tv Book Discussion on Almighty CSPAN December 27, 2016 9:58pm-11:16pm EST
impact of the nuclear weapons testing in the marshall islands where the largest nuclear bombs were tested and by checking in on the people that lived downwind from the sites of where the book conveys the fear and danger of the nuclear weapons in the discussion of proliferation. this pretty well understood as long as some nations have nuclear weapons, other nations will want them. and that's where things become terrifying. president of bob put it best when he said if we believe the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable in some way we are admitting that the use is inevitable. by probing the questions of the humankind's possible self-destruction, it's on the "washington post"'s list of notable books. [applause]
>> good evening, everyone. how is everybody doing tonight? [applause] >> thanks for coming out. i'm the host and curator of the weekly reading series. we are here with the great authors and readers like yourself, so i appreciate you all coming together for a fantastic evening. before we get started, let's turn off our cell phones. if you want to do the social media thing, you are welcome to do so. i want to let you know that we will be signing books after the reading and have copies for sale in the corner. so please, stick around and
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back here to the author of the important new book about living with nuclear arsenal almighty courage resistance and existential peril in the nuclear age. he's a reporter for the "washington post," and he's written on a wide variety of topics, news stories, narratives and profiles on local, national and foreign assignments. he's from buffalo, new york, and he lives in washington, d.c.. tonight, he'll be in conversation with helen young, a tv news producer who is currently in production on the documentary nuclear insecurities. without further ado, please give them a warm welcome. [applause] >> hell ar -- how are you in wht
motivated you to write this book packs to the the >> of sexually happenstance. a colleague working on security covered a piece on how the nuclear arsenal in the u.s. was aging. while she was working on this piece, an activist broke into the weapons facility and that story doesn't fit into what she was reporting on but she thought someone should write about it so it made its way to me at the "washington post." so i wrote on a range of topics. it came to me and it seems like a curious story and it was just going to be a normal article about an exchange of a catholic sister and two of her fellow pacifists that got into the security in the u.s.. the facility we store all of our
highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons currently in a warhead somewhere. as i started to report on that and educate myself on that topic to tell the story in a responsible way i realized it was a far larger story to tell in the context of that was needed in the normal kind of feature story that would allow. and i think what motivated me initially is how much i didn't know about it. ..
it is a very important place in the united states. tell us more about what it is. >> this facility they broke into is called the y12 national security complex. it sounds like it's doing useful things and some could say it is doing useful things. it is the site at which we enrich all of the uranium for the bomb that was dropped on hiroshima. it was created during the manhattan project to enrich uranium. that was its first mission and the mission since then has changed and diversified but it's always been in support of the arsenal. we have machines work for nuclear weapons, they no longer
enrich uranium but they store it and that's what's got the facility that stores at all. >> that's the highly enriched uranium facility. >> yes. >> so the facility that they actually were able to reach is a very important one, right? >> yes it's called the highly enriched uranium material facility. it's just a big storehouse for the type of fuel we use in an atomic bomb, tons of it, hundreds of tons. the exact amount is classified, but a lot of people say it is the greatest stockpile on the planet. it's a pretty important and dangerous building. >> the three people who are really at the heart of your film, the three activists, you begin your book with this very dramatic scene of them preparing to undertake their action.
let's talk about who these three people are. >> sure. the three activists that the book focuses on, michael wally and greg, they're all lifelong christians and activists, peace activist. sister meagan was 82 at the time she is 86 now and still going strong. she she was born in manhattan, raised in manhattan, she was born during the depression and grew up as the manhattan project was getting going at columbia university. she became a catholic sister and sister of the holy child of jesus and she spent 40 years teaching in africa. she was building schools, teaching ideology in nigeria. when she decided to retire from her work in africa, she came back to the u.s. and instead of, she decided to break into one of the most secure facilities on
the planet. her two compatriots who is a vietnam war veteran and has lived in washington for about 20 years now at the catholic worker house in washington and greg is from iowa and he is a long time anti- nuclear war activists who have committed actions like this many times before. he creates these intrepid acts of civil resistance which involve the weapons facility. this particular action at y12 was his sixth action. he served multiple years in prison for committing these actions. the three of them came together and decided this was the time and place to do it and they hiked over a wooded ridge in the middle of the night, four years ago this weekend. they got as far as they did and
they are the reason we are all sitting here right now. >> now when the story broke, obviously there's a tremendous, it was shocking because y12 is where other countries bring their nuclear materials for safekeeping so as you detail in the book, there were four separate hearings that were held how could an 82-year-old catholic nun trespass on this facility so when the story broke , there's a large amount of interest in getting to the bottom of how this could happen. there were four separate congressional hearings and then you did a lot of great reporting on what went wrong that night at y12 on july 28, 2012 that allowed this to happen. what did what did go wrong? >> well everything that could go
wrong up to a point went wrong. this is a site that is run by private contractors, the department of energy, this custodian of warheads that are not deployed, and these contractors that run the site there was a complacency at the site, it was a site that was dealing with a thousand false alarms every day caused by fear and foliage and so when these three activists broke in, they were breaking into a site that was so used to the alarm going off that it didn't really matter that they were going off even in the middle of the night. so despite the fact that the alarm going off showed a pathway of intrusion, they were dismissed. that was because of this culture that was used to false alarms.
