Monday, April 15, 2013

Why a Nuke Park?

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who, in 1997 received a doctorate in civil engineering and traffic transportation planning from Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST)) boasted recently about his country's accumulating knowledge of the difficult, dirty, and dangerous technology of nuclear weapons. He made his brag about Iran's progress toward mastering this antiquated form of weapons science and engineering on National Technology Day, a holiday created some years ago by Mr. Ahmadinejad himself, while attempting to stir public interest in Iran's "nuclear energy achievements". He also reported about Iran's recent "development of five new medicines and a homemade electron accelerator". Perhaps he hoped that these modest claims will help to give Iran some "street cred"; i.e, akin to that of the bizarrely bellicose North Korea, with its recent development and testing of small nuclear devices, along with the missiles which may eventually be able to deliver them to distant targets.

Meanwhile, in the USA there is an ongoing effort among military enthusiasts to commemorate the 1940's design and testing of American nuclear weapons in the form of a system of national parks proposed for Los Alamos, NM, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA. The motivation underlying this project is unclear: is this seemingly boastful idea simply fear-driven, or is it an expression of some American bellicosity?

Los Alamos was where the nuclear bombs were first designed and built, Oak Ridge was where U235 fuel for the Hiroshima bomb (Little Boy) was obtained (purified from naturally occurring uranium in a gaseous diffusion process), and Hanford was where Pu239 for the Nagasaki bomb (Fat Man) was produced (by chemical extraction from the radioactive detritus of dedicated nuclear reactors.) The Hiroshima bomb of 6 Aug 1945 killed between 90,000 and 166,000 persons; the Nagasaki bomb of 9 Aug 1945 killed upwards of 40,000 persons. However, neither of these two attacks were quite as deadly as the 9-10 March, 1945 attack on Tokyo by B-29's armed with incendiary bombs; in this raid, more than 100,000 people died. Earlier, in the bombing of Dresden, on nights between 13-15 Feb 1945, more than 22,000 persons died. Presumably, none of these horrifying facts would be mentioned on any of the placards adorning the proposed national parks.

To celebrate the creation of weapons of mass destruction in a national park setting, a setting normally geared towards serene contemplation, and towards the diversion and education of young people, seems wrong-headed in the extreme. The weapons enthusiasts who are making this bizarre proposal should be ashamed.

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