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A New Day for Human Survivial: On the Promise of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/21/new-day-human-survivial-promise-treaty-prohibition-nuclear-weapons


Fascinated with all things nuclear from the time I first came across Trinity, Little Boy, and Fat Man in my family’s World Book Encyclopedia, to peeking down at an armed Minuteman II missile at Whiteman AFB in MO, through Three Mile Island, through my physics degree, through the Navy begging (unsuccessfully) me to run a reactor in a sub six months at a deployment for four years, to working four years for the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, I learned a hell of a lot of technical expertise in the civilian and military aspects of many things nuclear. One thing I could never quite grasp was the cognitive dissonance it takes to remain in the field and to think that fission solves anything. Fusion might. I had many occasions to look into the belly of the beast and let me tell you that Fukushima did not surprise me one bit, nor did Chernobyl. In 2019, I stopped briefly at the Minuteman Missile National Park in SD and just got the chills of recall of all of the crap I had to jam in my head to understand the technology of how to kill so damn many innocent people–and I was on the civilian side. So much folly because assholes disagreed about how money was to be made and distributed. That’s all it was about when you really peel back the history.


US nuclear terrorism sets an example for all cowards who sneak attack innocent people.

The nuclear weapons cat has long since escaped from its bag. There is no putting that cat back in any bag now. Too many people realize just how simple a nuclear bomb is to build if you aren’t worried about how many people you kill in the process of building, then using it.

If you don’t understand it, how do you know it is cognitive dissonance? Maybe others are seeing potential in fission which you are missing.

Did you encounter that through nuclear testing, the carbon equilibrium in the atmosphere is irreversibly altered and damaged or the legacy of radioactive Carbon 14?

You should check out the effects of testing it, let alone using it as a weapon.

Cold fusion is only 20 years off – they’ve been saying so for decades.

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You asked someone else – but I’ve studied atmospheric carbon, and I don’t have a clear idea what you mean by carbon equilibrium. Climate scientists speak of a yearly carbon budget for the various surface reservoirs, largely biological. The yearly beat you see in the Keeling curve of atmospheric CO2 (at Mauna Loa, since 1958) is the Earth breathing, essentially.


(The monthly inset of this chart proves that Eliot was off by one month: May is the cruelest.)

Geological carbon, exhumed and burnt for years, keeps upping that Keeling curve, obviously. Different isotopic signatures of carbon are routinely detected in order to distinguish between various sources of atmospheric carbon. But I’ve never heard of radioactive carbon-14 playing any significant role in the greenhouse gas accumulation driving the Climate Catastrophe.

You do find out something interesting about carbon-14 of the nuclear-test era and climate science, from introductory readings: An astonishing bulk of the knowledge we’ve been able to develop about atmospheric circulation accumulated only because we were able to trace the progress of radioactive isotopes through the air, like a barium milkshake in your gut.

The meteorological models we’ve been able to build, with measurable reliability, are entirely dependent on atmospheric circulation observations from the nuclear test era. By comparison, we know freaking zip-all about oceanic circulation (where about 90% of the augmented heat goes).

Ok, I came across this information within an archeological context using Carbon 14 data to establish an accurate historical sequence which is sometimes used until the advent of nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s to 1960s. When artificial radiocarbon was introduced to the atmosphere and increased the level of Carbon 14 considerably. (not just nuclear tests but also burning fossil fuels) This made carbon dating unreliable on some levels and a new metric will be used in the future. Say if someone from the future wanted to carbon date us, they would need a different method. And for what ever reason one thing led to another and I started reading about:

Radioactive Carbon from Nuclear Explosions and Non-threshold Biological Effects from Science and Global Security 1990 (this is mostly population studies and disease estimates)

It is quite remarkable in terms of biological effects and long lived in terms of heredity. So then it was from here that I found references to the Carbon Cycle and how it is influenced by human activity.

More information here:


Human Activities Affecting Carbon 14 Global Levels

There are two human activities recognized to have irreparably changed the global radiocarbon levels—the burning of fossil fuel and nuclear weapons testing.

Burning of large quantities of fossil fuels like coal, referred as the Suess effect, had significantly lowered the radiocarbon concentration of the atmospheric carbon reservoir. In contrast, nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s dramatically increased the level of carbon 14 in the atmosphere. The phenomenon is often referred to as the bomb effect.

What is the Bomb Effect?

The bomb effect refers to the phenomenon that produced “artificial” radiocarbon in the atmosphere due to nuclear bombs.