that's really the main reason. they were also, it came out that the security camera that was supposed to cover the area where they were intruding was not working at all and in fact there were multiple cameras around this area that were not working and so this was set up to happen basically. >> wasn't it true that the cameras were not working for six months. >> yes there was a maintenance backlog for all of these security malfunctions. cameras wouldn't be fixed for months, obviously there was a false alarm issue that was not being taken care of and so these maintenance issues with language i don't think anyone really thought that anything like this would happen so everything got lost in paperwork and bureaucracy and these activists just happen to capitalize on this site that had gotten very
lax in its security posture. >> given the defense of how serious the security breach was, we've talked to a lot of experts, what could have happened if these were not pacifists but a group of terror. >> there are some people, some security experts who say with the time these activists had outside the building, if they they had wanted to cause mayhem, they could have brought conventional forces with them, blown a hole hole in the wall of this facility, stolen highly enriched uranium, and i have to stress, the chances of this scenario are extremely small, but if you get to properly form tons of uranium you can take a 50-pound chunk and drop it from 6 feet on another chunk and cause a nuclear explosion. the chances of that happening are very slim, but you could
argue that the chances of an 82-year-old non- breaking into the most secure facility in the time zone is pretty slim too. people bent on mayhem could get into this building and cause that kind of destruction. this building was designed to withstand the impact of a jet so whether or not a band of terrace could have an explosion that could get into the building is highly unlikely, but for myself i always go back to what was pretty unlikely that these people got as far as they did so i think one has to think about those nightmare scenarios. even on the last magnitude, breaking into the site could have caused harm to the activist, there could've been a misunderstanding and overreaction and people could've gotten killed. they worked their way through fences through a zone of this facility that was a lethal force
zone. that's authorize for the guard force there could have shot him dead and there were signs posted saying if you're in here that could happen. that's another kind of scenario that could have happened. >> let's broaden the subject a little bit and talk about nuclear weapons in general. you do give this very comprehensive analysis of the whole issue. how many nuclear weapons do we have in the world right now? and how many in the united states? >> does everyone have a drink? >> all told there's about 15000 nuclear weapons on the planet right now. of course they are divided into weapons that are awaiting dismantlement and weapons that are retired and their divided into weapons that are deployed and nondeployed. the total number were added 15000 about 92% of those are owned by the u.s. and russia, but right now as we speak, the u.s. has about 2000 nuclear
weapons that are deployed which means they are sitting on the tops of missiles ready to fly, both in the upper plains region of the united states in north dakota and montana wyoming nebraska and colorado and in submarines that are patrolling the pacific and the atlantic. loaded and ready to go. >> the closest one to new york, guess it would depend where the submarines are in the atlantic right now. >> nuclear weapons? full-scale nuclear weapons? no. >> in connecticut they make and manufacture submarines occasionally, but the closest might be in the ocean right now. >> what is the system in the u.s. for securing our nuclear weapons. you do some really great reporting about the contractors versus the federal government over spears. talk about that.
