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PSR doctor questions Trident Renewal and calls to abolish all nuclear weapons worldwide

Posted by David C. Hall, MD, PSR Past President on May 16, 2011

The Pentagon and US Navy are planning to rebuild the Trident submarine nuclear weapons fleet over the next fifteen years at a cost likely to exceed $1 trillion over the life of the program. Currently eight of the fourteen Trident warships allowed under the START treaty homeport on Hood Canal at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington State. The other six homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia.

In what may well be an opening salvo announcing the rebuild of the Trident fleet, the Navy plans to build a new and expanded Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor next to the one currently servicing these warships. Price tag: $783 million. The Navy claims to need 400 operational days a year to load and unload missiles from the warships over the next 30-plus years, and they can only get 300 operational days from the current Explosives Handling Wharf. Public comment is solicited up through May 17, 2011 at

What goes unsaid is the impact of current treaty negotiations to reduce the number of warheads and launch vehicles. While Trident warships are patrolling the world's oceans at Cold War levels, the number of warheads on the Trident subs has probably been reduced by half according to what data is available in the public record. The Navy, however, wants to upgrade the missiles and warheads, so presumably will want more handling days available.

This at a time when across the country we are cutting back basic medical care for indigent children, more people are out of work than at any time since the Depression, and people continue to lose their homes.

And then there is the unimaginable devastation these weapons are designed to create. Hiroshima was leveled in 1945 by a 12 kiloton atomic bomb. Trident warships can carry W-76 warheads rated at 100 kilotons and W-88 warheads rated at 450 kilotons, up to 192 warheads on a single warship. A single Trident submarine warship has the capacity according to recent climatalogical calculations to black out the sun in an entire hemisphere for weeks to months, an event named “nuclear winter” by Carl Sagan and colleagues in the 1980's. What sane motives continue to compel us to rebuild this doomsday system? How can human freedom hope to survive once such a weapon is used?

A single Trident-launched warhead could create a fireball with the heat of the sun over an area that would incinerate the heart of any city, and then the blast, firestorms, and radiation would expand that zone in waves of  destruction over five miles and several generations.

On whose country would we deliver such wholesale killing, suffering, and environmental devastation? China would seem to be the principal target of the Pacific Trident warship fleet. We remember World War II, the Nazi holocaust, Stalinist Russia, and Mao Tse Tung's China – political and military catastrophes in themselves for people with any will to freedom and human rights. Yet there will be no democracy under nuclear fire. And if the United States is held responsible for the crime against humanity that a modern nuclear weapon would perpetrate, then what of the international backlash against us?

Imagine if the earthquake and tsunami assault on Japan had instead been caused by one or two nuclear weapons. The destruction could have been comparable with many more deaths, but what then would be the world's reaction against the perpetrator of such a crime? And where does it end?

This is not the world I want to leave for my grandchildren or their grandchildren.

Our world is much too interdependent and vulnerable to have its multifarious problems and injustices solved by military force, much less by weapons of mass destruction. We need national, international, and non-governmental institutions to broker negotiations across the panoply of threats to life on Earth.

It is time to outlaw and abolish nuclear weapons, not rebuild them. What is hopeful about abolishing nuclear weapons is that it is doable within a relatively short time frame, and it would propel other efforts at cooperative security and cooperative development to the benefit of all.

Our safety resides in our capacities to get along with each other. What sense does it make to threaten China daily with incineration by a Trident-launched hydrogen bomb when China now manufactures half of our consumer goods and holds nearly a trillion dollars of our debt? How about instead of spending another $783 million for a redundant and outmoded facility to service (illegal) weapons of mass destruction we instead invest in securing fissile materials worldwide, pass a nuclear weapons convention to abolish them, and develop cultural and educational exchanges with China, Russia, Iran and even North Korea to empower mutual understanding. That was a huge part of what helped to end the Soviet era of domination in Eurasia and bring an end to the Cold War.

David C. Hall, MD
Past President, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility ( and
Member, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (
Seattle, WA

(Information on the Navy's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 2nd Explosives Handling Wharf (EHW2) and ways to comment on the EIS are available on the Navy's website for the project: Comments have been extended to May 17, 2011.)


Daniel Kerlinsky MD said ..

The Trident submarine-launched warheads have already been redesigned and redeployed in what was the biggest upgrade in post-Cold War nuclear weapons technology.

June 24, 2011
Steven Starr said ..

Dr. Hall touches the heart of the nuclear dilemma . . . the need for dramatic rather than incremental change, beginning with the renunciation of nuclear weaponry and the clear advocacy for the abolition of existing nuclear arsenals which threaten continued human existence. There is a profound disconnect between the political leaders who push for continued modernization and expansion of nuclear arsenals, and the scientists and physicians who warn that virtually any nuclear war will lead to global nuclear famine. The political discussion about nuclear weaponry is still using a 20th century approach, which considers only the numbers of weapons and not the consequences of their use. We must demand a change in this approach, a 21st century awakening to the global environmental consequences of nuclear war. We cannot afford to accept the idea that nuclear deterrence will work perfectly, forever, when a single failure could lead to human extinction. It is time to recognize that the human species is threatened by nuclear war, and if we are to survive as a species, we must eliminate nuclear weapons.

May 19, 2011
John Rachow said ..

Dr. Hall's points are made succinctly both in terms of simple math that should be persuasive in itself but also in terms of eloquent compassion for humankind and life. Maintaining this extraordinary force level of submarine launched nuclear missiles is far beyond any calculus of "deterrence." That this is not publicly recognized by U.S. leaders is unfathomable. So why is the U.S. so bent on being over-armed? In " Tangled Web" by James Stewart, analysis of the Bernie Madoff case illustrates that simply because Madoff was so respected and perceived to be powerful that even the SEC could not question what was blatantly too good to be true. In the case of the U.S. nuclear weapons triad, the opposite seems to be operative: that something so bad could not be true. "Tangled Web" ends with the reminder from Adolph Hitler's "Mein Kampf" that people "more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie." We witnessed in 2009-10 remarkable machinations to perpetuate the big lie from the apparent gutting of the Nuclear Posture Review to the remarkable concessions given up in the end game to get an incremental place holder treaty ratified. We must not be falsely satisfied with new START. Nothing is really settled in this matter. Thanks again to Dr. Hall for pulling away the veil from the nuclear big lie.

May 17, 2011
Martin Schilde said ..

Supremely well written article. This needs to be mandatory reading for any policy maker, if only the Pentagon would listen to something that surpasses their autonomy and supposed and self-declared sovereignty.

May 16, 2011

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