As he watched the first successful demonstration of the Bomb explode, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” said that a line from the Bhagavad Gita immediately came to mind: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Ever since the 1950s the United States always seems to be on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Back then the threat was the Soviet Union. As the Cold War continued, more nations felt a need to protect themselves so they, too, acquired “the Bomb” including Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964). Today these three countries own 750, 350 and 130 weapons, respectively, while Russia (1949) maintains 16,000, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
In 1974 India began developing “the Bomb” but it wasn’t until 1998 that it successfully tested one. Six months later its archrival, Pakistan, tested its own Bomb in order to counteract India’s Bomb. Each country now has about 50 weapons. In 2006, North Korea let the world know it, too, had the Bomb, although negotiations are underway to dismantle it. Many people suspect that Israel has a stash of 75-200 warheads, however, leaders remain tight-lipped about reporting these weapons.
Americans’ experience with the Bomb immediately stirred up concern last fall when President Bush said that Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear power could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, which could then lead to World War III. Even recent revelations that the Iranians ended their weapons program in 2003 haven’t quelled the administration’s “fears” over Iran. What is particularly peculiar in this conversation is that the United States itself has nearly 10,000 nuclear missiles, with 5,173 of them considered “active,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Most Americans are largely unaware of the vastness and lethality of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, say Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, who did time in federal prison for protesting nuclear weapons by breaking into a Colorado Minuteman III missile site in October 2002. In a recent interview, they said that the end of the Cold War somehow led people to believe the weapons had somehow disappeared.
In fact, Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that another 20 to 30 countries are now capable and interested in building their own Bombs! Consequently, there is a growing worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons arsenals because of the danger they pose to all life on earth and because of their accessibility to would-be terrorists (The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists).
While the members of the Nuclear Club have been dismantling many of their weapons, the world currently has a total of about 31,000 nuclear warheads, according to Nuclear Files. The combined explosive yield of these weapons is approximately 5,000 megatons or 200,000 times the explosive yield of the 15-kiloton bomb used on Hiroshima where over 100,000 people were killed.
In using those Hiroshima numbers as a point of comparison for today’s weapons, it is clear that the U.S. has an extremely dangerous and costly WMD stockpile (at least $5 trillion, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940).
Below is a summary of the U.S. arsenal of land, sea and air nuclear weapons and the strength of their firepower gathered from several nonprofit sources including the Center for Defense Information (CDI); the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Nuke Watch; and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists .
Please note that the numbers provided are only estimates because it is very difficult to obtain solid data due to sketchy governmental reporting systems, weapons’ status and the ever-evolving reduction programs that shift both the number and power of the weapons.
Four hundred and fifty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) stand in silos on “high alert” in Minot, North Dakota (150), Great Falls, Montana (150) and in the lonely grasslands of Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado (150).
Each of these missiles has the power of 170-300 kilotons or 11-20 Hiroshima bombs. The combined firepower of all 450 missiles amounts to 76,500 to 135,000 kilotons. The combined force of these Minuteman missiles would be capable of killing 510 to 900 million people.
The United States now has 14 Trident submarines, which deploy 2,346 warheads, according to the NRDC. Eight Tridents are based at Kings Bay, Georgia, and six in Bangor, Washington.
Each submarine can carry eight 475-kiloton warheads on each (D-5) missile. So one submarine can carry up to 3,800 kilotons of firepower, which is equivalent to 253 Hiroshima bombs. This means that the power of one Trident II submarine could potentially kill 25.3 million people. All 14 of our Trident submarines combined could kill 354.2 million people.
The B-52 long-range bomber is equipped with 20 air-launched cruise missiles with 200 kilotons of firepower for each missile. One bomber, therefore, can carry equivalent to 4,000 kilotons of power or the equivalent of 267 Hiroshima bombs. The United States has 76 bombers, which amounts to 304,000 kilotons of combined power and a potential kill capacity of 20,266,000 people.
The United States has 21 B-2 “stealth bombers” that can each carry 16 gravity bombs. There are 3 kinds of gravity bombs: the B-53 bomb has 9 megatons (or 9 million kilotons) of firepower; the B-61 ranges between 100 and 500 kilotons; and the B-83 has the firepower of 1-2 megatons (1-2 million kilotons). So one stealth bomber with 16 gravity bombs, well, the calculations are now getting astronomical and by now you get the idea of how lethal these weapons are.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
In 1997 the U.S. military stepped up its strategic weapons capacity with Vision 2020. This plan aims to exploit and dominate outer space by linking all land, sea and air-based weapons systems. Unfortunately, Vision 2020 would violate the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space.
“The Clinton administration opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further,” said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre to The Washington Post. In 2004 the Air Force developed a weapons in space plan. In 2006 the Pentagon requested millions of dollars for testing and developing a space program.
Before we worry about Iran developing nuclear weapons, it seems an opportune time for the American people to face seriously the question of whether or not we want to continue this insane preparation for nuclear holocaust as a legacy to our progeny and our gift to the world.