>> so when nuclear weapons are not on a missile were not on a bomber or not on a submarine, they are the custody of the department of energy which i didn't even know when i began reporting on this. i thought the department of energy dealt with the power grid and renewable energy, but one of their main missions is nuclear weapons and nuclear material. as has been the case for many decades, this is true of a lot of the government, we hire federal contractors to do this kind of highly specialized work and so there are plenty of sites around the country that technically belong to the doe but are run by for-profit corporations who kind of police themselves and do their own oversight and cut corners
because they are for-profit corporations. i would argue that if there's anywhere you don't want to be cutting corners it's protecting this type of material, but this is a system that's in place. most of the sites are run by these companies. either the management and operation of the sites themselves or the security force, the manpower force for physicals security. >> right, and you also detailed, because of the way this system is set up with the private contractors in the federal managers there are some glaring cases of waste and inefficiency, case in point the new facility that's going up at y12. tell us about that. >> so this site in question that these activists broke into, one of the reasons they chose the site was because of the construction project that has been underway for years now and it's called the uranium processing facility and they
knew the site was planned, they knew it was over budget and running behind schedule and that constructing this facility was, in a sense, one way the u.s. was reinvesting in its nuclear arsenal which they object too. they said they're gonna break into the site to call attention to the project which was supposed to be $3 million dollars originally and then it became $6 billion now people say it might cost $20 billion. it's been quite the slow-motion catastrophe. they've spent tens of millions of dollars on the design phase of the facility before they realized that they designed a facility with ceilings that were too short for the machinery that had to go in there. there's really been no big penalty for the contractors in charge of this. it's construction project that
has run amok. apart from being a waste of taxpayer dollars, these activists who broke into the facility say we should not be building these buildings anyway because we don't need state-of-the-art facilities for weapons we should be getting rid of. >> right, i think you you say in the book that originally the cost of the uranium processing facility was supposed to be 600000 - $1 billion in 2005 and then it grew to 19 billion then they found out that the ceiling was 13 feet too low and that design defect cost something like a half million dollars. >> i think more than that. >> yes, plenty of people have used that as a way to criticize this contractor system, but if you have for-profit contractors running the show without proper oversight, these kinds of problems are going to be made. >> speaking about money, the united states is about to make a
huge investment in its nuclear arsenal. tell us about that. >> so we are long past due for refurbishing both our warheads, the bombs themselves and the delivery system which, there's a lot of terminology in the field that is kind of absurd and i find myself using it, the delivery system is the thing that brings him to where they're going. the missiles, the aircraft, that kind of thing. again were long past due for refurbishing them. the last time we had a wholesale recapitalization and modernization was in the 80s, and so if for going to continue to possess them they have to work and be safe and secure. of course that's what the government is saying. there's an estimate that says if were going to be spending
$1 trillion over the next 30 years to do that, to make new submarines and new bombers a new missiles and to refurbish these warheads and a lot of people think that is an absurd amount, that if we have pledged to get rid of them, which we did when we signed the non- proliferation treaty 45 years ago, committing to spend a trillion dollars is not the good-faith move so there are plenty of people including ex- officials in washington who say this is an absurd amount and there's a better way to do this and do we need to be able to deliver weapons by sea, by air, by land or can we go to just submarines or submarines and bombers. why do we need 450 missile silos, can we get rid of some of this and still meet our security objective?
so i don't think nuclear weapons did a lot of press these days but if it does it's because of the price tag. the money is what can get through to people who are not otherwise paying attention. >> i was going to ask you, we just got through the primary season and we are in the midst of a presidential campaign and yet we haven't heard very much about this, at least from the candidates about this trillion dollar potential investment. why do you think that is? >> i think it's for a couple of reasons. i should first note that during a presidential campaign, we revert to whose fingers on the button. as a society, as a culture, we kind of recognize subconsciously that that is the preeminent power that we are electing someone to possess, ultimately. these nuclear weapons that we have are essentially under the control of one person, the commander-in-chief, who is the person who can be the sole
authorizer of the use of these weapons. it's funny how we might not be talking in detail about them but when we talk about certain candidates we talk about are we comfortable with this person having a finger on the button. of course there is no button. the symbolism is there. i think that's constructive. as far as these two candidates currently, trump has said and it will come to no surprise that he's been contradictory about this, he has said nuclear weapons are deplorable and i would be the last to use them, but at the same time he has said maybe south korea and japan should have their own which flies in the face of many decades of nonproliferation ideology so, in a way way he has kind of made some people talk i'm start talking about it because of these inflammatory letters. the only time i've heard hillary clinton talk about the money and the modernization is someone, i can't remember what organization they were from but they found
her saying do you think we should be spending $1 trillion on this and she was shaking hands and moving quickly and she said that doesn't make much sense and i'll have to think about it and kept going. that's the only time someone has asked her directly or in front of the camera about it although i will say that the official democratic platform that we just arrived at last week said that while we are going to maintain his arsenal we really need to look at the funding of it. it is they are on the democratic platform. as as why we don't talk about it more, i know this is a long answer, but i think there are three reasons that we don't really talk about it as a culture anymore and i was born in 1983. i don't remember the cold war. there are generations who went through duck and cover and nuclear weapons, when they were i die with the soviet union, it
kind of mattered more to everyone. i did not have that kind of experience growing up. i think that's one reason, there were multiple generations that were not raised in a generation where you could be annihilated at any minute. i think that's one thing. the other is that what these weapons can do is so immense that it's almost abstract and they have not been demonstrated in any way in many decades. they have not been used in combat in 71 years. they have not been detonated above ground since 1963. the consequences of the use of these weapons is abstract and kind of hidden at this point, and the third and final reason, and this is kind of the wall that i ran into and maybe you did to, it is a highly technical complicated classified round.
