comprehensive.
Ms. Boyko began by restating Ms. Rising’s previous assertion that the reaction to the radiation from Fukushima was more dangerous than the radiation itself. Ms. Rising accepted that statement as accurate and added that it was “first a very big earthquake and tsunami who killed a lot a lot of people,” [sic] but “around the world people think it is the nuclear accident” not the tsunami and earthquake that caused these deaths.
Ms. Rising is not a native speaker of English, so her grammatical errors perhaps need to be forgiven, but it is curious that she used the relative pronoun “who” with the grammatical subject “earthquake and tsunami.” Nuclear proponents have always spoken in a way that diminishes human responsibility when things go wrong, describing crimes of gross negligence as “accidents.” It is common to hear statements like “it was once in millennium” or “no one could have seen this coming” or “it was a freak, one-off event that could never happen here.” In this instance, instead of removing human agency from the crimes that led up to the Fukushima catastrophe, Ms. Rising adds human agency to an event in which there was none.
She goes on to assert without evidence that people around the world think all the deaths were caused by the nuclear accident. This was the first of many absurd, distracting, evasive and irrelevant points she made during this thirty-minute interview. No serious critic of the Fukushima catastrophe is confused about the deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami. If we tend to focus on the nuclear disaster, that is only because we understand that human actions and inactions were not a cause of the earthquake and tsunami. Ms. Rising’s logic seems to suggest that the anti-nuclear movement should transform itself into an anti-tsunami campaign and go looking for a force of nature “who” could be blamed and sued for damages.
Later in the interview she said about the Fukushima evacuation “that of course was necessary.” Here she admits that the uncertainty of that time and the existence of short-lived radioisotopes (Iodine 131) were reasons to evacuate, but she suggested that the remaining contamination should not be a concern and people should have moved back quickly. She emphasized that Fukushima was primarily a disaster of economic consequences, and she spoke of it in the past tense, as if it wasn’t an ongoing radioactive nightmare that has no end in sight for next several decades at least—a fact which even TEPCO no longer tries to deny with such delusional thinking.
While many experts have called Fukushima Dai-ichi one of the greatest industrial accidents in history, perhaps the greatest, Ms. Rising said it was “not one of the biggest industrial accidents… not even as big as what happens every year.” She didn’t explain what she was alluding to as happening every year, but she was likely referring to the health impacts of burning fossil fuel. Again, this is a failure of logic, if this was the point she wanted to make. The regular operations of the fossil fuel industry are deliberate. They can’t be classified as industrial accidents.
Ms. Boyko showed her agreement with her guest stating, “… not only Japanese people reacted in a somewhat irrational manner.” Throughout the interview, both women focused on the “emotional reaction” and constructed a false dichotomy between emotion and reason. This has been a constant point of confusion and ignorance displayed by people who earn their living in the nuclear industry. They dismiss their opponents’ reactions as “emotional” while never acknowledging their own emotional attachments to their paychecks. The Age of Reason created a legacy of confusion about the relation between emotions and reason. Those who put too much faith in rationality fail to see that emotion is the basis of all reasoning. Whatever we judge to be reasonable and sensible is based on emotional values that have been shaped by biological and cultural evolution. The rational choice to eat arises from a feeling that one wants to live. The “irrational” decision to continue living in a world where everyone dies eventually stems from an emotional attachment to life.
Ms. Rising went on to exhibit great confidence in new Japanese nuclear regulators and upgrades to existing facilities. She seems to have missed the news that the new regulatory agency has already been purged of the experts who were slowing down the process of getting some nuclear reactors back on line.[2] Her confidence is purely a matter of faith, as it remains to be proven whether the new nuclear establishment can prevent another catastrophe when the next large earthquake or volcano strikes.
She added several comments about the crucial importance of public acceptance, as if the public anywhere was ever honestly and fully informed and allowed to have final say in a decision to build a nuclear power plant. She said, “…it’s important to have good support in the general public,” “good transparency” and “possibilities for the public to have an opinion and be involved in the process.” She also said there is “lots of construction going on in the third world,” so she apparently believes this public support and transparency exists there in abundance.[3]
The interviewer shouldn’t have let these statements go unchallenged because there is plenty of evidence in all nuclear nations that the process has never been transparent or concerned with anything more than lip service to public opinion. In countries where some appearance of a democratic process is required, “public debates” are held as a formality, but there is no real possibility of rejecting the plan by this stage. In France, when the public debates were held in Penly regarding a new EPR power plant, President Sarkozy had already formally authorized the launch of the project. Nonetheless, the French nuclear authorities define these debates as essential public involvement. [4] [5] I leave it to the reader’s imagination to wonder how this process unfolds in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
As for public acceptance in Japan, Ms. Rising says, “… the whole system was questioned, so it’s hard to get someone to trust… it will take some time to build trust again.” The obvious question remains: why bother with all the work of building the trust when we could more conveniently decide to never see this betrayer again? This is the way it tends to go in human relations where it is very rare to see an injured party interested in building trust after it has been lost.
When Ms. Rising spoke of nuclear energy’s capacity to bring “energy independence” to various countries, it was a perfect opportunity for the interviewer to call out a ridiculous and easily disproven assertion. She cited France as an example, but it is well-known that France gets most of its uranium from its former colonies in Africa (which it refers to possessively as France-afrique). The statement was either a bold lie or a tacit admission that the WNA regards France’s longstanding neocolonialist policy as legitimate de facto recolonization. France has energy independence only if these countries are considered to be French possessions.
Other deliberate deceptions were on display when Ms. Rising stated, laughably, that the UK is “taking the lead in new construction in Europe.” She was referring to the EPR project that is currently stalled due the bankruptcy of the maker, French nuclear giant Areva, and the billion-euro engineering gaffs that have halted, and probably doomed, construction of the EPR project in Flamanville, France. As far as the UK is concerned, their lead in new construction is on an indefinite pause.[6] These were just some of the many inconvenient details that Ms. Rising chose not to talk about, and Ms. Royko went along with the omissions, either out of ignorance or complicity.
Of course, the main point of the whole interview, supported apparently by the interviewer herself, was to make viewers believe that nuclear energy is carbon free. This point was made with such statements as “France decarbonized in the 1980s.” When faced with a knowledgeable audience, nuclear advocates concede that nuclear energy has a significant carbon footprint (how much is a topic of hot debate), but when faced with an audience that seems deceivable, they choose to lie and say it has no footprint.[7]

