Frank von Hippel, Emeritus Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University, had a big influence with Gorbachev in ending the Cold War and promoting nuclear disarmament. Erika Simpson is an Associate Professor of International Affairs, Western University. Gordon Edwards is president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. They point out that the recent publicity about a breakthrough in nuclear fusion is meant to deceive the public into considering it as a great day for sustainable energy, whereas the real research was done by nuclear weapons scientists for the sake of the continued development of nuclear weapons. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-536-fake-fusion-story.
Frank von Hippel
nuclear weapons, people, NATO, nuclear, fusion, world, Frank, question, problem,
weapons, Ukraine, Russia, energy, Canada, created, money, ratified, treaty, nuclear winter, power
Erika Simpson, Metta Spencer, Frank von Hippel, Gordon Edwards
In this discussion, Metta Spencer and her guests, Frank von Hippel, Gordon Edwards, and Erika Simpson, address the recent news about a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California. However, they express skepticism about the practicality and true purpose of this achievement.
Frank von Hippel explains that the research was originally intended for nuclear weapons design, and it was a challenge to achieve a fusion explosion with a yield of energy similar to a hand grenade. The recent “breakthrough” only resulted in a minuscule net energy gain and would require enormous extrapolation and investment to create a practical power plant. The likelihood of such a facility being competitive with existing renewable energy sources is extremely low.
Gordon Edwards adds that the experiment doesn’t bring us closer to achieving continuous power production like that in the sun, which would require a self-sustaining reaction. He argues that the main practical value of this achievement is to attract more funding for fusion research. Erika Simpson shares her initial excitement about the news but later expresses disappointment and suspects the media coverage was manipulated to create hype and secure more funding.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has conducted experiments with inertial confinement fusion, but the experts argue that these are actually driven by the military’s interest in maintaining the nuclear stockpile rather than providing clean energy. They criticize Livermore’s history of false advertising, which has led to wasted resources and hindered nuclear arms reductions.
The conversation then turns to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), where the experts discuss the political leverage that scientists had in opposing the ratification of the treaty. They also mention the possibility of nuclear lab personnel agitating for resumed nuclear testing. Russia has ratified the CTBT, while China has held back, waiting for the US to ratify first. The experts emphasize the importance of the US ratifying the CTBT in order to encourage other countries to follow suit.
The experts also discuss the differences between fission and fusion. Fission can take place from a cold start and can lead to a bomb or reactor, while fusion requires extremely high temperatures to initiate and maintain the reaction. This makes runaway fusion reactions unlikely. The tokamak, a magnetic confinement device, aims to achieve a continuous fusion burn.
Regarding renewable energy, the experts argue that fusion reactors would require more personnel and resources than fission reactors, making them a less attractive option compared to solar and wind power. They express concern about the ongoing failure of arms control treaties, with the CTBT being one of the key examples. The United States’ reluctance to disarm, as seen in NATO’s strategic concept, is also a cause for concern.
Despite these challenges, there is some positive news. The non-weapon states have organized and promoted the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons instead of seeking to develop their own weapons. Unfortunatelly, NATO members and nuclear weapon states are unwilling to sign that treaty. Citizens need to see through the rhetoric and press their governments to prioritize global security rather than just national security. Nations like Canada could push for debate within NATO and challenge the organization’s nuclear policies.
Frank von Hippel points out the importance of restarting the debate on nuclear weapons policy, as people wrongly assume that the problem disappeared with the end of the Cold War. While Erika sees hope in policies like “no first use,” she worries that nations might turn to other destructive alternatives like biological weapons.
The panelists call for the international community to question the logic behind nuclear arsenals and encourage a more transparent and public discussion on nuclear policies. They agree that disarmament must be a global priority, and countries need to be willing to take the first step towards change.
The current situation is precarious, with deterrence being strengthened by the Ukraine example but weakened by the increased potential for miscalculation, misperception, and misunderstanding. The influence of the military-industrial complex and the vested interests of those involved in nuclear weapons research and development present significant barriers to disarmament efforts.
The panelists stress the importance of public outcry and external voices to balance the influence of the military-industrial complex. They mention efforts to reignite anti-nuclear movements, such as the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction, which has mobilized about 1,000 physicists to educate Congress and the public. The panelists also suggest the possibility of forming international partnerships to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.
Education and understanding are key, as many young people are either unaware of or indifferent to the threat of nuclear war. By presenting the problem in an accessible and understandable way, the panelists hope to inspire a new generation to address this issue with creativity and ingenuity.
The following transcript has been machine generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, what do you think about fusion? That’s in the news these days? And I thought, well, isn’t that nice? They made some progress. There’s this long joke about how you’ve, I’ve heard this forever, you know, that nuclear fusion is going to be a wonderful technology. But it’s, it’s 50 years ahead away from a still the future and it always will be. Because in fact, it has always been just a long, long process, it never seemed to make any progress. And now there was a breakthrough the other day, and they say they made some progress. So I thought, well, how nice not that I cared very much, because it is still going to be another 50 years before it’s practical. But then I began to hear aha, there’s some deception going on. So today, we’re going to look behind the curtain and find out who’s pulling the wool over our eyes, or to mix a few metaphors. Okay, I have three experts here on nuclear matters, Professor Frank von Hippel, who is a physicist and a professor, I think emeritus now of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. And in the 1980s, when he was the chairman of the Federation of American Scientists, he was partnered with Eugene Velikhov, in advising Mikhail Gorbachev. And I have to say, if there’s any group of people who deserve to have a medal for ending the Cold War, Frank is one of them. And in Ottawa, or near there is Gordon Edwards, who is also a specialist on all kinds of nuclear matters. And he is the president of the Canadian Coalition for nuclear responsibility. And Erica Simpson, who is an associate professor of international relations at Western University, and she’s very interested in also nuclear matters. And I would like for Frank von Hippel, to get us going by giving us the his view of the this the inside story, what is it that we have not been told that we should know about Frank? This is a machine-generated transcript, so it may contain errors. Do not cite it without checking for yourself by watching the video and catching any obvious errors.