it is not an easy topic to really understand and to get information from, and it has been like that manhattan project so you have too kind of fight your way through a lot of secretive information and there's also a lot of jargon. the kind of language and vocabulary that is used to talk about nuclear weapons kind of makes it opaque and makes them seemed like machines and not devices that can kill millions of people. i think for those reasons, they are easy to ignore or easy to not be exposed to. >> i do think, there's been some studies to look at why people are not engaged on this issue, and one of the points that was raised is that people are paralyzed by it. as you pointed out, the the issue is so immense and difficult to wrap your head around that people think all of
the politicians or somebody at a higher pay grade deal with this, not me. the other thing to is i think that nuclear weapons, they found that some videogames use nuclear weapons, and so people kind of acquaint them with using a weapon to zap your enemy and it's looked on positively in some instances. >> i think if you look at movies that came out during the cold war, nuclear weapons were always the thing that were terrible. you think about the day after on television, and after the cold war, nuclear weapons become the devices that save the day or that terrace have and we disarmed so in popular culture there is this narrative. one other thing that's important and this is a nonscientific conclusion that i came to myself
from working on this which is that i think every generation maybe has enough brain space, and were talking about being paralyzed, has enough brain space and i think for my generation, and maybe generate younger generations it's been climate change and is feeling that we are moving past the point of no return. i think that's enough to think about, and if you want to throw on top of that the fact that actually we could be extinguished instantly instead of gradually, that's going to run your whole day if you think about it. i don't fault people for not thinking a lot about it. the last thing i will say about that is, you talk about people letting the government take care of it, but there's plenty of people in congress who just have no idea. i forget who did this, they
would find politician and say how many nuclear weapons do we have any answer were not right. there are people that should know this that don't. these are people, elected officials were charge of funding and not quite sure how many we have. that's disturbing. >> one thing that most of us do know is that the number of nuclear weapons has dropped dramatically since the cold war. at the height of the cold war we had something like 60000. >> close to 70000. >> so my question is this, we have a reduced stockpile. has the cost of maintaining that stockpile dropped with the numbers. >> it has not. it has gone up if were talking in constant dollars, adjusting for inflation, it's gone up. so the volume has gone down but the cost to maintain them and modernize them has gone up. i think that was concerned that
any normal tax pick paying citizen has heard there's been a lot of great work done by nonproliferation folks in and out of the government to decrease the number of warheads on the planet and that's really good and important work. the u.s. government is very fond of saying we have reduced our stockpile to 85% since the height. that's good work being done, but right now because of this modernization program, the warheads that we do have we are introducing, were making them better were making them more precise and more customizable and so you could say that even though the number has gone down, the capability of them is being more and more refined. you could argue that the work is continuing at a pace even though there is 85% reduction in total stockpile.
let's talk a little bit about the capability of modern-day nuclear weapons. you give a very interesting example of the bomb in hiroshima and how much that material was used in that bomb. does it compare, i have it here the bomb that dropped and killed 160,000 people in one swoop used 141 pounds of ag you and only 2 pounds underwent. [inaudible] compare that to modern-day weapons, how powerful are they? >> so the bomb that fell had that total amount of highly enriched uranium and the amount that actually underwent splitting of atoms was about 2 pounds so you can destroy a city, you need all of that
uranium but the amount that really detonates was 2 pounds of it. it's kind of extraordinary. the most powerful nuclear warhead that we deploy right now is 20 times as powerful. you might argue that the one that was dropped is sufficient to, but we have weapons that can do that 20 times over. we used to have far more powerful weapons too. we've detonated weapons in the pacific that were a thousand times that power. we used to have far greater, in terms of yields, but still the most powerful one is 20 times the force. >> i just want to pick up on the climate issue because you talked
about the house to many people today are engaged in that, but in the book you make a connection between climate change and its connection for potential nuclear war. let's talk about that. >> the example that was used in the book is india and pakistan which are both nuclear armed states. you talk to most security experts in washington and they think there is some kind of nuclear war care and it starts there with opponents that are growing in size and historically not good friends and who have territory between them that is disputed, and the person that i quote in the book is talking about the melting of glaciers and the availability of fresh water, the health and agriculture and the occasion to fight over food and water in that area, that sparks a
conventional military exchange that could escalate into a nuclear exchange. there are climatologists that say that if 100 nuclear weapons are exchanged in regional warfare in india and pakistan, it could kill 2 billion people, not because of that nation but because of the set and debris that's thrown into the atmosphere that affects global agriculture. there are a lot of people trying to make noise and remind people that even though two countries might exchange nuclear weapons, it affects the whole planet and we should treat it as such. that's one instance of how changing climate could inflame tensions that lead to conventional conflict which could be bad for everyone. >> aren't the scientists saying that a regional war between india and pakistan and would essentially create a mini a stage for the rest of the world, affecting us here. >> yes, it's the the whole concept that carl talked about in the 80s.
