Great news. Our Nuclear Weapons Are Safe! At least that’s what the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget of the US Government says on page 104: “The Administration proposes $7.6 billion for Weapons Activities … to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent as described in the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of 2010.” [emphasis added] Unfortunately, just saying our nuclear weapons are safe doesn’t make it so. But that phrase has been uttered so often that it has had a hypnotic effect on the American public, rendering it complacent about the threat posed by the 20,000 nuclear weapons still in existence.
It is important to recognize that “safe” has a meaning within the vocabulary of the nuclear weapons complex that is very different from the common usage. As explained on DoD’s website, one aspect of nuclear safety means that, “There shall be positive measures to prevent nuclear weapons involved in accidents, incidents, or jettisoned weapons, from producing a nuclear yield.” In other words, when an ICBM blows up, safety is maintained so long as there isn’t a nuclear explosion. There are three other safety standards for nukes, but none of them deals with the catastrophic risk that an international crisis will spiral out of control, these weapons will be used, and civilization will be destroyed.
Accepting misleading words at their face value plays a key role in perpetuating the risk of a nuclear disaster in the post-Cold War world. One of the handouts from my Stanford seminar, “Nuclear Weapons, Risk, and Hope,” applies critical thinking to this and a number of other common misunderstandings. All of the handouts for that seminar are accessible on my Stanford website, free of charge.
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