Frank von Hippel 02:17
the emphasis has been on energy, but the research really was done for nuclear weapons design purposes. And it goes back to the 1993 and in a meeting that I was involved in, actually. When we, this was, was actually before I went into the Clinton administration, but then I was involved afterwards as well. And, and the issue was a nuclear weapons test ban. And, and we had a meeting where the, the weapons lab directors were insisting that they needed to do 15 more tests, which is, Congress had said, there would be no more testing, except that 15 more tests could be allowed, if there were reasons for safety or reliability that required them. And, and the the labs, presented the tests that they wanted to do in this meeting that was called by the Secretary of Energy. And I was not convinced, and I brought along with retired weapons designer who was also not convinced. And it turned out the Secretary of Energy wasn’t convinced, either who is Hazel O’Leary, and the director saw the way the things were going and, and one of them said, Well, if you would give us as much money for not testing, as you’ve been giving us with testing, we might be able to see it your way. And, and so that was the beginning of the ScienceBase stockpile stewardship program. And it basically the budgets you know, some billions of dollars a year were were offered to the weapons labs basically to do what they wanted. And, and they’ll different labs chose different things. The weapons labs that the, the weapons design labs, wanted supercomputers But then in addition, they wanted other things, and and what Livermore National Lab got was this National Ignition Facility that it made the news was it last week, I guess, or the week before and…
Metta Spencer 04:59
That’s where the, the Fusion breakthrough took place, right?
Frank von Hippel 05:02
Erika Simpson 05:03
The National Ignition Facility at Livermore, which costs 3.5 billion to build, so it’s the offshoot.
Frank von Hippel 05:12
Erika Simpson 05:12
It’s an offshoot really, of the giant complex at Lawrence Livermore.
Frank von Hippel 05:18
And the purpose of it is to create fusion explosions, on a miniature basis, to train weapons designers, and also to test the computer codes that they that they’ve been working on. And so that was an and they’ve been having a hard time getting there, the, …
Metta Spencer 05:47
You mean they’ve been having a hard time making, doing the project and getting success with it.
Frank von Hippel 05:55
Basically, what they’ve been trying to do is, is create a fusion explosion, with a yield of energy of about the yield of a hand grenade. And they’ve been, they’ve been struggling with this for for decades now. And they finally got as much energy and the way they instead of having a nuclear explosion, efficient explosion, to, to create huge pressures and temperatures, which is what happens in a thermonuclear explosion, they, what they’ve been doing is, is they built huge lasers, and concentrated them down on a tiny millimeter size pellet of hydrogen, of deuterium to hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. And, and they’ve been trying to ignite these little pellets for decades now. And they finally got to the point where they got as much energy out of the pellet in terms of fusion energy, as they put into it, in terms of laser energy, and that was the breakthrough, now you get, I mean, to get to a target plant is an enormous, enormous extrapolation, you’d have to do this many times a second, hundreds of times a second. And you’d have to, you know, have lasers that would, would, you know, affordable lasers, that would, would do this repeatedly, many times, hundreds of times a second, and so on. And, and nobody can, and, and in the end, whether that would compete with the other sources of energy we have is a stretch, whether you could even a very simple nuclear power plant, which is what we have basically, today. Those can’t continue with solar and wind power anymore. So you know, whether this, this extravagant contraption, could be, could be gotten there is, is, is is extremely, unlikely. So question is, why did they promote this as an energy breakthrough?
Erika Simpson 08:43
But Frank, can I ask you a question, because my understanding from all the media hype was that more energy was created a tiny bit more than was put into it. And so that’s the whole point is that we could create unlimited, boundless energy like the sun, decades from now. So the media focused on that tiny little increase, which was imperceptible and, and very, very expensive to create, but there was, that was the ignition. And so that’s why we’re supposed to be excited is that we’ve now finally created more energy. So can you explain that to to our audience, how much energy was created? What is, is this important? The tritium, how expensive is it for a gram? I don’t understand that the whole process but maybe you could tell us how they managed to ignite something.
Frank von Hippel 09:38
Well, in fact, just maybe a factor of 1000 away from actually producing net energy in terms of electricity compared to electricity in because you know, a huge amount of electric, electric power is required and efficiently converted to laser power going in. And what came out was he, which would, which would then you’d have conversion losses, making electricity again. So, so. Yeah, they’ll have to use water all around the world huge amounts of water to if they develop these sorts of reactors. I think that’s what I got it from Gordon Edwards that it’s going to, if this was developed, there’d be reactors around the world using massive amounts of water in a drought stricken world.