it would be nuclear winter and there's 15 thousands of these on the planet and you just have to set off 100 and billions of people would be at risk because of the atmospheric effect. >> throughout the book there is a theme of secrecy that you talk about and there was one portion we're talking about the manhattan project which of course was a secret project since we were trying to create the bomb and beat the nazis to the bomb. the level of secrecy was intense. you talk about the high school girls who were hired to work there to operate the machinery, but they were thinking they were actually making ice cream. however ,-comma what was interesting to me in the book was that you found even today this secrecy continues to
pervade why 12. talk about that a little bit. >> it's always been a very secretive rom. the modern classification system classifying information started during the manhattan project because we had to protect the secrets. it was actually the secrecy of that that motivated, that first kind of watched itself, growing up in morningside heights, she grew up in a building full of physicists who were working on this project and she recalled as a young girl, people talking about secret work and someone's father across the hall is working on something but he can't talk about it to his wife and children and she remembers thinking that doesn't make any sense and anything that is that secretive must not be a good thing. that motivated her from the get-go. the u.s. has been a lot more open and transparent since then.
we do a decent job being as transparent about our stockpile numbers, about our policy of using them are not using them, but still it's getting information is like pulling teeth. i had to file i share of freedom of information request to get information from the department of energy and one in particular that i filed, i filed it in 2013 or 2014 and it took two years to get a response and i was asking for document. i got the document, it took you two years, i got it, but was 100 pages in every single one was blacked out. it it took them two years to give me a completely redacted document. i think that illustrates the bureaucracy of it, the the slow-moving nature of it but also the fact that there's still this information that is
withheld, even today including in a city that was eventually fabricated to support a facility that was broken into. in oak ridge tennessee they have a festival and it's still a place where they went to trial and had to do jury selection. they're trying to figure out if they have any connection to the site. if they do they can be part of the jury. i was there and i was asking do you have anyone connected to the site. yes, my father and my uncle and they said what they do there and they say i'm not really sure. this is in 2013 so it still very much a secretive realm. it's hard to get information and that was a motivating factor. this should not be secret.
you can't have intelligent citizen if the government keeps information to make decisions from them. >> let's circle back, the action that they took that night, tell us about that. >> those actions are in intrepid civil resistance that began in 1980. philip and dan and others decided that what was necessary in order to call public attention to nuclear weapons was breaking into these facilities. this was just before reagan was elected in 1980 and there had been many sins then. the one that i detail on the book was the most recent one in 2012. the idea was to take the words in the book of isaiah, in the bible which is that we should
transform devices of war into devices of peace and that was the mantra that these activists were trying to in flash the word of god, the word of the prophet isaiah which is that were actually to go into these weapons sites and start chipping away. it's symbolic in some way but it's also literal. they brought sledgehammers with them. they weren't trying to get into the building but they were chipping away at the foundation because they believe the words of isaiah are something that people should be doing in real life. in their minds, that was the first step in transforming this highly funded operation into a place that doesn't manufacture and maintain bombs, but maybe manufactures and maintains things for peaceful reasons.
so this was kind of the latest in the movement which began in 1980. >> in my film i have two actions that i look at, both the one that is in the book and the earlier one that occurred in 2009 at the largest amount most important weapons base in the united states which is a submarine base in seattle that has 1300 warheads. in that case, they broke into the base and were able get where the nuclear weapons were stored in it turns out that action inspired sr. meagan to take her actions. >> that's kind of how it works. i make this heavy-handed point in the book, it's a chain reaction among people.
