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Diane Swords

"…nonproliferation policy depends first on the very assumption Iraq has just disproved: that the atom can be split into two roles…offering nuclear power without spreading bombs. In fact, the atom is atomic, indivisible."

Amory and Hunter Lovins wrote this of Reagan's policy in the 1981 LA Times. We can now add North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly Iran to the list of countries that disprove the splitting of power and bombs. These countries all developed nuclear weapons from civilian programs for nuclear power that they obtained with US assistance. US nuclear policy is not and never has been based in reality: it is simply not possible to spread nuclear power without spreading weapons capability. According to French nuclear physicist Dominique Lalanne, nuclear power "is just a way to prepare for a military use of nuclear technology. A lot of other technologies exist for producing electricity or heat, including wind and solar devices."

The Obama Administration and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
President Obama's actions contradict his rhetoric. He has made wonderful statements about abolishing nuclear weapons, leading activists to hope for responsiveness. Before his election his website stated that "before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed, including: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation." As a Senator, he introduced legislation, also published on his website, in the US Senate "to establish guidelines for tracking, controlling and accounting for spent fuel at nuclear power plants." He also worked "to prevent international nuclear material from falling into terrorist hands abroad." Yet although none of these issues have been solved, he now actively promotes nuclear power, handing out $54.5 billion in government-backed loans to the US nuclear industry. Further, he requested $80 billion to "upgrade and modernize the nuclear arsenal," while his "Nuclear Posture Review" stated that the US would not expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. According to Greg Mello in a recent article in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "the White House is requesting one of the larger increases in warhead spending history." Mello calls this "preemptive surrender to nuclear hawks."

Vincent Harding, close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, stated during President Obama's inauguration that we must be "the wind at his back." There is an upsurge of people working on this issue. Many activists, including Central New Yorkers, attended the May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the United Nations in New York City and joined the voices for abolition.

The Impossible "Division of the Atom"
The NPT incorporates this impossible "division of the atom." While opposing the spread of nuclear weapons, and calling on countries that have them to disarm, Article IV states "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop… nuclear energy for peaceful purposes…". It defies reason to believe that this flaw in logic can be missed by the signatories. Can anything short of greed and power lust produce this Orwellian Doublespeak?

Unfortunately, the review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty missed the opportunity to address this schizophrenic policy. In fact, according to Beyond Nuclear, an organization that advocates for a sustainable and democratic energy future (, more effort was spent promoting nuclear power than non-proliferation or abolition. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon joined this fuzzy thinking, stating: "Advancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy cannot be held hostage to either disarmament or non-proliferation." This illogic is echoed by government officials from many nations, including our own.

These contradictions cause weapons to spread. Linda Gunter, media and development director for Beyond Nuclear, holds up India and Iran as exemplifying the problems with the NPT. India has not signed the Treaty but is recognized as a nuclear power, and the US is pleased to end the moratorium on trade in nuclear materials with India. However, Iran is a signatory of the NPT and is being sanctioned for giving the impression that it might be making nuclear weapons from its "legitimate" (under the treaty) power industry. Iraq and North Korea provide additional examples of this irony: Iraq had no nuclear weapons and was destroyed by "pre-emptive" attack. North Korea does have nuclear weapons, yet is not subject to military action. No wonder Iran wants to give the impression of having nuclear capability. The responsibility for these ambiguities seems as much in the hands of those who support Article IV as in the nations named.

Public Perceptions and Nuclear Realities

The belief that nuclear power is necessary and can be kept separate from nuclear weapons is also prevalent among the public. Several activists here in Syracuse have been collecting signatures on a petition encouraging President Obama to live up to his 2009 Prague speech calling for nuclear abolition. When approached with the petition, many people indicate that they won't sign if nuclear power is included in nuclear abolition. Some activists suggest that we therefore should not include nuclear power in efforts to abolish weapons because it drives away potential supporters. I believe we will only abolish nuclear weapons when we eliminate the route that invariably leads to them. Public misunderstandings (supported by corporate media and government enmeshed with the nuclear industry) indicate the urgency of using alternative media to spread knowledge of the links between nuclear power and weapons, while promoting alternatives for security and energy.

The inseparability of nuclear power and weapons is further illustrated by the fact that both nuclear weapons and power plants need uranium, both weapons and power produce similar forms of pollution and waste, and both cause the erosion of democracy. Uranium is mined mainly on indigenous land, leaving native populations a legacy of illness and pollution and no benefits. Africa has many uranium mines, which have become sites of conflict. In Niger, civil war broke out over uranium resources. The French company Areva owns the current mines in Niger and wishes to open additional ones which threaten the water supply in the Sahara Desert. Areva has also signed a uranium mining contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mineral wars sparked genocide.

While use of a nuclear bomb would cause irreparable environmental ruin, nuclear power plants are already causing illness and environmental damage. Routine releases of tritium and other radioactive elements have been covered up until citizen groups expose them, as at Vermont Yankee. Both power and weapons erode democracy and foster lies, cover-ups and colonial domination. Lalanne notes that "nuclear is a new way for 'advanced' States to dominate the Third World, both by offering nuclear power and by threatening with nuclear weaponry." Nuclear power was supposed to be the silver lining in the mushroom cloud. But it is more like the smoke in our eyes, preventing many people from seeing the proliferation of nuclear weapons that continues to take place in plain view. It is imperative that we - as a peace movement - recognize these links and stop the fantasy.

What can we do?
Activists have repeatedly beaten back attempts to include subsidies for nuclear power in the climate bill. As of this writing, there is a renewed effort to put back even larger ones. Contact the White House and your Senators to oppose such subsidies.

Contact President Obama and your representatives. Tell them to remove nuclear weapons spending from the federal budget.

The House just passed an emergency funding bill with $9 billion in nuclear industry loans. Now it goes to the Senate for reconciliation. The Senate bill did not include these loans. Write your Senators to oppose adding loans to their bill. Go to for updates.

Establish ongoing correspondence with President Obama and your representatives. Emphasize the connection between nuclear power and weapons and urge them to oppose both.

Join Syracuse Peace Council, Peace Action CNY or another anti-nuclear organization of your choice.

Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemorations

Please join SPC and Peace Action:

Interfaith Vigil for Peace and Lantern Floating
Wednesday, August 4, Everson Plaza, 7-8:30 pm

Dramatic Procession through downtown Syracuse
Friday, August 6, gather at 11:30 am near City Hall

Paper crane making workshops for children
Throughout July and early August

Carol Baum: 472-5478 or Maryann Zimmerman: 478-7442


Diane is an anti-nuclear activist and teaches in the Intergroup Dialogue Program at Syracuse University