Viewpoint: Space weapons could bring final curtain

The Bush administration recently announced plans to station weapons in space. That move could have repercussions far more serious than they or most other people have anticipated.

In fact, the sword of Damocles is hanging over our heads, and the prospect of sudden annihilation is very real. We are walking on the edge of the precipice, as reported by The Washington-Post Herald.

Helen Caldicott is president of the Nuclear Research Institute in Washington, D.C. The Australian physician won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Recently she spoke with United Press International. Her group just concluded a conference on nuclear matters last week.

She was asked what her views are about militarizing space. Caldicott said everything that was predicted at the conference about the weaponization of space is coming true. “It seems as if the Bush administration and the Air Force are going to go ahead with everything that was said at our conference on the weaponization of space that was most alarming. This issue was under the radar of public opinion for a long time, but it is now coming into view.

“Russia and China have both said for some years that if the United States puts weapons into space, they will super-saturate any and all U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems and space-based weapons by building thousands more nuclear weapons each to counter any U.S. missile-defense system.”

President Bush has told the American public that putting weapons in space will make this country safer. It appears the result will be exactly the opposite and that such a move would increase the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.

The “Star Wars” defense is a pipe dream. It would be simple to knock out such weapons systems. Caldicott said she learned at the conference that the easiest way to knock out a space-based system is to detonate a nuclear weapon in near-earth orbit to produce radiation in the plane traversed by the satellites. The radiation there would kill all military satellites in a matter of weeks.”

Caldicott added: “…if you detonate a single nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere, you will produce an electric magnetic pulse, or EMP. One nuclear weapon detonated in near space would therefore melt down the entire electronic communications network of the United States.”

Such an event would destroy the U.S. economy and disrupt American society. There is, however, a far more serious result. We have in this country 103 nuclear reactors in power plants across the country. All of them depend on external supplies of electricity to power their water-coolant systems. Were those knocked out, we would have the prospect of more than 100 Chernobyl-size radioactive core meltdowns nationwide.

These nuclear power plants all have their own backup generators, but they would need time to get on line and, in many cases, their testing and maintenance have been neglected. So we would have a strong risk of many Chernobyls all over the country. “Thus,” said Caldicott, “a single EMP detonation in space, aimed against U.S. military space-based assets, could produce a truly cataclysmic outcome, and it would be very easy to do.”

Caldicott said there are serious plans to put nuclear reactors in space. They would eventually be used to power spacecraft on flights to other planets. She said a new plutonium-producing nuclear plant is being established in Idaho, and the plutonium fuel being produced there is not the regular plutonium-239, but the far more toxic plutonium-238.

Here is a frightening part. Most people think the Cold War is long over. Do we still have the specter of mutually assured destruction between the U.S. and Russia?

Caldicott notes that we have about 5,000 nuclear weapons while Russia has about 2,500 such weapons. The Northern Hemisphere contains only 240 major cities. “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has concluded that 40 nuclear weapons are targeted on New York City alone. There are probably 50 or 60 of them targeted on Washington, D.C. Every city and town in the United States is targeted with at least one H-bomb or thermonuclear weapon, and the Russians build really big H-bombs,” she said.

What makes this scenario super-frightening is the fact that the Russians lack an effective method of detecting an attack. “None of the Russian early-warning satellites work,” Caldicott said. “Therefore, the Russians are acutely worried that the United States doctrine of pre-emptive war is a real threat to them, and it makes them very paranoid because their satellites to provide them with better warning just do not work.”

She added that most Americans don’t realize the Russian nuclear system is in a dangerous state of disrepair. Ambassador Thomas Graham has stated we are in a white-knuckle situation over this.

In 1995, the world and the U.S. came within 10 seconds of nuclear obliteration, although that wasn’t generally known. In that year, Norway launched a missile near a U.S. Trident submarine. The Kremlin had been told this would happen, but forgot the heads up. Russian radar picked up the missile launch and believed they were being attacked by an American nuclear sub.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened “the football,” the bag holding the Russian nuclear launch codes. He had three minutes to decide whether to authorize an all-out nuclear response and was being urged to do so. Just 10 seconds before the three minutes expired, the Norwegian missile veered off course, and Yeltsin was notified. The account of this incident was published by The New York Times. The story was on the back page of the paper, not the front page.

What’s worse, it could all happen again, perhaps with calamitous results. Caldicott said a senior Russian military officer told her: “Helen, we’re so worried we could blow you up by mistake.”

Other very serious possibilities exist. Terrorists or extremists could possibly gain control of a missile-command center.

Dr. Caldicott commented: “This is the most urgent issue facing the human race. If America ever launched its 5,000 nuclear missiles and Russia its 2,500 nuclear missiles, it would probably be enough to create a nuclear winter or ‘dark fall.’ So much dust, debris and burned carbon material would be thrown into the atmosphere that plants would be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Most species of life would slowly freeze to death in the dark.”

Caldicott added: “What alarms me most of all is that nobody is talking any more about all this. The news reports on (last) Wednesday about the latest plans for space militarization will dangerously escalate tensions with Russia and China. The real moral issue for all people and all religions is whether creation itself will continue to survive, and the possibility that total catastrophe could happen is not low.”

From the June 8-14, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!