Gordon Edwards 10:29
Well, that I am not sure about that. Certainly fission reactors require a lot of water, the cooling is necessary, water is necessary for cooling. But, you know, I think the word ignition is a little bit of a misnomer. It’s more of a detonation than an ignition. As a matter of fact, it only lasted for like 80 nanoseconds, it was a very, very, very brief, it really like a miniature type, very tiny explosion. Now, of course, that happens in a gasoline internal combustion engine, you have a series of explosions, which, which gives the motive power to the car. But the idea of replicating those explosions so rapidly is to create useful power is so far away from reality, that I don’t think anybody would think of this as a as a realistic prospect in the foreseeable future. The other approach to fusion is the tokamak which, which uses a electromagnetic sort of container, like think of it as electromagnetic bottle, which has a plasma inside it. And if they could truly ignite that plasma, what the hope is, then they could actually get a burning that is self sustaining, that the heat from the reaction automatically causes more fusion to occur. That’s what happens in the sun. And, you know, I really liked the there was a full page ad in the New York Times, many, many years ago. By the fate of the year, I think it was the Sierra Club, which said the Sun is a splendid nuclear reactor, but you wouldn’t want to live there. And to me that that kind of sums it up, because, in fact, in order to achieve the kind of continuous power production that you would need, this particular experiment doesn’t really bring us any closer to that at all. There are some scientific discoveries which have immediate effect, like for example, discovering that when a uranium atom is split, there are extra neutrons. That has immediate implications for practicality, you can make an atomic bomb, the rest of it is engineering after that. But this, this breakthrough, they call it is really I think, more than anything else, it’s a, it’s a fraudulent publicity campaign to get the money flowing to fusion research. That’s the main advantage it has for the Fusion researchers. It is very interesting scientifically; it is no doubt an engineering accomplishment. But in terms of practical value, the main practical value is just to try and get more money out of governments. I thought that because it was at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which is where Edward Teller work the father of hydrogen bombs. My very, I’m more suspicious than you, Gordon, I think it’s a bit of a snow job. So that we look at the money, oh, 3.5 billion, wow the Lawrence Livermore in Los Alamos laboratories are hugely expensive, and they will create huge amounts of nuclear waste tritium that will be dangerous for the atmosphere and for the water. So I just looked at it even more suspiciously as a publicity ploy. Although I myself last two weeks ago was part of the widespread cheerleading in the media, I initially actually thought, oh, wow, we’ve developed something great. I was so happy. And I emailed it to everyone I know, and now I feel disillusioned, like Dr. Spencer, very disappointed. I think we have been, we have been manipulated, and a lot of people fell for it. Because you don’t think that these people, that you don’t think that the that the Secretary of Energy is going to go on public airwaves and simply give a false account of what actually happened, and that’s what we’re seeing. I think that the the scramble for money for fusion research, and even for fission research, in terms of small modular reactors, is impelling people to sort of misrepresent their product, as a way of getting governments to invest in it and the public to support it. If the public can applaud the the breakthrough, so called breakthrough, then the government elected officials feel that they’re justified in pouring more money into it. I don’t know. What would you say about that Frank?
Metta Spencer 14:47
I was shocked at what Frank said about how they reacted when when being told that we’re going to not allow you to do this 15 More things. And they say well, we want to want the same amount of money for not doing it as for doing it? What kind of a business offer would that be? And how could you possibly get away with making such a crass kind of just give me money dammit, it sounds like robbery or something, if you if you make that kind of demand, how can they get away with that kind of expectation that they’ll be given money really, for just doing nothing.
Frank von Hippel 15:28
The it’s not nothing because, because they have to maintain their skills somehow. But the, but the the leverage they had was that if they, if they argued against the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, that it wouldn’t be ratified. And and they have been fighting for, had been fighting for decades against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And, and in fact, they sort of if they did, they certainly didn’t not endorse the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, when it came up in front of the Senate for ratification.
Metta Spencer 16:18
So it was political leverage, okay.
Frank von Hippel 16:21
They got their reward.
Metta Spencer 16:23
Now, the other thing that I wondered, and I assume that there’s absolutely no real risk, but when, when Gordon talks about how in the sun, the system is self sustaining that is, because it ignites one thing, that is enough to get it to do the next one, etc.. That’s, that’s my notion of what a runaway situation would be. Well, when we we hear of risks involved, you know, safety risks, for, for fusion? I mean, for fission, of course. But is there any real risk that a fusion process could could become so self sustaining, that you couldn’t stop it? Or that it would be uncontrollable?
Frank von Hippel 17:13
No, I think, I think here the problem is, is getting it to happen rather than rather than keeping it from running out of control. But I just wanted to mention, with no, since we’re indignant about the, about the false advertising, that Livermore has a history of this. And here, we had a gullible Secretary of Energy who grabbed on onto it. A Livermore, with Edward Teller, who is the founding director of a Livermore, not officially but actually promoting peaceful nuclear explosions. As a as a reason to keep nuclear testing, continue nuclear testing, that turned out to be a fraud. Later on, Teller promoted that he, that he had an idea for an x ray laser, that could could be shot into space and shoot down multiple, maybe even 100 Soviet warheads coming in our direction. And that lunch, the Star Wars program, which, which was a huge waste and, and, and which, which really prevented nuclear arms reductions for some time. So, so this is in that tradition, unfortunately.
Gordon Edwards 18:59
Yeah, I think it might be helpful for the novices who are listening to this. The difference between fission and fusion, one of the most important differences is that fission can take place from a cold start, like you just put the put the fissionable material together, and boom, you have a bomb or you have a reactor, if it’s carefully done. With fusion, you gotta get the temperature up way above 100 million degrees to in order to get it going. And it has to stay at that temperature in order to continue. So that’s why it’s very unlikely that you would have a runaway of the type that you’re talking about Metta, which would be, you know, not being able to control it. It’s very difficult to maintain temperatures at such an extremely high level. And certainly with this. I call it like popping little kernels, which is what they did at Lawrence, the Lawrence lab. Popping kernels is a very, very hard way to try and maintain those temperatures at such a high level. I don’t think it’s and it doesn’t seem to be feasible in any realistic scenario. But what they’re hoping with a tokamak is that they’ll be able to use this magnetic bottle to get a continuous burn. That is to get it up to 150 million degrees Celsius. And then it itself will maintain that temperature after the initial, a really, truly ignition. I think the word ignition is actually a misnomer. In this case, it’s more like a detonation than an ignition.