a nuclear weapon is a chain reaction among atoms. it's something that far outpaces the size of the atom. you can look at people the same way. individual actions can prompt others to take action. so sister and montgomery it was in the action and montgomery state, she was at her trial and said this is amazing, i have to do this myself and she went and did it a couple years later. >> what's interesting is in both cases the activists in the trial, they tried to raise the same defense and in both cases they were shut down. >> so the action, the breaking into a place as one part of it but the other part is the actual trial. i think i can safely say on behalf of these activists that it's important to try to get these issues into a court of law because they believe they are
acting in accordance of a higher law and that it's the u.s. that's doing something illegal by threatening to display these. some of the arguments they tried to bring into court are things like the justification defense, that they had to act because it was a citizen in a country that was creating a war crime. they bring up that we had to ask because there is eminent danger. of course these have been thrown out in pretrial hearings by any judge, but they do really believe that they are the ones that are complying with law by doing these illegal things, that is their duty as citizens to object and they believe this is rooted in the nürnberg principal that were crafted that if your country is doing something
illegal you should stand up and object to it. that's kind of what they would do during the trial. >> interestingly enough, ramsey clark testified in pretrial hearings in both cases and in the case of the people out on the west coast, there is a nuclear summary captain who talks about how he feels now that he's retired, he thinks that using one of these weapons does violate international and humanitarian law because the weapons cannot be contained. they cannot discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. they destroy the environment. they are disproportionately horrible. at any rate, they tried to raise these defenses in both cases. >> nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction that
are not bound by international law. that is really interesting, you ban all of those slightly lesser weapons of mass destruction but you don't band the most destructive. you're right. the lack of being able to control what these weapons do in time and space, as i mentioned earlier you can have two countries that exchange nuclear weapons but it affects civilians and people outside of those countries and one might argue that it disrupts the law of war and they should be illegal under international law. they are not yet illegal. >> i want to move a little bit closer to modern times. president obama gave that speech in prague where he committed the united states to pursuing a world without nuclear weapons and many believe that one him the nobel peace prize. how do you assess progress since then on the issue?
>> i think it's mixed. he is certainly, president obama has had nuclear weapons on his brain since he was in college but he went to columbia, 1 million people marched in central park when he was at columbia against nuclear weapons in 1982. he wrote his senior thesis on nuclear weapons and when he got to the senate decades later, he was very interested. he would travel with other senators to russia and former soviet states and you could tell he was very concerned about the protection of this material. and so, he chose as the topic for his first speech abroad in 2009 that we should be seeking the peaceful security of a world without nuclear weapons. he did win a piece part price because of that but the citation [inaudible] within a year, in order to get
the new treaty ratified with russia, he essentially had to endorse this modernization plan otherwise the senate which is republican-controlled would not ratify this treaty. that was a compromise. he said okay, if you ratify this i will say yes we should reinvest. for someone who seems so peace minded and so aware of what nuclear weapons can do, he presided over this decision to recommit to them. at the same time, it looks like he's going to be the first president not to have another nation of the world join the nuclear club and a lot of people give him credit for the iran deal which we could talk about till the cows come home, the good good and bad of that, but at the very least it appears to be working in terms of preventing iran from getting a nuclear weapon in a matter of months which was the case beforehand and limit that time
to ten or 15 years. there's a lot of people who think that's a great idea. he's also hosted nuclear security summits which were designed to bring leaders of the world to conferences to talk about securing this material. he has done a lot as president to keep the world somewhat focused on this but at the same time, a lot of people, including activists say it doesn't mean anything because you are endorsing this recommitment to these weapons that they think we should get rid of. i think he's talked to most people and they think it's mixed, but better than a president who wasn't paying any attention at all. >> , time do we have? >> we have time for a couple more. >> okay so in the book you travel to the marshall islands
and you talk about a lawsuit that is now underway. first of all let's talk about the marshall islands. >> i mentioned we used to do testing in the pacific and we did them in the marshall islands which is an island nation between hawaii, australia and japan. for 12 years we did all of our big nuclear testing there because it was so remote and it was off people's radar and if you were to parcel out the power, the total power of these weapons that we detonated there evenly over 12 years, it was the equivalent of setting off 1.6 hiroshima bombs every day for 12 years. that's kind of hard to wrap your head around, but that's what we did. we were testing weapons of such size that the lights from these explosions was seen thousands of miles away in japan.