Another false assertion was made repeatedly in the claim that nuclear is “reliable 24/7.” This also is not true because nuclear plants need to be stopped for refueling and maintenance, and they are often shut down during storms and other emergencies. When a bad accident happens, every reactor in the country might have to be shut down because of the need for safety reviews, or just because of a shift in public opinion—as was the case in Japan. This lie is also a deceptive distraction from the progress being made in energy storage. Renewables are likely to provide a baseload supply of electricity in the near future.
Photos by C.A.N. Coalition Against Nukes

It is impossible to put a monetary value on energy when no one can predict the technologies and the level of supply and demand that will exist in the future, but Ms. Rising was ready to say that in spite of the enormous costs, nuclear is a “very long-term low-price energy source, very competitive.” It would be better to say nothing because it’s impossible to know the future cost of energy, but because she’s the director general of the WNA, we are supposed to just take her word for it. She may be right inasmuch as the costs of the nuclear waste legacy will never be kept in the accounts of private corporations. The eternal cost of nuclear waste management will be a burden to future generations long after such entities as Rosatom and GE-Hitachi have ceased to exist.
The interview descended into absurdity when Ms. Rising claimed that nuclear is presently being “hurt by subsidies in other systems.” She speaks as if the nuclear industry never got an assist from the government investment in the weapons industry, or never got any other form of government assistance. It is well known that nuclear corporations won’t build a reactor in a country until they get a guarantee that the government will cover the liabilities for accidents (Such assurance was recently given in India. The most famous example is the Price Anderson Act in the United States).
These complaints about unfair subsidies point to the fact that it is actually impossible now to see a clear line between public and private investment. If the nuclear industry now cries foul because renewables are gathering more investment, public or private, all we can say is: Sorry, times have changed. This is what people want. You didn’t complain in the old days when it was your turn at the public trough.
More strange assertions came when Ms. Rising said about Japan’s nuclear restarts, “they are not going to destroy their country!” Perhaps she hasn’t heard of Easter Island, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, or Fukushima for that matter. History tells us that nations have an astounding capacity for marching like zombies toward disaster. The Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns very well could have set off a cascade of disasters at other power plants along the coast, and that scenario would have meant the destruction of the country. Japan sleepwalked straight into it and was saved only by sheer luck and the courageous actions of a few. What if the tsunami had hit at night when few personnel were on site to deal with it? So, actually, yes, they would destroy their country.
Toward the end of the interview, Ms. Royko managed to ask a few somewhat tough questions about the wisdom of building reactors in politically unstable countries, but Ms. Rising simply denied that this was happening. She said, “nuclear reactors are very safe,” oblivious to the fact that this word “safe” has no scientific validity. It’s like saying fire is safe, or fire is dangerous. Either statement is meaningless.
Ms. Royko managed to push a little on the question of political unrest, but Ms. Rising reiterated with her next meaningless statement: “We don’t put it in a region where there is war or unrest.” The war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia was raging as she spoke, yet Russia is going ahead with a deal to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia. Not only is she oblivious to the present state of the world, the WNA apparently has a crystal ball that tells them where there will be war or unrest during the 40-60 year operating duration of a nuclear reactor, not to mention during the longer lasting existence of nuclear waste. Don’t worry. Just repeat the mantra “nuclear energy is safe.”