Erika Simpson 20:31
And I was reading Gordon that the number of personnel that would be needed let us say 50 years from now after we have not solved climate change, we have tritium reactors around the world, they would take 1000 people compared to fission reactors to operate every month. So fission has 500 personnel in shifts, the tritium reactors would be even more expensive, they would use more water, the tritium would be very, very expensive around the world. And so my I was deluded thinking this is going to be better than solar and wind power. But now I’m back to the renewables. But of course, everyone says the renewables are not going to solve our energy needs either. So you know, we were all deluded by false advertising. But I want to get back to the false advertising of the CTBT. Because really, if the United States would sign the CTBT and abide by it, then China and Russia probably would start thinking about it. So this is yet another arms control treaty that the United States is threatening. We our whole arms control regime is now only held up by the NPT regime. And you saw that collapse in August as well. So I’m now thinking because of Frank’s comments that this whole ad false advertising also lends a veneer of falsity to the CTBT. Because we always say, Oh, the CTB TT is in practice, we are abiding by it, but not in in, we just can’t sign it. We can’t ratify it because of the Senate, just as you said. But now I’m wondering if this is all behind the scenes, just a calculated delaying tactic, because the US simply will not disarm they will not move toward disarmament. That’s clear from NATO’s strategic concept as well.
Gordon Edwards 22:23
Yeah, I agree with you.
Erika Simpson 22:25
I sound indignant because I am indignant because all these problems are very complicated, and they’re all connected. And it’s hard for people to go from failed arms control treaties, to treaty into Fusion to fission to going back to it’s just too complicated for everybody. Anyway, I really appreciate that. You are here to simplify it for the audience. Frank, did you have any thoughts about the CTBT? And the falsity of that arms control?
Frank von Hippel 22:54
Were the the CGB. The, I heard recently that that people at the labs were starting to agitate for resumed nuclear testing. Because it was not working, and therefore that that through doubts on the, on the codes. So from that point of view is fortunate that they finally, finally started to work. But it is, it is a you know, the the just want one correction on on one. One thing you said Erika, which is Russia did Russia actually did ratify the CTBT.
Erika Simpson 23:44
Okay. I didn’t know that. China has not right?
Frank von Hippel 23:47
China, China, China is held back to wait for us to ratify.
Erika Simpson 23:54
Frank von Hippel 23:54
They felt it was a bait and switch. And one, one explanation I’ve received is indicate in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention. They felt that the US added conditions after China had ratified and enforced the addition of conditions, additional conditions which weren’t there before and that therefore they wanted to make sure that they knew what they were ratifying by having US ratified first. So, but so I don’t think that the mean, there are maybe five countries on the list of required countries that still have not ratified. And but I think the US is the most significant.
Gordon Edwards 24:47
I think the fundamental problem here is that despite legal obligations under international law to to really get rid of their nuclear weapons, which is what the NPT Article Six requires as they are and the public are being lied to repeatedly about research, which is fundamentally military in nature, and fundamentally based on the what’s called the stockpile stewardship program, and that means the stockpile of enormously destructive nuclear weapons by the 1000s, which are already in existence. The question is, without testing, how can we know that they’re still going to work as they as planned. So we have to do laboratory work, such as this Ignition Facility, in order to be able to have the means in the laboratory to test whether they’re still enormously destructive, so that we can ruin the planet completely if we had to. And now, of course, I’m putting it in a cynical way there. But but this is the fundamental problem, the fundamental problem is that they are not living up to our international law obligations to get rid of their nuclear weapons, they, despite repeated assurances that that’s what they want to do. And so it’s hypocrisy and a very vague, dangerous hypocrisy, because, of course, it sets the tone for other other countries. And what’s even worse, in this context is Canada, which always boasts that it never developed nuclear weapons, even though it could have Canada belongs to NATO, which is an organization that explicitly says they will use nuclear weapons. If push comes to shove, they would even be the first to use nuclear weapons under military situations where conventional weapons would not do the job. So what message does this send to the other countries of the world, it says you better get your own nuclear weapons because NATO says their security, it’s essential to have nuclear weapons for that purpose. So the fundamental problem here is that this smokescreen, about peaceful fusion energy is simply a way of hiding the emperor’s new clothes. It’s like the case of the emperor’s new clothes, the emperor is naked. But they don’t want anybody to know that. So they dress them up in these invisible clothes, which was peaceful nuclear fusion. What’s really under those invisible clothes is Armageddon.
Frank von Hippel 27:10
Gordon, you’re right. But I think the loses there is some positive news in the I think one could expect a natural reaction by the non weapon states, after 50 years of waiting for the for the weapon states to get serious about getting rid of their nuclear weapons, saying The hell with it, how are we the Non Proliferation Treaty, we’re going to get our own weapon, since that seems to be essential to be safe. But instead, they have organized and are promoting this treaty for the Prohibition of nuclear weapons. They’re doubling down.
Gordon Edwards 27:55
Frank von Hippel 27:56
Proliferation, because if they recognize the danger, that weapons, you know, they haven’t been seduced by the false security, that nuclear will be able to threaten with nuclear weapons brings. They recognize the danger of accidental and, and nuclear war out of madness. And if doubled down on saying, let’s get rid of these things.
Gordon Edwards 28:29
I certainly agree with you, Frank and Erika, I’m sure is that we in Canada have been trying to get our government to sign that treaty. And they won’t sign it because they belong to NORAD and NATO, which are predicated on the continued existence of nuclear weapons. So we’re back into kind of a catch 22 situation. You’re absolutely right. The UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the answer, which goes beyond the NPT. But, but the NATO members won’t sign it and the nuclear weapon states won’t sign it. So there’s a lot of work to do on behalf of citizenship, ordinary citizens have got to see through the hype, see, through the smoke cloud of peaceful purposes, and realize that underneath that smoke cloud, there’s still this enormous potential. And we’ve got to get our governments to, you know, follow the will of the of, of the planet really, it’s not just the people of the country they’re in it’s it’s global security, rather than national security.