the light is just insane. fallout from these explosions was detected in cattle in tennessee. these are kind of biblical powerful nuclear weapons. anyway, we did that for 12 years you would imagine it's not very good for the people who happen to be living there, and all these years later, the marshall islands decided to sue the u.s. and other nuclear arms states and not for compensation because we paid compensation to them to say were sorry for what we didn't hear some money, but they they filed this lawsuit a couple years ago on principle and they said, we are pretty unique in the world because we have felt what nuclear war feels like. these detonations that we conducted, they said we believe that gives us some moral and legal authority to sue the nuclear arms nation for
noncompliance. we signed this in the late 60s and it says exchange for nations not pursuing their own nuclear weapons is that nuclear arms states will get rid of their. >> the grand bargain. >> that has not happened. we reduce the stockpile, but it's been 40 plus years and we have not reached any disarmament. so the marshall arm islands said enough is enough. organa file these lawsuits that every nuclear's arms nation, and so i brought the marshall islands into my book because i think it's an under told story. i don't remember learning about it in history class. i was so floored by the testing we did there i just thought it should be part of the story but in addition to that it made sense because they are alleging the u.s. involved with the
treaty just like the other three were alleging that we are not complying with the disarming and the marshall islands felt the same thing that our nations are not in good faith disarming and so were going to sue them. i kind of felt connected tissue between the small nation in the pacific and these three activists who took this action. >> that brings us to the treaty that you just brought up, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty which is the treaty that made this grand bargain, the nuclear weapon states promised to give it up in exchange for the non- nuclear states not developing theirs. every five years it's reviewed and last year was the review conference which you covered and you write in the book that you take us inside the review
conference and you write, you describe it as diplomats and agitators colliding for the first time in five years. tell us what happened at that review conference. >> so this treaty has been around for decades, but every five years they get together to review progress. how are we doing, are we reaching the goals we set for ourselves and so this latest one was in may of last year. at the same time the marshall islands delegations were there and they were trying to move things forward and agitate and they were kind of twofold goals of this review conference and one is to assess progress and one is to come up with a list of action items to further this treaty somehow. that was somehow the goal of it and the goal is to write a
document that prescribes what will be done in the future and you can only make this document if every single delegation, there's 191 delegations, everyone has to agree. there was to agree. there was one country that objects to this document then it scrapped and you have to wait another five years to have an official to do list. in this past may, a kind of fell apart. there's lots of negotiation and discussions about language and who's responsible for what and who's acting in good faith. at the end of it, the u.s. and canada objected and said we can't find off on this document. >> there is a cliffhanger regarding a nuclear weapons rezone in the middle east. >> yes, and this is "getting real" long so we'll go somewhere else after this and i'm having to take your question but the
thing that tripped everything up is there were countries that this review can conference that wanted to put language into this document saying we need to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the middle east so, over the years we have done piecemeal regional bands on nuclear weapons, there's no nuclear weapons by in international agreement in africa so this was kind of the next step. countries like egypt were saying we want to start that process to arrive at the span in that region and we want to do it really, really fast. the problem with that is israel has nuclear weapons, although they have not publicly admitted to it, they have about 80 nuclear nuclear weapons. they are the only nation in the middle east that is a nuclear armed state. of course the u.s. is a strong
ally with israel. they weren't officially there. anyway, this middle east free zone was the thing that tripped everything up. it was other middle eastern nations wanting this language in their and allies of israel saying this is moving too fast and all regional actors have to be at the table and were not in agreements one the last day of this four-week process, this painstaking process having to do with saying here our next steps to getting rid of nuclear weapons, it all fell apart so we to wait another five years to get back together and say can we come up together with something that can further this treaty that has been languishing for 40 plus years. it was very dispiriting for a lot of people, both activists and officials. this was a chance to take concrete steps forward and that's not to say that work isn't being done in spite of it,
but it was a very defeating thing to watch happen. >> i will end on this. there is a new movement, i think it's 127 countries have signed off. >> the humanitarian pledge. >> yes. >> tell us about it. >> there are 100 plus countries that are sick of the u.s. and other nuclear arms states that dragging basically saying there are none that should have them but we need them for our security. they see hypocrisy and that and they they were never going to get rid of them then as long as status u.s. policy is, this is written down, i'm paraphrasing, but as long as nuclear weapons exist we will maintain an arsenal of them. that's a paradox. that means the never going to go away. so there is this movement of countries saying we've waited
long enough, we've waited 40 plus years after this treaty was signed and so we are going to organize a convention mbm them and say these weapons are not to be possessed because they're in violation of international law. it's kind of what happened in 1996. that established a norm that the u.s. abided bisons. that is the goal of this movement that started a couple of years ago that these countries are working and eventually they might all meet and say okay for signing this treaty, it doesn't matter if the u.s. is not here, we now say these weapons are banned and we just hope that any other nuclear arms states catch up. >> thank you very much. [applause]
have to have it. >> the question is, how do you get rid of them if the policy is someone else has a so we have to have it. i don't know the answer to that. i don't know. i don't know what it would take because we won't reduce, the pentagon said we can reduce the amount of our deployed nuclear weapons by a third and still meet our security objectives, our military objectives, but we won't get rid of them and less russia does the same thing. :
so i don't know. every single u.s. president has talked publicly about how it's the worst thing in the world and they should never be used. jfk talking about the sort of balancing and ronald reagan talking about how it would never be bought and you have obama but every single president or almost every single president decided and made a decision to either prove the arsenal in some way.