Ms. Royko kept pushing on questions about security and political stability, but Ms. Rising wouldn’t give an inch. She denied that the international regulatory framework wasn’t up to the task. She expressed faith in such vague concepts as “international involvement,” which I suppose means the IAEA and the governments that are supposed to follow its unenforceable recommendations. We can keep in mind how the IAEA did such a bang-up job getting Japan to listen to its guidance in the years before 2011.
Toward the end of the interview, the subject came back to Fukushima, which Ms. Rising described as an “economical catastrophe… [it] has not killed anyone… [and it] will not have any discernable effects for anyone in the future, either.” Once again, the nuclear industry gets to repeat its favorite lie that nuclear catastrophes have had no effect on public health.[8]
The most interesting and telling statement came toward the end of the interview when Ms. Royko reminded her guest that she once said, “nuclear energy must remain free of politics.” I was expecting her to deny that she ever said such a ridiculous thing, but she admitted it and elaborated further. The statement reveals that it was fitting for Ms. Rising to appear on a program called Worlds Apart, for the technocrats of our era really do live in their own reality. Any person who has a developed political consciousness knows that wishing for a technology to be free of politics is like wishing for it to be free from the constraints of reality itself. The sociologist Jacques Ellul once wrote, “When these technocrats talk about democracy, ecology, culture, the Third World, or politics, they are touchingly simplistic or annoyingly ignorant.”[9]
Sometimes when an organization is in its dying days, the leader who is pushed to the top is someone who never would have been a contender during better days. The guilty and the powerful want to get out while the getting is good, so they set up a fall guy (or girl) to be at the helm when the ship goes down. I can’t help but wonder if this is the case now that Ms. Rising has been put in charge of the WNA.
A more competent and honest leader would be able to see that the argument made in the Worlds Apart interview makes the WNA look ridiculous. It is illogical, and laughably evasive and in-denial of the unpleasant truths facing the nuclear industry. It begs for subsidies because no one wants to invest in nuclear energy anymore. It is being overtaken by progress in renewables. It was a 70-year experiment, and now the results are in. Honest leadership in the nuclear industry would admit that the game is up. The industry can survive a little longer by selling to gullible populations and corruptible governments in the developing world, but soon they too will wise up. It’s time for the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear forces to recognize that they have an obvious emerging common interest. There is an opportunity for reconciliation here if a face-saving exit can be taken, and if each side can have a way to portray the truce as a victory to their base of support.
As hundreds of nuclear power plants will soon be simultaneously in need of decommissioning (a process that takes decades for each one)[10], people with technical expertise are going to be needed to manage nuclear plant decommissioning and nuclear waste management.[11] When the public realizes the scale of the problem, there will be plenty of jobs to go around for displaced nuclear workers. The opportunities, like nuclear waste itself, have no end in sight.


[1] For insight into the nuclear industry’s “back office,” (which it studiously avoids talking about) see the articles on uranium mining at Dianuke.org: “Rampant corruption in the uranium company in Jadugoda has further worsened the safety situation…,” Dianuke.org, June 15, 2015. http://www.dianuke.org/rampant-corruption-in-the-uranium-company-in-jadugoda-has-further-worsened-the-safety-situation-joar-statement-on-the-ucil-scam/

[2] Contrary to what the WNA asserts, this news indicates that there is reason to believe that the new Japanese regulator has reverted to the ways of its predecessor. Industry and political pressure led to the ouster of a seismologist who was holding up approval of nuclear restarts. “Pro-nuclear expert replacing NRA commissioner who raised flag on quake risk,” Asahi Shimbun, May 28, 2014, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201405280023