Erika Simpson 29:30
You know, I say something about the arguments that are made by the defenders of NATO the opposite arguments that you and I make Gordon and just I’m going to give you their arguments really quickly, which is Article Six says move toward general complete disarmament. And yes, we have done that since the end of the Cold War. We have moved, as the US Secretary of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense told me very convincingly, we’ve moved from an arsenal of 64,000 weapons around the world to approximately 15,500. And they are not willing to move to a world where the United States would not have nuclear weapons. So you know, the argument that is made by NATO Secretary General as well, that we nuclear weapons are essential. And until there are no nuclear weapons, NATO will continue to have its own arsenal. And the Ukraine crisis has added to that, because there is the perception that if you don’t have nuclear weapons, you will be attacked. That’s the lesson of Ukraine. And the 1994 Budapest Memorandum had not no meaning, no meaning. So therefore, we should all have nuclear weapons. And the countries that are trying to sign the TP and W are deluded. It is a weak treaty, I’m giving you all their arguments, I know you’re very sound. They’re strong, they’re coherent. And the problem is, we just see things very differently. And I want to get back to Frank because he was reading about nuclear winter, just before he came on. And I think they don’t understand. They don’t understand that the, the use of just a few tactical weapons between even India and Pakistan would lead to a new famine, a global famine and the collapse of the entire world economy. Frank, do you think that’s true? What, what do we know about nuclear winter that we need to remember?
Frank von Hippel 31:18
Well, I mean, nuclear winter is a serious hypothesis. And I recently was able to actually, but it’s, it’s been with us for I guess, 40 years now. And and it’s been largely ignored, is some some people. Academics have been doing good work on it. But it has been largely ignored by the by the people who work on nuclear policy. I’ve been, I’ve been trying to change this I and my, my I guess two years ago, I was able to get the Congress to ask the National Academy of Sciences to do a review of it. I hope that will result in, in anything taken more seriously.And not just dismissed, there are uncertainties and expect that the study will will point at those uncertainties. But, but even without nuclear winter, you know, the we’ve seen the disruption from small nuclear, small non nuclear war in Ukraine caused famine in Africa. Can you imagine the kind of famine the world would confront even even without a nuclear winter? The disruption of trade?
Metta Spencer 33:03
Hey, hey, I You said something I hadn’t heard before. What’s this? Something caused famine in Africa?
Erika Simpson 33:12
Yeah. Ukraine can’t export its breadbasket of the world. So countries in Africa are suffering because the price of food has jumped astronomically they can’t afford grain. So just a small war, like Frank is saying and the Ukraine wars, small, small conventional war has already created famine in Yemen and in Lebanon as well, not just in Africa.
Metta Spencer 33:39
Okay, sorry, sorry, I interrupted, you.
Frank von Hippel 33:42
No, no, I was I was basically finished. So, I was just saying that, that a large scale war would, would would stop global trade and not just exports of wheat from Ukraine. And, and there will be even apart from from nuclear winter effects, you know, causing of crop failures, lots of people would, would die, I mean, not counting the people who already died from the direct effects of, of nuclear weapons. You know, when this, when this, the nuclear winter theory was first broached, I sort of kept my distance from it, because I, because I said if all those cities are burning, you know, what more do I need to oppose nuclear war? You know, but but I think it has, I mean, you the countries that are, are now promoting the core countries that promoting this treaty in the prohibition of nuclear weapons, are happened to be almost entirely in the southern hemisphere. And, and, and apparently is Nuclear Winter, you know, idea is salient for them, I mean, that even non target countries would be enormously affected as I said it was would already be true because of the trade effects.
Metta Spencer 35:18
I’m a little puzzled if I could ask a technical question here, I had heard that if that nuclear winter would affect what the northern hemisphere, but not the Southern Hemisphere, so why would the southern hemisphere, people be more worried than we would?
Frank von Hippel 35:35
You’re right, the main effects, climate effects could be in the northern hemisphere. But I think that these would be some effects in the southern hemisphere as well.
Gordon Edwards 35:48
I’d like to return to this question of the logic that Erika was, Erika was talking about with regard to NATO’s logic, you know, that, as long as yes, we want to get rid of nuclear weapons. But until we do get rid of nuclear weapons, we have to have them they’re essential. And that’s almost like an Alice in Wonderland argument, you know, and I’m reminded of a law that apparently was on the books in New York for a while before people noticed it, it said that when two trains meet, each shall stop till the other passes. Well, this is of course, nonsensical. But if I’m not mistaken, the atmospheric Test Ban Treaty, the partial Test Ban Treaty, came about only after there was a unilateral cessation of testing in America as a result of public outcry about the effects of fallout, followed by a unilateral cessation of testing by Russia, and only later followed by a signing of the partial Test Ban Treaty. So in other words, this logic that you can’t be the first to make a move because you can’t trust the other side has already that we already have examples historically that show that that’s, in fact that somebody has to make the first move. Now, going to zero, of course, is not a likely thing on either side. But somebody’s got to be serious about putting a muscle behind the rhetoric. I mean, they have even in January of this year, the leaders of the five acknowledged nuclear weapons states, the five official nuclear weapons states, in the invention in the NPT, made the statement that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought. Well, that’s a fine rhetorical statement. But if that’s the case, why do we need, why is it essential to have these nuclear arsenals? So I do think that we as citizens have to counteract this kind of Alice in Wonderland, logic that really gets us nowhere. And really, as Frank says, and I certainly agree, it’s the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons that should guide our efforts in that regard.
