As a participating member of civil society, Hibakusha Stories contributed the following position paper to the United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
4 June 2017
Hibakusha Stories is pleased to offer the following comments on the draft treaty for a nuclear weapons ban, and encourage dialogue with other member organizations within the ICAN community. We are convinced that the job of civil society and the International Campaign is to argue for the most robust language possible; and respectfully submit these reflections which we believe are consistent with the views of our hibakusha colleagues.
Specifically we seek stronger language in the preamble to:
Strengthen provisions and obligations regarding victim assistance
Although we welcome the acknowledgement of ‘hibakusha’ and those affected by nuclear testing, we seek stronger more explicit obligations regarding victim/survivor assistance. We also encourage a broader definition of victim; one that recognizes atomic veterans, nuclear weapon workers (from mining to manufacture) and downwind communities throughout the vast nuclear weapons assembly line, in every nuclear weapon state; and in non nuclear weapon states contaminated by nuclear testing and uranium mining.
Inclusion of language on legacy sites, radioactive waste and future generations’ right to know
Future generations have the right to understand the physical dangers inherent to the nuclear legacy. They should be made aware of the location and function of nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities, mining operations and testing grounds to understand where radioactive contamination remains, to be able to monitor and repair radioactive waste containment and to apply future technologies that may further protect the biosphere.
Inclusion of language on education for disarmament and future generations’ right to know
Recognizing the importance of education for disarmament as pursuant to the UN Study on Disarmament and Non Proliferation Education, and its 34 recommendations unanimously adopted by the General Assembly in 2002, current and future generations have the right to know, understand and be educated about the history of nuclear weapons development and the ongoing environmental and humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and threat of use.
More precise language under general obligations to include threat of use and transit, as indicated below:
(1-d) Use nuclear weapons; or threaten to use nuclear weapons;
(2-a) Any stationing, installation deployment, or transit of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;
Threat of Use
We are especially concerned by the absence of language regarding threat of use. Nuclear weapons always, already exist in the threat of nuclear annihilation. And in order for the threat to be real vast amounts of money must be spent (robbing funds for human and ecological needs), the environment laid waste, workers and downwinders contaminated and future generations affected by invisible, long-lived manifestations of radioactive violence.
To illustrate our concern we offer a brief review of a former US nuclear weapon site near the populous cities of Boulder and Denver Colorado. Rocky Flats was once the sole manufacturer of plutonium pits for the US nuclear arsenal. Its catastrophic and still unfolding legacy comprises: multiple fires including two major accidents involving plutonium in 1957 and 1969; on-site storage and burial of transuranic materials in leaking drums and unlined trenches contaminating the land and groundwater; radioactive contamination of nearby creeks and reservoirs; plutonium trapped in building ductwork, missing plutonium and so-called ‘infinity rooms’ deemed too highly radioactive and dangerous to enter; the incineration of plutonium contaminated waste which eventually brought the attention of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation that shut down production in 1989; and the much maligned ‘clean-up’ that permitted the burial of plutonium and contaminated buildings in-situ.
After decades of activism and research, letter campaigns and lawsuits, Rocky Flats shuttered its operations, the buildings were taken down and much radioactivity was borne away from the site, but much remains. The first 6 feet of level earth were partially ‘cleaned’ of contamination, but for 6 feet below the surface, any amount of plutonium and other radioactive and toxic materials have been allowed to remain on-site. And the surface of land that comprises the former nuclear bomb site shifts often due to bioturbation, the handy work of burrowing animals.
Ecologist Shawn Smallwood has documented the presence of some 22 species at Rocky Flats, whose bailiwick is to move earth from below to above. Smallwood’s research has shown that burrowing animals play a significant role in the redistribution and further dispersal of radioactive contaminants that remain in the ground at Rocky Flats. What may have been buried last week, might have by now been brought to the surface for continued distribution by wind, rain, brush fires and any other manner of weather and environmental conditions.
What’s more, the US Department of Energy has transferred ownership and management of most of the site to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2017, the re-named Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge is slated to open, complete with a visitors center, picnic areas and 20 miles of hiking, biking and riding trails. A citizen’s lawsuit announced last month seeks to keep it closed to the public and demand that the DOE re-visit the ‘clean-up’.
The reason for the more than 70,000 plutonium pits produced at Rocky Flats, each comparable to a Nagasaki-like atomic bomb, is because the United States threatens to use nuclear weapons. Plutonium contamination and the migration of plutonium at Rocky Flats is a direct result of threat of use. The lie that the site is safe for recreation is born of the threat of use. The testing on Western Shoshone Native land in the Nevada Desert results from threat of use. The collapsing tunnels at the Hanford Reservation, just last week, a legacy site where the plutonium used to destroy Nagasaki was first developed, has happened because the US nuclear threat is backed by instruments of genocide produced for the arsenal — modernized, stockpiled, deployed and ready to fire.
Threat of use is not existential. It is real, and has cost lives, robbed the public purse, stunted human ingenuity in a blind pursuit of the science of nuclear warfare and irreversibly contaminated the environment risking the health and well being of ourselves, our biosphere and future generations. A robust nuclear weapon ban treaty must incorporate language on threat of use, and our campaign should fight for its inclusion.