[3] To see just one of many examples of the way transparency and public involvement plays out in the developing world, see: Soo-hyeok Park, “Voices growing in Gangwon Province against slated nuclear reactors,” Hankyoreh Media Company, June 18, 2015, http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/696544.html

[4] See also this viewpoint on the plan to build a nuclear plant in Malaysia: Anas Alam Faizli (Anak Malaysia Anti Nuklear – Aman) & Ron McCoy (Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility), “MPSR Nuclear power plants: No safe method of disposing radioactive waste, say NGOs,” Aliran, June 16, 2015, http://aliran.com/civil-society-voices/2015-civil-society-voices/nuclear-power-plants-no-safe-method-of-disposing-radioactive-waste-say-ngos/

[5] The playwright Nicolas Lambert did extensive research on the public debates conducted in France for his play Avenir Radieux. See information in English here: A Radiant Future: A Stage Play about France's Nuclear History, January 16, 2015, http://nf2045.blogspot.jp/2015/01/a-radiant-future-stage-play-about.html

[6] For more on the way the UK is “taking the lead” on new nuclear construction, see: Paul Flynn (Member of British Parliament), “Civil servants must speak out: ‘the time has gone for nuclear power,’” The Ecologist, June, 18, 2015, http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2913665/civil_servants_must_speak_out_the_time_has_gone_for_nuclear_power.html

[8] For information on the health effects of radiation, listen to some of the excellent interviews done by Libbe Halevy on her podcast:

[9] Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), p. 29.

[11] For an explanation of the problems with the burial of high-level nuclear waste, see: “L'état, c'est MOX,” February 20, 2014, (includes a translation of an interview with a leading scientist on the French language edition of Russia Today) http://nf2045.blogspot.jp/2014/02/letat-cest-mox.html


Watching The Americans: A 1980s Primer

The serial drama The Americans appeared in 2013 and quickly won critical praise for its portrayal of the Cold War tensions of the early 1980s, as told through the lives of a fictional couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. They live in suburban Washington, DC as deep undercover Soviet agents, speaking perfect, idiomatic, unaccented American English. They blend in perfectly, fooling even their FBI agent neighbor.
The story takes place during the first years of the Reagan presidency when relations between the Americans and Soviets quickly deteriorated to their most paranoid and panicked level since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The aged Soviet leader Brezhnev died, succeeded by two more elderly leaders who each died shortly after taking the helm. Ronald Reagan declared the USSR an “evil empire” and launched a massive military spending program to build a space-based system for destroying incoming Soviet missiles. The Soviets panicked, knowing that the Americans were ahead in technology and able to outspend them on defense. It is in this context that the Jennings are pressured intensely by their handlers to carry out various risky missions to handicap the American advantage.
The creators do as much as they possibly can to make viewers aware of the historical context, but a work of fiction like this can’t offer a full history lesson without disrupting the flow of the story, and people who are too young to remember the 1980s certainly need to be filled in on the details. Ideally, the story should come with footnotes, but lacking those, you’ll have to settle for the timeline I’ve created below.
Season three of the series ends in March 1983, with the Soviets falling farther behind and growing panicked about the apparent Cold War dinosaur occupying the White House. This feeling of losing ground comes across in the story as the Jennings’ oldest child, Paige, has learned their secret and is in the process of betraying her parents. As Elizabeth Jennings watches Ronald Reagan recite his “evil empire” speech on TV, her daughter is on the phone telling her pastor the family’s dark secret.
It will be interesting to see where The Americans goes with this storyline. Our morbid interest in the sordid plotlines comes from the knowledge we have that the Jennings and their American counterparts were murdering innocents and destroying their own personal lives for nothing. It was all for the ideological war that melted into the warm smiles and handshakes of the Reagan-Gorbachev summits of the late 1980s. The best serial dramas finish within four or five years before they lose their magic, so I find myself wishing the story could skip ahead three years when season four begins to show us how the Jennings adjust to the beginning of the end—the Geneva summit, glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and Chernobyl. While the story is unique in the way it makes Americans take the point of view of “the Americans” hiding among them, it will ultimately be about the Jennings downfall and loss of faith. It remains to be seen whether the writers can pull this off but still avoid the ugly triumphalism of those who believe America "won" the Cold War.

A Primer for Watching The Americans

December 1979
The Soviet Union begins its military engagement in Afghanistan. America soon enters into a decade of covert operations opposing popular anti-American uprisings in Central and South America.