Erika Simpson 38:01
Well, as long as the US tells the NATO allies that they cannot sign the tpnw, behind the scenes, then that TPNW treaty is not going to go anywhere, which is why I’m working towards 2026 and the 2026 meeting of the parties to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, because that treaty needs to be strengthened. And they, they, they, in a way reached near agreement, it was just on Russia, Russia that they could not agree. So what was interesting was behind the scenes, they were talking about planks that they talked about in 2010, strengthening the CTBT that we’ve talked about moratorium on above ground testing, all these sorts, we all know what the steps are. And it was interesting that in August, just a few months ago, there was a little bit of unanimity more. And so that’s what I’m working toward is 2026, because I don’t see that Canada will sign the TPNW because it is a member of NATO, and I don’t see that Canada will pull out of NATO. So if we’re in NATO, then let’s at least have a seat at the table and talk about what we think is important which is spearheading disarmament.
Gordon Edwards 39:14
On the other hand, I think Canada could play a role within NATO to cause a bit a bit of a mini rebellion against this, this really abominable policy that NATO has the statement. Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Elliot Trudeau was the only political leader that I’m aware of, who publicly spoke out against the insanity of the NATO policy on nuclear weapons. And he’s also the one in 1978 before the UN General Assembly, that is Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who gave his strategy of suffocation speech which was that if we’re serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons, then we, we one component of that has to be a strategy of suffocation choking off the vital oxygen on which the nuclear arms race feeds, and that includes the primary nuclear explosive materials, we shouldn’t be producing nuclear exposes, plutonium and highly enriched uranium. If we want to have a nuclear weapons free world. Unfortunately, in the absence of the will to proceed to the abolition of nuclear weapons or to show goodwill in that regard. The opposite is happening, that we’re getting more and more examples of how it may be advantageous to, to all countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons. And that means any conflict anywhere in the world could turn into a nuclear war.
Frank von Hippel 40:41
We’ve actually seen in the case of the Ukrainian war, the aggressive use of nuclear threats, that the Putin has basically limited what NATO can do, by threatening to resort to nuclear weapons. And so we are, we are seeing the downsides. of deterrence. And this is deterrence of an alliance. And and, and I think that NATO should draw some lessons from that. I actually, you know, I’m glad you’re talking about Canada, I think that I mean, that there are other NATO, non nuclear weapon states that are or where there, I think the movement for a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is actually starting to bake in, in Germany and in the Netherlands, and in Belgium, and I hope you managed to start a debate in Canada. And in fact, you know, the NATO insists that it’s a nuclear alliance. Yes. But in fact, some countries have opted out of the nuclear part. Denmark and Norway in particular.
Erika Simpson 42:04
Yes, Denmark and Sweden and Finland, which is thinking about joining NATO doesn’t want to have nuclear weapons stationed on its a territory, neither does Canada. So so there will be a debate in NATO, I’m sure we’ve lost…
Gordon Edwards 42:18
I’d like to remind people of the International physicians for the prevention of nuclear war IPPNW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. They described the possession of nuclear weapons as a form of addiction. And they said, you know, the addict is not always able to kick the habit by himself, no matter how often he says, Oh, I got to stop drinking, or I gotta stop shooting up. Nevertheless, you really need to have like, a circle of friends, a intervention circle that is trusted, that can help the addict to kick the habit. And I see, I see the middle powers, Canada and other countries that do belong to NATO, they could do the world a service by really publicly questioning the nuclear policies of NATO and the USA, in a friendly way, not in a combative or dismissive or, or condemning way, but but the point is that these problems have got to be recognized before they can be solved. I’m a math teacher, and you can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem is. And unfortunately, too many people in the world do not know what the problem is. So leaders could play a very helpful role for the whole world by dragging these questions out into the public domain. And rather than disguising a fundamentally military project, like the Lawrence, Lawrence Livermore Lab experiment, disguising it as a peaceful energy thing, when in fact, it’s a military maintenance project.
Frank von Hippel 43:57
Well, wedo have to restart the nuclear the debate over nuclear weapons policy, I think people assume that the problem went away with the end of the Cold War, and reductions that that have now stopped, and in fact, may reverse.
Gordon Edwards 44:14
Exactly, go back up again.
Erika Simpson 44:17
Well, I mean, if you’re an adict, they always say friends help I agree, but you have to decide you want to quit yourself. If you’re addicted to cigarettes or alcohol, you have to make the decision similar, the US has to make the decision that is going to get rid of or at least downsize its nuclear arsenal. And that’s why the policies like no first use are promising because if we could get the United States to at least agree to no first use in the wake of Putin’s threats, because it’s exactly right, that deterrence is now being seriously undermined. How can you believe in nuclear deterrence? How can you spend billions of dollars on weapons that are essentially not credible? You can’t use them? We can’t they’re not solving this crisis with Russia. So I think deterrence is being undermined, slowly and surely. And surely in the United States, people who think about this are questioning the credibility of nuclear weapons. My worry is that nations will around the world will weigh the costs of nuclear and nuclear, very expensive and go, let’s go for bio weapons. Let’s just get ourselves a small little bio weapons arsenal much, much cheaper, and also very threatening. And so that’s what I’m worried about. So when that gets to the essential question, which is why do we want to kill each other so much? Over these small issues? I don’t understand it. And I guess in just going into the Christmas peace season, my my my wondering is, what is it about? Actually, man, that there’s so war like, so bent on, we all watch the soccer final there? Why are we doing that? Why are we so competitive? And so that gets into more deeper questions about human nature and why we kill each other? I don’t, I can’t answer those questions.
