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Atomic weapons still worrisome

This week marks the 61st anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Victims include more than 200,000 Japanese and 80,000 Americans that will develop cancer as a result of atomic testing, 15,000 of whom will die.

Today there are 27,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, with the destructive power of more than 100,000 Hiroshimas; 12,500 of these are actively deployed, and about half of these are on high alert, meaning that they can be launched and reach their targets within 45 minutes. The explosion of one nuclear warhead over the Portland metropolitan area would instantly kill about 375,000 people, fatally injure 400,000 others, and seriously injure 150,000 more.

Given the devastating powers of nuclear weapons, prevention of their use through abolition is critical. Unfortunately a number of events over the last five years have increased the likelihood of nuclear proliferation and the possibility of first strike use, including:

n U.S. rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties.

n The Bush administration's plans for possible first-strike use of nuclear weapons against Iranian nuclear reactors (which would kill 2.8 million people immediately and expose another 10 million in Iran, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to high levels of radiation).

n The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a proposal to build a nationwide complex of nuclear facilities to reprocess spent fuel from nuclear power reactors to extract plutonium for use as fuel, despite our failure to clean up reprocessing from the 1960s and 70s. Such plutonium could also be used to create new nuclear weapons.

n The 'Reliable Replacement Warhead' plan to develop 125 new nuclear weapons over the next 15 years.

n A deal to transfer nuclear technology to India, despite recent evidence linking Indian firms with the sale of missile technology to Iran and joint India/Iran military exercises.

On a positive note, Nuclear Free Zones have been established for Antarctica, the South Pacific, Latin America and Africa; Portland Mayor Tom Potter and the mayors of more than 80 U.S. cities (including San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta) have signed the Mayors for Peace Pledge to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons; and diplomacy has been successful in encouraging Libya and Brazil to halt their incipient nuclear weapons programs.

Global military spending is $950 billion. The U.S. spends $450 billion per year (including $17 billion on nuclear weapons; not including the costs of the Iraq War). Two-thirds of American scientists work in the military industrial complex. Such enormous outlays divert cash and intellectual power from attacking other problems facing Portland (persistent poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity), the United States (ailing educational and health care systems), and the world (environmental destruction, the debt crisis, hunger, and the AIDS epidemic). The $145 million Oregonian taxpayers contributed to nuclear weapons in 2006 could have paid for health insurance for 42,000 individuals. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, 'A nation that spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.'

I encourage readers to:

n Contact your representatives to support HR 373 and HR 950, which call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and to oppose the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the 'Reliable Replacement Warhead.'

n Call your senators to oppose the India nuclear deal.

n Urge your elected officials to stop pressuring the Japanese to abolish Article 9 of their Constitution (which prohibits military forces) and to hold the Department of Energy to its commitments to clean up the Hanford nuclear weapons facility, the largest contaminated nuclear site in the Western Hemisphere.

nDivest and refuse to buy products from companies involved in the development and production of nuclear weapons, such as Bechtel, IBM, and General Electric.

n And become active in organizations promoting peace.

Buckminster Fuller called August 6, 1945, 'the day the world began taking its final exam.' This is one test we cannot afford to fail.

Martin Donohoe, MD, is a Lake Oswego resident and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians

member and on the board of directors, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.