August 1980
American boycott of the Olympics in Moscow to protest the Afghan War. America funds the “good guys” in Afghanistan--Osama bin Laden and other freedom fighters from Saudi Arabia.

January 20, 1981
Inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.

June 12, 1982
1 million people rally for nuclear disarmament in Central Park, New York.

November 10, 1982
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev dies, replaced by Yuri Andropov.

March 8, 1983
Ronald Reagan delivers his famous “evil empire” speech, pledging to work toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons but warning Americans not to be naïve about the ambition of the USSR to lie and sweet talk its way into subjugating the world in “totalitarian darkness.”

March 10, 1983
Barack Obama writes “Breaking the War Mentality” for a Columbia University student newspaper called Sundial.[1]

March 23, 1983
Reagan announces the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, nicknamed later as Star Wars), a space-based missile defense system intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic nuclear weapons.

September 1, 1983
Korean Airlines Flight 007 is shot down in Soviet air space after the pilots had put the flight on autopilot and gone incommunicado. The Soviets were to blame, but the incident happened after Americans had, over the preceding two years, persistently tested Soviet defences with unnecessary near-incursions.  

September 26, 1983
During a moment of extremely high tensions, a false alarm indicates to a Soviet early warning center that five American nuclear missiles have been launched toward the Soviet Union. According to protocol, officer Stanislav Petrov should report the incident so that the Soviet leadership can decide whether to launch on warning (before confirming nuclear explosions), but he goes with his feeling that it must be an error because the detection system is new and flawed, and he knows a first strike would involve more than just five missiles.[2]

November 1983
During a NATO exercise called Able Archer, “the Soviets interpreted the simulation as a ruse to conceal a first strike and readied their nukes. At this period in history, and especially during the exercise, a single false alarm or miscalculation could have brought Armageddon.”[3]

November 20, 1983
The television movie The Day After, about the aftermath of a nuclear exchange, is broadcast to an American audience of 100 million. Reagan claimed in his diaries that it spurred him to work toward disarmament and to ignore advisers who wanted to plan for a winnable nuclear war. The world would not know until many years later how ironic the timing was, as the fictional film was shown so soon after the false alarm detected by Petrov and the misunderstandings about the Able Archer exercises. ABC aired an 80 minute panel discussion of the movie immediately after it was broadcast.

February 9, 1984
Soviet leader Yuri Andropov dies, replaced by Konstantin Chernenko.

March 10, 1985
Konstantin Chernenko dies, replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev. Soon after taking power, Gorbachev introduces a broad reform program consisting of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) and pursues strategic arms reduction talks with the United States.

November 1985
Geneva Summit, first meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev.

April 26, 1986
Chernobyl catastrophe. Gorbachev would later say that the catastrophe was the event that aggravated all existing weaknesses and doomed the USSR to collapse five years later. The social and ecological impacts of the fallout raised awareness that even a limited nuclear war would be devastating. [4]

August 1986
The first international conference assessing Chernobyl takes place behind closed doors. The IAEA and Western experts find the Soviet estimate of 40,000 deaths from the disaster far too pessimistic. The conference concludes that the figure will be no more than 4,000.[5]

Throughout 1986
World oil prices fall from $27 to $10 a barrel, depriving the USSR of vital export revenue when it is reeling from the costs of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the war in Afghanistan, and the arms race. 

October 11-12, 1986
Reykjavik Summit. Leaders on both sides express a heightened awareness of the need to negotiate in earnest to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Gorbachev shocks the Americans by offering much more than they had anticipated. He wants to eliminate all strategic weapons if the Americans will limit development of space-based weapons to the laboratory for ten years. The Americans refuse, and Gorbachev later says in Politburo session that he believed the reason was the the US preferred to keep the arms race going as a way to bankrupt the Soviet Union and undermine its popularity domestically and in the Third World. [6] In later years, Gorbachev was the only high-level figure involved to advocate for the abolition of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, based on his experience in disarmament negotiations and in the management of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

October 5, 1986

Sandinista forces in Nicaragua shoot down a plane carrying three Americans who are transporting supplies to the American-backed Contras. The sole survivor admits to working for the CIA, and the incident exposes a large, clandestine international network that has been illegally funding the war in Nicaragua. Various members of the Reagan administration are implicated in what will be known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Some are convicted of crimes. The scandal debases the magical appeal of Reagan's "morning in America" but the president and vice president emerge unscathed.