Gordon Edwards 46:02
No, well, certainly is fundamental. And I think that I think this is the really fundamental question is there, you know, you can coach in different ways. Is there intelligent life on Earth? Or? Or is the human race really sufficiently geared towards evolving towards sustainability? Because it’s really it’s like in a cultural terms, in terms of politics and culture and awareness. We have a lot of global awareness, but not sufficient, global will. And if we could bridge the gap between our awareness and our will, I think we could make progress on this. But it’s almost like an evolutionary leap, that that speaking societally, that human society has got to make that leap to a global consciousness that really sees global security as the goal and not national security. You said something, Erika, that kind of puzzles me, because you said, you know, how could you believe in deterrence? I think right now, it’s easier to believe in deterrence than it was before this Ukraine war started. Because I think Putin has deterred the US, the US would have would have easily used their regular army to attack Russia and defend Ukraine. I think Putin really demonstrated the extreme power of his deterrence, and…
Erika Simpson 47:35
I agree, I agree MettaI I agree that on the surface, it looks like deterrence worked, and that Russia and NATO have deterred each other, but it also underneath it has undermined deterrence. We’re now asking, is it right for two men, Putin and Biden, rational decision makers to be able to blow up the whole world and to use these things? That doesn’t seem rational to me? So it’s being undermined by asking questions about miscalculation, and misperception, misunderstanding, and all of the consequences, which is why we talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis, because we nearly went to the brink there. We were, we were nearly in an accidental war. So any day now, we could have also another accidental problem. So there’s two sides. Yes, deterrence is strengthened by the Ukraine example. But it’s also weakened, because now we’re really seeing how it actually works. And it makes us a worried.
Gordon Edwards 48:29
Well, Frank’s, Frank’s revelation about what went on behind the scenes with regard to the weapons labs back in 1993. When they stopped testing, okay, well give us the ,give us the goods, give us the money so we can do something else. Don’t, don’t cut our funds back just give us the same money that we would have got if we were testing and and we’ll sort of grumble and make do with that. And now there now they are trying to argue for resume testing, as we hear. But in a kind of a similar way, I think that I think that we have to realize that Biden himself was on the verge of announcing a no first use policy, and it was these weapons labs and their cohorts that really said no, no, no, no, no, Mr. President, you mustn’t do that. You mustn’t do that. It reminds me also of the Reykjavik meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan, where they were just on the verge of really doing it, really saying, Okay, let’s go to zero. And the advisors on both sides, I think just about freaked out. So what we have created, we humans, we’ve created machinery, and I’m not talking about the weapons but the actual political machinery and the, the infrastructure, the military industrial complex, and all the billions and billions of dollars invested in that, that you have created a tremendous force for not changing the status quo with regard to weaponry and, and that’s a that’s a major problem as well. This is why public outcry is so important, because the only thing that can balance the voices inside the government machinery is voices from outside the government machinery and without those outside voices, which we’re not seeing today in sufficient numbers. Remember the Million Man million person March in New York City with huge puppets against nuclear weapons, that really had an effect? And we’re not seeing that today? I think that people misunderstand the the power that they actually have, they have a lot more power than they think they have.
Erika Simpson 50:35
Frank, do you know, do you remember the Global Partnership Program where the United States and Canada gave billions of dollars to Russia, to pay for their nuclear scientists so that they would not work on nuclear weapons? Could we do the same with the United States because, couldn’t we just give Livermore billions of dollars say okay, here you have some money, go and do it. But as long as you know what, I’m not being facetious, but what I’m seeing is a partnership, a global partnership program, so that Americans would have jobs, but would they would not necessarily be building nuclear weapons.
Frank von Hippel 51:13
And we do need, we need a counterbalance to what Gordon has called the military industrial complex, which, which is what it is. And we did have a kind of balance, as he said, in the early 1980s, when we had this grassroots uprising against the nuclear arms race. And so the lesson, but then people went away. Because they assumed we, you know, the Cold War was over, the danger was gone. Now, now, we have this unbalanced political situation in which the, those who represent, you know, who have nuclear weapons facilities in their, in their states in their districts, are the only people left in the field, and they’re keeping shoveling money into this system. And we need to develop a balance, again, a counterforce again, and a group of us that are trying to mobilize the physicists to get involved again, we created the physicists Coalition for for a Nuclear Threat Reduction, we have about 1000, physicists now. Who and we’re trying to now organize them to, to educate Congress, people who are not part of the military industrial, congressional complex. To understand the issues well enough so that they can, they can debate the issues and create a counterbalance.
Erika Simpson 52:52
Here in Canada, of course, we watch what you’re doing in the United States. And we learn from that as well. So we don’t have an association of physicists. But we do have natural scientists and social scientists in the international Pugwash movement, which is, so Canada has an affiliate, the Canadian Pugwash group. But the international movement has national affiliations all around the world. And I believe they’re going to be holding a conference in Qatar in February on nuclear risks and nuclear dangers.
Metta Spencer 53:27
I’d like to ask you about that Frank, you said that you’re trying, you and some other people are trying to restart the movement, well, great. But and because of your prestige as a nuclear scientist, I think you will be listened to, well, a little bit. Nobody really will. You’re not going to change the whole world by yourself. But, you know, I think that the Erika mentioned the Pugwashites thing. The thing about Pugwash is it brought together nuclear scientists everywhere. And now of course, Pugwash includes a lot of people who are not nuclear scientists. But I wonder if your effort which is I gather confined to the US, would there be any point in attempting, again, to rekindle relationships among nuclear scientists in all these other countries? So if you could have a list of the, you know, 20 or 50 most prominent nuclear scientists in all the countries that are nuclear weapons states, that would that would mean something I think it would mean more than having each country do it separately. Has any thought been given to that?
Frank von Hippel 54:47
Yes. We started engaging I gave a talk at CERN, the you know, the European Center on on nuclear research and we’re going to have a meeting In, in, in next fall in [inaudible] to gather, gather people together to see whether we can become a an international movement.
Metta Spencer 55:13
What about Chinese? What about Pakistani What about Russian nuclear scientists, I bet that any of them would dare think of forming any kind of relationship with with a nuclear scientist in the US.
Frank von Hippel 55:28
We do have a webinar going on with with a Chinese counterparts trying to keep them open. And with Russia, it’s really the the situation with Ukraine has been so disruptive, that we don’t really have a dialogue going on with Russia at the moment.
