On December 5, 2012 the Nevada National Security Site was struck by another US nuclear test. As the Nation of Change described it:
‘…there was little public fanfare, less national media coverage, and only a smattering of international protest suggesting that the test violated the spirit of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.’
The Treaty, signed by President Clinton in 1996 but never ratified by the US Congress, bans “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.” No wonder that despite the comprehensive Soviet/Russian moratorium on nuclear tests in force since 1990, the United States keep perfecting the nuclear technology in order to obtain unilateral advantages in its strategic faceoff with Russia.
We clearly remember President Obama saying in Prague in April 2009:
‘To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.’
Nevertheless, the explosion of December 5, 2012 codenamed ‘Pollux’, was the fourth ‘subcritical nuclear test’ performed under Obama’s administration.
Casting a retrospective outlook on the history of worldwide nuke tests (see graph), we can’t help presuming a notable misbalance in public perception of the damages caused by nuclear testing. This week we have received an eloquent letter from Mr. Iqbal Alimohamed, a former United Nations official and a member of Geneva Writers Group, who retold us the sad story of a prominent Kazakh painter and anti-nuclear activist Karipbek Kuyukov, born in 1968 without arms near Semipalatinsk test site, closed in 1991. We post it here in full.
‘I have only my heart to hold you.’ In the ornate Salle des Pas-Perdus of the Palais des Nations in Geneva late November, these haunting words mesmerized and visibly moved a gathering of distinguished diplomats, civil servants, art enthusiasts and their spouses and friends. The occasion was the inauguration of an exhibition of paintings dedicated to Kazakhstan’s history of nuclear disarmament. These heart-rending words were spoken by the internationally-acclaimed artist, 44-year old Karipbek Kuyukov, a native of Kazakhstan, born without arms – one of countless victims of four decades of nuclear weapons testing by the Soviet Union in Eastern Kazakhstan. In his touching speech, delivered with quiet dignity, he told tales of people of three generations believed to have suffered from cancer, severe deformities and illnesses caused by radioactive nuclear fallout. With poignancy and evident sense of deep personal loss, he spoke of how his friend died soon after his entire family-his wife and eight children all born deformed, perished after suffering unbearable trauma.
Karipbek Kuyukov is the Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM Project, born of a vision of the President of Kazakhstan and implemented by The Nazarbayev Centre. The ATOM project is an international petition campaign to mobilize global public opinion against nuclear weapons. Kuyukov paints, draws and sketches using his mouth and feet to tell the story of his nation, to portray the beauty of nature and, above all, to plead to the world to stop the development of nuclear weapons programs and the destruction of the environment. At a time when the world is engulfed in a raging political fever, the fervor with which Kuyukov delivers his message of complete opposition to any kind of nuclear testing and the attendant degradation of the environment, is one for all the world to heed.
As of this writing, disarmament talks have all but stalled. The New START accord between the USA and Russia to significantly reduce their fielded strategic arsenals by 2018 is a promising development. France and the UK have taken concrete steps to draw down their nuclear arsenals. Other countries, namely India, Israel and Pakistan, believed to possess nuclear arsenals, have yet to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China, a major recognized world power, is pressing hard for a “no-first-use” pact among the nuclear nations. The ultimate goal of a nuclear weapons-free world however remains elusive.
The theme of the Exhibition last week was United, We Count. Ambassador Kuyukov is pleading for a billion signatories to The ATOM Project petition. “In my paintings,” Kuyukov says, ”I try to express all the pain that nuclear weapons bring. I was born in the nuclear test site zone. I was born without arms, but I have the power and strength to call on the world to stop the development of nuclear weapons programs. Through my paintings and my personal experience I can tell the story of our nation as a lesson and an example for other countries to follow.”
Clearly, it behooves the United States, as the world’s only superpower, to assume its special responsibility and role to work with NATO and all of Europe including Russia, to take urgent practical steps to reduce the nuclear threat towards the ultimate goal of a world free of all nuclear weapons. When that happens, Kuyukov’s impassioned plea will not have been “a voice in the wilderness”.
Sharing the noble ambition of the Atom Project to ‘create awareness surrounding the human and environmental devastation caused by nuclear weapons testing’, we suggest the project should pay attention to the tragic fate of other military survivors of the US nuclear testing as well. It is wide known that since 1951 numerous large-scale military exercises on nuclear testing sites have been held by the US Army. As Daily Mail wrote in February 2012, during e.g. the Operation Desert Rock, the military conducted a series of nuclear tests in the Nevada Proving Grounds between 1951 and 1957, exposing thousands of participants – both military and civilian – to high levels of radiation. In total, nearly 400,000 American soldiers and civilians would be classified as ‘atomic veterans.’ Some explicit documentaries of the exercises are available on YouTube:
Another story of British ‘nuclear pigs’ was published by BBC in 2000 highlighting the fact that at the height of the Cold War thousands of British servicemen were dispatched to the South Pacific to witness test explosions of nuclear weapons. According to survivors, little effort was made to safeguard their health from the radioactive fallout. For example, men were told to turn their backs to the blast or wear long trousers instead of shorts.
On Aug 5, 1945, 66 thousand Japanese civilians perished in the flames of a nuclear explosion over Hiroshima committed by the US Air Force. Another 140 thousand subsequently died of wounds, burns and radiation sickness. The bomb was dropped on a parachute precisely over the center of densely populated Hiroshima. It fell slowly enough for the American aircraft to fly at top speed at least 18 km from the drop point so as to escape the effects of the blast. When the bomb exploded, the temperature flashed to several thousand degrees; radiation burned people alive where they were walking or standing. Afterwards, the shadows of people incinerated by the explosion could be seen on Hiroshima’s scorched sidewalks. The people were gone; their shadows remained. Three days later, on Aug 9, 1945, the Americans dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 80 thousand people. These disproportional atrocities and absolutely not justified testing of the A-bombs on Japanese civilians should be the subject of a lasting and powerful public campaign of the Atom Project.
The last but not least dimension of the problem is the eternal dispute over ethical essence of the nuclear weapons. Taking the position of ‘nuclear deniers’ regarding illegitimacy of this type of weapon, don’t we fall into idealistic trap of ‘a safe world without nuclear weapons?’ Imagine Russia unable (like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria etc) to restrain an aggressor possessing overwhelming conventional military capabilities. Billions of extra dollars would be poured into the military industrial machinery worldwide by different state and non-state actors seeking strategic parities or advantages. Another armament race would assimilate fading resources of this planet that might be invested in civil technologies, human development and innovations. The world we dream about would be impossible. Perhaps unpleasant, but the incontestable fact is that the nuclear arsenal is one of few remaining braces safeguarding the global strategic stability. Campaigning to ban nuclear tests is righteous and correct. Linking it to the total ban on nuclear arsenals is seductive but misleading.