“Nuclear weapons testing brought about a reaction that simulated atmospheric production of carbon 14 in unnatural quantities. The huge thermal neutron flux produced by nuclear bombs reacted with nitrogen atoms present in the atmosphere to form carbon 14. The carbon 14 produced is what is known as bomb carbon or artificial radiocarbon.”

“According to literature, nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s have nearly doubled the atmospheric carbon 14 content as measured in around 1965. The level of bomb carbon was about 100% above normal levels between 1963 and 1965. The level of bomb carbon in the northern hemisphere reached a peak in 1963, and in the southern hemisphere around 1965.”

I asked the question because my reading examines how infinitely we are impacted by nuclear explosions. There was no direct correlation to climate change based on what I read.

Thank you for your response.

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My mother-in-law lived downwind of Alamogordo for some years, with some traces in her tissues. So it’s a little dab’ll do ya, for sure. I remember when they turned off all the west-coast atmospheric radioactivity monitors a week after the Fukushima explosions. Just for maintenance, I think.

Now I’m back to remembering my dearest old best friend, Glenn, who was essentially drafted into service as a nuclear guinea pig in something called “Operation Teapot” – did I ever tell you that story?


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Before it was illegal they wanted to build a nuclear plant here. That was a big mistake these old ranchers ran them off when they tried to do soil samples. Of course it was a good decision because of all the earthquake faults and other issues. There were quite a few strange things that happened at that time (Fukushima) there was something like that happened at ground zero on 9/11 too.

I wish there was more transparency. Must have been frightening for your mom in law.

Oh, I catching up, no I didn’t hear about this story.

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Ma has fought off thyroid cancer about a hundred times. She’s still at it, but then again, she’s still at it. Glenn got in trouble for some youthful indiscretion, for which the judge gave him a choice of jail or the navy. He chose the latter, becoming a navy medic, assigned to the Marine Corps Test Unit One referenced in the Wiki article.

His unit was marched out in the open, with nothing but vehicles to shield them from the test-blast, then advised to prepare for it. After which they were ordered, for reasons nobody recalls, to march toward ground zero. “While the Marines were advancing, the mushroom cloud was still forming above.” Glenn remembered the incredible sound of fused sand shattering under platoon boots like glass.

Some years ago now, we lost Glenn. He might have been the last of the MCTU nuclear veterans.

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Ma must be a strong person to deal with all the things that go with that diagnosis.

Good grief, I can’t imagine being called upon to do something like that, not in this life anyway. It is through these friendship I think we learn to appreciate our relative moments of peace. I never really know what to say about such things. I’m sorry for your loss doesn’t quite cover it but I am sorry for your loss.

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We now know the early assumptions of C-14 proportion constancy were mistaken, and that the C-14 fraction has varied in the past. So we now use independent physical measures to calibrate C-14 dating. This means that some C-14 ratios are associated with more than one possible age.

“When artificial radiocarbon was introduced to the atmosphere and increased the level of Carbon 14 considerably. (not just nuclear tests but also burning fossil fuels)”

C-14 levels had been dropping prior to the 50’s due to the burning of fossil fuels (which have low levels of C-14). The Bomb Pulse briefly raised atmospheric C-14 proportions to about what they were 40,000 years ago. Atmospheric proportions are now down to nearly what they were before bomb testing began.

Based on what I read that is true, however calibration has been revised several times and ratios are determined by sample number to reduce the chances of contamination in samples. This would yield a range in many cases. There is also a constraint on calibrated data.

“C-14 levels had been dropping prior to the 50’s due to the burning of fossil fuels (which have low levels of C-14). The Bomb Pulse briefly raised atmospheric C-14 proportions to about what they were 40,000 years ago. Atmospheric proportions are now down to nearly what they were before bomb testing began.”

Indeed, that is fairly accurate to what I read about the atmospheric level of contamination but not in other aspects of the carbon cycle which include biological effects.

I’m aware of many other changes we’ve made to carbon levels and carbon cycles, but I’m not aware of any significant carbon cycle changes due to nuclear weapons. And about the only connection I see to nuclear power is that it has offset tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 which would otherwise have already been released.

I was on the civilian side, but at the tender age of 26 I became the Department of Energy’s “expert” on potential C14 migration to the atmosphere from the proposed repository for high level civilian radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain because I was the only person to contemplate it. After finding others who were interested and qualified, I dropped the matter in their laps and returned to my other lines of research. I never followed up on their work and don’t know about C14 issues from testing. I do have this weird thing growing on my arm, though–hmmm?

Ok, thanks for your response.

Thanks to you as well. Better have that looked at.

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