Erika Simpson 55:52
I was looking at the Russian Pugwash site. And it’s very rich with scientists, it is translated from Russian into English. So I’ll send you that link. But it’s very good. And it shows you that there are a lot of scientists in Russia, who, who are muffled right now who cannot say anything. But behind the scenes, they’re seeing the the war crimes on the ground, they’re listening to the Russian mothers seeing their children coming back in body bags and dead. And so they’re thinking about this too. And I’m sure that if you could reach out to them in the United States, maybe you could reach out to China and to Russia, that would be very helpful, more helpful than reaching out to Canada, because Canada, we’re already on board, you know, we’re already supportive.
Frank von Hippel 56:44
Thank you, thank you, please do send me that link
Erika Simpson 56:46
Gordon Edwards 56:51
I do feel that the time is ripe, because just as Frank indicated a moment ago is that we have seen this reassuring decline in, you know, dismantling of 1000s of warheads, and so on. But this has created a false sense of security, and put people back to sleep again. And the modern generation does not have the instinctive fear of nuclear weapons that we, it’s become a buzzword, buzzword that has little content to people who were born in this century, for example. And I think that there’s there really needs to be efforts to reignite a kind of a an actual movement, both national and international, that will act as a countervailing voice, to the voice of the establishment, the industrial military industrial complex, as we call it, that really has kind of free rein right now they’re able to sort of wield their influence without fear of much opposition. And even getting away with this kind of recent falsification of the results of that fusion breakthrough. And couching it as if a wonderful gift to humanity, that we’re gonna have unlimited energy just around the corner, thanks to, thanks to our work on thermal nuclear weapons, which they don’t say thanks to that. But these are things that we really, the younger generation has to pick up on this. And I think we have to pass the torch to them with with full, you know, not only the torch, but the the kind of knowledge and information and insight that they need to carry that battle forward.
Metta Spencer 58:26
Well, the problem is you talk to them, and probably Erika knows better than I do, because I’m not teaching anymore. But, you know, when I was teaching, and I’ve talked to my students about it, they would say, Well, look, I mean, we’ve gone this far, many, many, many decades, and nothing has happened. So, so far, so good. So your concerns are really, you’re exaggerating, you know, nobody would really do that. Nobody would do that.
Erika Simpson 58:52
They also, I, I want to mention, they reject us, the elders because I teach 1000s of students. I have 1000s of students because they all want to learn about Ukraine, and nuclear issues. They want to learn these things. But when I talk to them, they’re angry at the older generation, because we got everything, they get low minimum wage, they can’t afford a house. They say to me, you know, I’m thinking about my education I gotta get through next year. I don’t. And then I got the climate crisis, too. Right? So what have you given me? You know, what, have you given me a whole nest of problems, and I apologize on behalf of everyone, but there’s nothing you know, they reject us in many ways.
Metta Spencer 59:33
But now you do say your students do take it seriously though, that it is taken seriously.
Erika Simpson 59:37
They take it seriously but they reject our ways.
Metta Spencer 59:40
But my students would say it’s not a problem. Forget about it. Worry about something real.
Gordon Edwards 59:45
Well, I have been, when I was teaching, I’ve retired from teaching now but I give many talks and when I did teach classes at Vanier I was invited in by other teachers to address their classes on nuclear issues. And I got a lot of students coming up to me and thanking me very sincerely for providing insight. It really opened their eyes. And I think my personal belief is that a lot of the mystification See, there’s, this is getting off topic perhaps a little bit. But math phobia combined with science phobia, people say, I’m no expert, how can I even have an opinion on this, I’ve got other things to worry about. If the thing can be presented in a way that’s understandable to them, they appreciate it. That’s been my experience. And I’ve been thanked many times by young people. I don’t try and tell them what to do or what to think. But I present the problem as accurately as I can and answer the questions as best I can. I do think that that’s the starting point. And again, I go back to my mathematical analogy, you know, in mathematics, or in life, for that matter, you don’t solve a problem by running away from it, you have to understand the problem. And if you present it that way, look, don’t there’s no point in getting emotional about this right now. You can get emotional about it later. But right now, the problem is just understanding what the problem is. And then you figure out what we can do about it, because human ingenuity is sometimes true, tremendous, and young people have amazing ideas which come to the surface that you would never expect.
Frank von Hippel 1:01:25
You know, people talk about the 70 odd years we’ve had without a nuclear war, and therefore we shouldn’t worry. But if they don’t, they don’t know about all the near, near misses. And, and that the control of the future of the world is in the hands of people, irrational people like Trump and Putin, that this is an unacceptable situation, it can’t be allowed to continue. Because we will have a nuclear war, and it will set, it could destroy civilization.
Metta Spencer 1:02:06
Well, guys, we’ve certainly covered more than fusion today. I think we’ve gone into what is really where we need to focus, because fusion is a serious deception, I think. But it’s just part of the whole thing of being lied to, about things that we we should be on top of and if we are good citizens, we need to know more. Everybody needs to just talk more about it and get clear about what our our problem is to use your math analogy. So we’ve done it. Thank you very much today.
Gordon Edwards 1:02:44
Thank you Metta.
Frank von Hippel 1:02:45
Thank you Metta and Erika, please give Doug Roche my best regards.
Metta Spencer 1:02:49
I will, bye. Project Save the World produces these shows, and this is episode 536. Watch them or listen to them as audio podcasts on our website, tosavetheworld.ca you could share information there about six global issues too. To find a particular talk show, either its title or episode number in the search bar, or the name of one of the guest speakers. Project save the world also produces a quarterly online publication, Peace magazine, you can subscribe for $20 Canadian per year. Just go to pressreader.com on your browser and in the search bar enter the word peace. You’ll see buttons to click to subscribe.
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