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General News    H3'ed 2/28/23

Tomgram: Joshua Frank, How a Nuclear Power Plant Became a Tool of War

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Tom Engelhardt
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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

From time to time in the last year, Vladimir Putin or one of his cronies has hinted that the Russians, pressed to the wall, might use a "tactical" nuclear weapon in Ukraine. And Russian military leaders have reportedly been discussing just such a possibility. After all, that country does have almost 2,000 of them and they're considered, after a fashion, "battlefield" weapons. In fact, that word "tactical" does sound reasonably mild, doesn't it? Who cares if some of them are so powerful that (if you'll excuse the image) they would leave the bombs the U.S. dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II in the" yes" dust of history.

And just the other day, to add a certain tactical edge to the nuclear issue, the Russian president announced that his country would halt its participation in the last major nuclear treaty still in effect with the U.S. So much, it seems, for the dust of the history, or at least the attempt to bring the most apocalyptic weapons ever created under any sort of control.

So, it remains possible that, with the war in Ukraine still showing no sign of winding down (as presidents Biden and Putin face off ever more directly against each other), we could experience what might be thought of as "the end of history." And as TomDispatch regular Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, a remarkable look at the horrifying mess the making of nuclear weapons can leave behind, points out today, Russian nukes aren't the only way Armageddon -- to use a Bidenesque word -- might arrive in Ukraine. But let him explain. Tom

Nuclear Armageddon Games in Ukraine
The Nuclear "War" in Ukraine May Not Be the One We Expect

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In 1946, Albert Einstein shot off a telegram to several hundred American leaders and politicians warning that the "unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." Einstein's forecast remains prescient. Nuclear calamity still knocks.

Even prior to Vladimir Putin's bloody invasion of Ukraine, the threat of a nuclear confrontation between NATO and Russia was intensifying. After all, in August 2019, President Donald Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, long heralded as a pillar of arms control between the two superpowers.

"Russia is solely responsible for the treaty's demise," declared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following the announcement. "With the full support of our NATO allies, the United States has determined Russia to be in material breach of the treaty and has subsequently suspended our obligations under the treaty." No evidence of that breach was offered, but in Trump World, no evidence was needed.

Then, on February 21st of this year, following the Biden administration's claims that Russia was no longer abiding by its obligations under the New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms accord between the two nations, Putin announced that he would end his country's participation.

In the year since Russia's initial assault on Ukraine, the danger of nuclear war has only inched ever closer. While President Biden's White House raised doubts that Putin would indeed use any of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ominously reset its Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest since its creation in 1947. Those scientific experts weren't buying what the Biden administration was selling.

"As Russia's war on Ukraine continues, the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the United States" stands in jeopardy," read a January 2023 press release from the Bulletin before Putin backed out of the agreement. "Unless the two parties resume negotiations and find a basis for further reductions, the treaty will expire in February 2026. This would eliminate mutual inspections, deepen mistrust, spur a nuclear arms race, and heighten the possibility of a nuclear exchange."

Of course, they were correct and, in mid-February, the Norwegian government claimed Russia had already deployed ships armed with tactical nukes in the Baltic Sea for the first time in more than 30 years. "Tactical nuclear weapons are a particularly serious threat in several operational scenarios in which NATO countries may be involved," claimed the report. "The ongoing tensions between Russia and the West mean that Russia will continue to pose the greatest nuclear threat to NATO, and therefore to Norway."

For its part, in October 2022, NATO ran its own nuclear bombing drills, designated "Steadfast Noon," with fighter jets in Europe's skies involved in "war games" (minus live weaponry). "It's an exercise to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective," claimed NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, but it almost seemed as if NATO was taunting Putin to cross the line.

And yet, here's the true horror story lurking behind the war in Ukraine. While a nuclear tit-for-tat between Russia and NATO -- an exchange that could easily destroy much of Eastern Europe in no time at all -- is a genuine, if frightening, prospect, it isn't the most imminent radioactive peril facing the region.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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