The University of Nuclear Bombs 

The University of California is once again bidding to manage Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab at a time when the threat of nuclear war is rising.

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click to enlarge Nobu Hanaoka says nuclear disarmament has never been more pressing. - PHOTO BY GEORGE BAKER, JR.
  • Photo by George Baker, Jr.
  • Nobu Hanaoka says nuclear disarmament has never been more pressing.


The display omits any reference to Lawrence's role in founding Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and his key role in promoting the nuclear weapons testing program in the Nevada desert and in the Marshall Islands, a string of coral atolls in the South Pacific. The program drove thousands of Marshallese from their homeland. Radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing killed more than 15,000 Americans and caused at least 80,000 cases of cancer, a 2002 National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control study concluded.

It also fails to mention the UC's role in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events marked by grisly new forms of death, which also showed the world for the first time that humans had developed the capacity to destroy life on Earth as we know it. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki detonations were so bright, survivors would later recall, that the sun appeared to have exploded in the center of their cities. Many of the victims simply vanished, the outlines of their bodies permanently etched as white shadows in black nimbus on streets and walls. Among the survivors, tens of thousands were covered in burns, missing limbs, or dragging their skin behind them on the devastated streets. An oily black rain showered each city and its hinterlands with radioactive fall-out, claiming thousands more lives through cancers and other radiation-induced sicknesses.

Although the UC itself does not acknowledge its role in this devastation, living monuments still exist in its midst. Rev. Nobu Hanaoka is one of numerous survivors of the atomic bombings — known as Hibakusha — who later put down roots in the Bay Area. Shortly after his mother and sister died from leukemia, he heard from a doctor that he would be unlikely to reach his 10th birthday. For several months, the trauma induced him to stop speaking altogether.

But Hanaoka would later find his voice and join other Hibakusha in speaking out passionately for the elimination of nuclear weapons. While working as a pastor at churches around the Bay Area, he also helped bring together survivors of all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle — Hopi and Navajo uranium miners, nuclear weapons testing downwinders, nuclear facility workers, residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many others — to call for nuclear abolition.

From his perspective, the need for nuclear disarmament has never been more pressing. "The nuclear powers have started reducing the numbers in their arsenals, but they have also been modernizing them, making them stronger and more powerful," he warned.

Modern nuclear weapons, such as the United States' B83 bombs, use a thermonuclear process far more powerful than the fission chain reaction that ignited the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. A B83 carries an explosive power equaling 1.2 million tons of TNT, making it 80 times more powerful than the bomb that detonated on Aug. 6, 1945.

The possibility that such a weapon may be used is increasing. In January 2017, the month President Trump was sworn into office, the US Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the "Doomsday Clock," a symbolic countdown to the end of the world, to two and a half minutes to midnight. It marked the first time since 1953 — after thermonuclear bomb tests in the U.S. and the Soviet Union — that humanity has been this close to global disaster. Heightening tensions around the globe have enhanced the possibility of either an accidental or intentional nuclear war.

If the U.S. were to participate in such a war, it would do so using weapons from labs managed by the University of California.


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