75 years have passed since the Americans, with British agreement, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is the first time, and so far the only time nuclear weapons of mass destruction have been used. It is commonly thought that this led to the end of World War II, but Japan was already on its knees, so in practice the war ended sooner. The bombing was a way of showing Russia what US power could achieve, as Russia did not have a nuclear bomb at the time. As a result Russia developed similar weapons. This is how the Cold War began. The legacy of those two devastating explosions continues to cast a huge shadow over every country in the world.
VE Day was officially celebrated here with a display of jingoism, and VJ will be celebrated on 15th August. But the UK state is pretty silent about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So it is appropriate that we briefly review the history of nuclear weapons.
The USA and Britain were worried that Nazi Germany was working on a nuclear bomb. The two countries and Canada collaborated on the Manhattan Project which would lead to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We should not be surprised that Britain under Churchill tried to lead the project, but of course this state’s ability to provide finance for anything had long since been exhausted, and Churchill had to consent to the USA directing the work. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Los Alamos Laboratory who worked on the project, is remembered for his quote from the ancient Indian classic, the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.
At 8:15 am on 6th August 1945 Hiroshima was attacked by a gun-type uranium bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’, dropped from the aeroplane Enola Gay. This was the first nuclear weapon ever used. 20,000 soldiers and 70,000 to 126,000 civilians were killed. A radioactive cloud of ‘death ash’ spread over a wide area, affecting more people. Many survivors of the blast developed leukaemia about 4 to 6 years later.
The ‘Fat Man’ explosive plutonium bomb was dropped from the aeroplane Bockscar on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945. 39,000 to 80,000 people were killed. Many thousands died in the months following the bombing.
Japan surrendered on 15th August 1945. The world had changed and mankind had the power to destroy itself.
What happened afterwards?
Simply put, a crazy race developed between the USA and Russia (USSR at the time) to produce nuclear weapons. This was the Cold War. There was a real fear of nuclear war. The culmination of this period was probably the Cuban crisis of October 1962, when the world came within a hair’s breadth of disaster. The bone of contention was the presence of Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba. Fortunately, the USA under Kennedy and Russia under Khrushchev reached an agreement, which led to a period of relative quiet, until both countries increased their arsenal some years later.
Other countries gradually developed nuclear weapons. Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and (unofficially) Israel. The phrase ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) came into being.
Where are we now?
The number of nuclear weapons decreased from about 70,000 at the end of the Cold War, and the estimate at the end of 2019 is 13,865. Of course, this is more than enough to destroy the world. Contemporary weapons are far more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The USA has 6,185; Russia 6,500; France 300; China 290; United Kingdom 200; Pakistan 150 – 160; India 130 – 140; Israel 80- 90; North Korea 20 – 30.
Currently the nuclear threat has returned with a vengeance in a way not seen for decades. Trump withdrew his country from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between Russia and the US. This was an agreement signed by Reagan and Gorbachev, which led to a reduction in weapons, and a period of relative peace.
Trump has also pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran (an agreement that included Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany) that removed economic sanctions in exchange for oversight of that country’s civil nuclear sites. As a result it is believed that Iran has started to produce enriched uranium, and it is feared this could lead to nuclear weapons production. This adds to the endless turmoil in the Middle East.
Trident renewal is supported by the UK Government, and by the Labour Party. The US is responsible for the missile, while the UK runs the submarines (powered by a nuclear engine) and provides the explosive warhead. The estimated cost is £205 billion.
What about wales?
There are no nuclear weapons here. But nuclear power has been produced here at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, and the first wave of nuclear power stations were intended to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Nuclear power is still on the political agenda, despite the obvious link that still exists between civil nuclear and military nuclear – both here and in the USA too.
In the eighties Wales officially called itself ‘Nuclear Free’. Welsh women set up Greenham Common peace camp to oppose Cruise nuclear missiles in Thatcher’s time.
On the other hand according to a recently published book “Wales and the Bomb” over 40 Welsh people contributed to the development of nuclear weapons, and several Welsh scientists are working at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston today. Research on nuclear weapons has been undertaken at the Universities of Wales, and in the early stages of the atomic age saw the Rhydymwyn Valley Works and the Clyde Nickel Works linked to the development of nuclear weapons.
What about our politicians?
We remember Carwyn Jones on his own initiative proposing Wales as a place to welcome Trident submarines if they left Scotland.
Former anti-nuclear activist Nia Griffith is now taking a pro-Trident stance since she became Labour Shadow Defence Minister under Corbyn. She introduced an Early Day Motion in 2006 in support of a Nuclear-Free Wales!
Liz Saville Roberts is opposed to Trident, but thus far supports a nuclear reactor at Trawsfynydd, apparently unconvinced by the evidence linking civil nuclear and military nuclear.
Leanne Wood and Jill Evans were arrested on a protest against Trident in Faslane. Jill is now President of CND Cymru.
The late Paul Flynn was firmly anti-nuclear.
The current political instability could lead to a dangerous and potentially devastating future. The official policy of the USA through its Energy Department in 2020 is to “restore America’s sovereign ability to control its use of the most powerful element that exists on the planet – uranium – for peaceful uses and defensive purposes”. We can expect the UK Government not to object, especially given the need to secure a trade agreement with that powerful country.
US policy shows the grip of the military-industrial machine on the country. That is reflected here as well. Trade unions and poor areas are enmeshed, as jobs are involved.
What we do in Wales may appear to be trivial, at least on the surface. But surely all of us can express our opposition to nuclear weapons? We can press our politicians at all levels. Make them think about the topic. And work towards the restoration of the prestigious “Nuclear Free Wales” title. It disappeared under the relentless pressure of the military-industrial machine. Is that what people really want? Can Wales ever be independent unless it’s a Nuclear Free Wales?
As an anti-nuclear campaigner for many years myself, I’ve met many good and committed people. One of the the most notable is a young Japanese woman – Ayumi Fukakusa, who works for Friends of the Earth Japan. She has been here in Wales on several occasions campaigning against Wylfa B. She arranged a visit to Japan for myself and others when we went to see the environmental and human disaster in Fukushima, and met politicians and the public. Ayumi decided to campaign against nuclear following the Fukushima explosion, and because she saw the connection between that tragedy and her grandparents’ tragedy. They survived the bomb on Nagasaki.
Banner photo: Peach Memorial, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park by Oilstreet (CC)