i want to know what it's like to be in a position of authority and how to compromise what you believe in. when you reach that position of authority, it becomes less easy to do. i can only imagine that he would be very frustrated. i just know that it claims to be endemic to the office of the president. >> i do think that there are verification systems that are being worked on that would give assurances to the countries when nuclear weapons are removed.
i know that sam nunn . group is working on that verification. >> the former georgia senator. there is a verification process where they are reducing the stockpile by a hundred weapons. i think what you are saying is how can you get rid of your weapon and then russia doesn't. >> i do feel that the united states leads the world to believe, and i think the point that a lot of people don't know is that we have the records plaintiff that russia, but
they've been pointed at us, too and it's in our interest and experts have told me this, too that it's in our interest to lower the number number because if we take the step that you are talking about then the russians will follow suit because we have more than enough weapons to blow the world several times over. and i think that within its 30 times and it is a 450 times. so just one of those dropping the new york city would cut 1.6 million people in one fell swoop. we are talking about weapons that are magnitudes times more powerful.
the. as dan pointed out, the countries have been patiently waiting for the states to fulfill the promise that they made under the treaty are becoming very impatient, and justifiably so and they are saying we are going to take our own steps to do something. but to answer the question, i think the verification regime can be established. if assurances to the country that reduced the weapons and there is no cheating going on. >> [inaudible] >> has he said anything?
can you talk about the challenges in the populace of the generals that sets them apart >> the question is we have people in the park and 82 protesting nuclear weapons. is that possible today? to answer if you asked me to were three years ago i would say it is impossible. but then i followed the state department official year and a half ago to one of the conferences, and this was a conference that had multiple government officials in different countries and had a lot of young people and there
were thousands talking about the impact these weapons would have if used. i haven't detected that kind of momentum in the u.s., but it's certainly a broad and those conferences yielded this movement of countries that are going on to eventually have some kind of a band convention. so i think that strategy isn't necessarily marching on the park but it's getting the partner countries together to establish the norm. while we have this band now, you are way behind. is there going to be a huge march, probably not. but there is a movement in the
it's a lack of public awareness. people just are not on their radar and i think if there could be a movement that you refer to, it's not there right now. [inaudible] i'm wondering if you can draw the connection between the conversation around nuclear weapons into the conversation around nuclear energy especially with japan and the kind of
fragility of the system of nuclear energy and the danger of that and how that sparks any conversation around the damaged nuclear weapons. i didn't want a book to b the be like 1200 pages long. as a non- activist i just wanted to focus for brevity's sake you could argue how they are designed to help people.
anything can go wrong. that's kind of where i sit within opinion on this. it's a force that is so godlike being controlled by man's creation. you shouldn't be surprised when something goes wrong. that is the question we have to ask ourselves is it worth that risk and every couple of years, every couple generations is it worth continuing to push our luck on the nuclear calculations. that's what i come back to evert every time. human beings are frail, and do we think of these things function i wish i had a better
answer for you, but i focus on i don't know if you've done any kind of thinking on this. >> i do know that in the third world for example where the energy needs are great and the nations are against the nuclear weapons. again, just to focus on -- >> you bring up a good point that if you tie that into an environmental concern, people are animated by the environment and iif there is an easy way in. both nuclear energy and waste is pretty terrible to have to deal with and that is possible for
many years so this year they are having this for electricity or military and its the fact that it has to outlast us and we are essentially giving to the future generations to deal with. so, i think that despite not focusing on it with this story, i think that is that connection and the environment where it can be an animating force. >> thank you everyone for coming out. [applause]
not long after that, he returns to britain two years before the world send. but by then, he is a hero of the entire. newspapers have played up the exploits on the train and covered the imprisonment on the escape. he has an amazing skill for bringing to life the famous historical figures in previous books she gave us teddy roosevelt and president james garfield. her latest book hero of the empire makes the notables list for its great storytelling, it's careful research and fine deta detail. [applause]