December 8, 1987
Washington Summit. Reagan and Gorbachev manage to salvage something from the opportunity lost at Reykjavik. They agree a step that is said to be the greatest reduction ever in Cold War tensions, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). The treaty eliminates all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometers (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 kilometers (intermediate-range).

May 1988
Moscow Summit. It has become apparent that SDI is becoming too costly, too opposed in the Democrat Congress and world opinion, and too unfeasible for any sort of meaningful deployment in the foreseeable future. SDI is no longer the major issue in negotiations that it once was. Reagan declares that he no longer believes the Soviet Union is an “evil empire.”

December 1988
Reagan-Gorbachev meeting on Governor’s Island, New York, attended also by president-elect George HW Bush.

January 20, 1989
Inauguration of George HW Bush.

February 1989
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Birth of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement. In solidarity with victims of nuclear testing in Nevada, author Olzhas Suleimenov leads the protest movement against the nuclear weapons testing endured by the people of Kazakhstan since 1949.[7]

November 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall, ongoing collapse of communist bloc in Eastern Europe.

October 3, 1990
German reunification.

July 31, 1991
President Bush and Gorbachev sign START (strategic arms reduction treaty). The treaty is heralded, along with the collapse of the USSR, as the “end of the Cold War," but the outcome falls far short of being a result that the human race could feel proud of. Qualifying and quantifying the degree of reduction is complex, but what is known for sure is that each side is still left with thousands of strategic nuclear warheads. Other nations possessing nuclear weapons make no commitments to reduce their stockpiles.

August 19, 1991
Gorbachev is ousted in a coup. Gennady Yannayev is declared leader.

August 21, 1991
Gorbachev is restored to power.

December 25, 1991
The end of the Soviet era. Today there is raging debate as to whether the American government made verbal, written or implicit promises in the 1989-91 period to not expand NATO eastward toward Russia’s borders. In 2015, Gorbachev, while also being a critic of some Russian policies, has stated that Western powers betrayed the promises made in 1990-91, created an unnecessary conflict in Ukraine, and brought American-Russian relations to a low and dangerous point that was inconceivable amid the friendly and optimistic mood of the early 1990s.[8][9] This is the situation we find ourselves in while the young man who wrote “Breaking the War Mentality” has become the president of the United States and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.


[1] Barack Obama, “Breaking the War Mentality,” Sundial, March 10, 1983.

[5] Thomas Johnson (director), “The Battle of Chernobyl,” Icarus Films, 2006.


Le Canard uncovers corners cut at construction of French reactor

Nuclear Safety: It Takes too Much Time
Hervé Liffran
Le Canard enchaîné 2015/05/27
translation of:

Struck by a record deficit of 5 billion euros and bogged down in the EPR construction site in Flamanville, Areva is also accumulating troubles and losses at another nuclear project, one which is little-known by the general public, the experimental Jules Horowitz Reactor. The reactor is under construction in Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône) on behalf of the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). But almost nothing is going well for this technological plaything dedicated to research and the production of medical isotopes.
It was scheduled for completion in 2014, but the date has now been pushed back to 2020, which will be thirteen years after the shovels first hit the dirt. During this time, technicians recalled that the building was going up in a zone with high seismic risks, so they had to revise their plans. After a few years, the costs were mounting. The original cost estimate was 500 million euros, but it climbed to 1.5 billion, according to Les Echos (13/5). This cost overrun is to be shared by the lead contractors, Areva and DCNS [a French industrial group], the former arsenal of the State.

Sewn up with a white cable

For its part, the Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN, the nuclear regulator) had to admit that the project exhibited a certain couldn’t-give-a-shit attitude which was liable to weaken the security of the site, particularly with regard to certain sub-contractors.
In a letter addressed to the CEA, dated September 30, 2014, which went unjustly ignored, the ASN was upset with the way contract E01 had been fulfilled, at a cost of 60 million euros, by the company Spie et d’Eiffage. The work concerned electrical installations in the reactor and those called “command control.” This refers to the equipment that enables control of the chain reaction, including the ability to stop the chain reaction in an emergency.
Everything should be doubled, for extra security, and the two lines should be laid down along different paths. In a document discovered by ASN inspectors, it was found that electricians for Spie et d’Eiffage had judged the stipulation about doubling the cables to be “too constraining.” They then decided unilaterally that this requirement “would not be retained.”
On this matter, Areva and DCNS did not wait to be warned by the ASN before they reacted. They declared that the liberties taken by the subcontractor were “unacceptable.”
     But as long as the ground doesn’t tremble too much…