Monday, 22 July 2019

Will UK-EU security pact remain seemless in event of a No Deal Brexit?

Today the Cabinet Office (not the Ministry of Defence or Foreign Office) published a Review of the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015
Paragraphs 1.20 to 1.23 deal with  Security post-Brexit and the European Union. read as follows:
Leaving the European Union
1.20 On 23 June 2016, the British public voted in a referendum to leave the European Union (EU). The UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union on 29 March 2017, initiating the procedure for the UK to leave the EU. At time of publication, the UK is due to leave by 31 October 2019. The decision to leave the EU carries significant implications for the UK in many areas of political and economic engagement.

1.21 The threats and challenges to our national security have not fundamentally changed as a result of the decision to leave the EU. Only one of SDSR 2015’s 89 principal commitments will be directly affected when the UK leaves the EU (Championing the EU/India Free Trade Agreement).
1.22 We remain unconditionally committed to European security. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an implementation period in which the UK will have continued access to European Union security tools and measures. We will be able to continue participating in EU operations and missions. We will have access to external action programmes and projects.

1.23 The Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK provides for the broadest and most comprehensive security partnership the EU has ever had with a third country. In November 2018, the government published its assessment of the cooperation envisaged under the security partnership and compared this with security cooperation envisaged in a no deal scenario. The security partnership will bolster and complement our broader multilateral and bilateral security cooperation with European partners.

How will the Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and  Home Secretary appointed by the new Conservative Prime Minister this week ensure these arrangement are continued seemlessly in the event of a No Deal Brexit?

Also published today:

Revisiting the UK’s national security strategy: The National Security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme Contents


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Atomic absurdity: exporting nuclear capability and not expecting proliferation

A hitherto secret memorandum, dated 7 October 1955,  has just been released by the excellent  independent US National Security archive that demonstrates the  concern held by early atomic advocates over the implications of exporting nuclear technology and fissile ( explosive) nuclear materials. (
The NSA explainer sets out the context:
During a discussion with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, Philip Farley mentioned that the U.S., the Soviet Union, and other countries had been discussing the importance of controls over nuclear reactor operations and Washington and Moscow’s “common interest in seeing that other countries did not obtain nuclear weapons.” That same day, Farley met with Harold Knapp of the Atomic Energy Commission who, like Farley’s boss, Gerard C. Smith, had been working on a study of controls over the export of fissionable materials for overseas nuclear reactors.

The next day, Knapp read Smith’s paper and Farley read Knapp’s paper which made the point that the “principle threat to peace” was not so much from the export of fissionable materials but from an effect of the U.S. Atoms for Peace program: the “expanded knowledge of nuclear power reactors and plutonium separation.” That meant that any “reasonably advanced” industrial country could “learn from the open literature how to build a plutonium separation plant capable of separating 20 KG a year for about half-million dollars.” “Accordingly, the threat of weapons capability in other countries like the Netherlands, Israel, Argentina and many others is not remote.”
Doc.01. Memorandum for File by P[hilip] J. Farley, Office of Special Assistant to Secretary of State for Atomic Energy, “Control of Peacetime Uses of Nuclear Energy,” 7 October 1955)
Over the next 13 years the US Government, along with its UN Security Council permanent member partners, the USSR and UK, negotiated nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and despite the concerns outlined above, the NPT text included in it preamble the following backing for the global spread of nuclear energy and materials:
Affirming the principle that the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology,
including any technological by-products which may be derived by nuclear-weapon States from
the development of nuclear explosive devices, should be available for peaceful purposes to all
Parties to the Treaty, whether nuclear-weapon or non-nuclear-weapon States,
Convinced that, in furtherance of this principle, all Parties to the Treaty are entitled to
participate in the fullest possible exchange of scientific information for, and to contribute alone
or in co-operation with other States to, the further development of the applications of atomic
energy for peaceful purposes,
It also included in its Articles the following: ARTICLE IV
1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the
Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful
purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.
2. All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in. the
fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information
for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also cooperate
in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the
further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in
the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the
needs of the developing areas of the world.

Yesterday (16 July 2019) in the House of Lords peers debated ( a report on nuclear weapons and non- proliferation  - Rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty- (7th Report, HL Paper 338), produced by the HoL International Relations Committee(
Conservative peer and chairperson of the Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford (who as David  Howell had been Mrs Thatcher’s first Energy Secretary, responsible for nuclear power policy from 1979 onwards) opened the debate warning “This report is presented to your Lordships for debate against a background of a fast deteriorating world arms control environment and rising nuclear risk. Some have now suggested that the risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since the Second World War….”
adding  “the enormous technological impact on the nuclear scene is perhaps the newest and most unnerving danger. The committee was warned clearly about the vulnerabilities to nuclear command and control systems from cyberattacks. If cyberattacks can now knock out early warnings, simulate fake attacks or compromise delivery systems, the entire doctrine of nuclear deterrence is undermined.”
In conclusion, he stressed “without the general determination between nations to co-operate closely, even with those who oppose and frustrate in other areas, the slide away from international rules towards international anarchy is certain, with nations putting their own narrow and short-term interests first, often driven by populist political appeal and force. From there, the step to nuclear deployment, accidental or intentional, unforeseen or sudden, at tactical or strategic level, is now perilously close. We can and must, at all costs, avoid and forestall. I beg to move.
Labour’s Lord Browne of Ladyton (a former Defence Secretary) – and currently a vice-chairman of the international arms control lobby group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, argued that “ the NPT regime is coming under increasing threat. There are several reasons for this, including: lack of progress on disarmament; increasing risk of nuclear weapons use, proliferation, and terrorism; and deepening divisions among the international community on the role of nuclear deterrence, the vision of nuclear disarmament, and the steps required to prevent nuclear weapons use. Two of the most significant drivers contributing to this negative political context are: the growing divide between the recognised nuclear weapon states under the NPT and the non-nuclear weapon states —as the evidence heard by the committee made clear, the ban treaty is a direct result of these divisions—and the mounting frustration felt by many countries; and the deteriorated political relationship among the nuclear weapon states.”​
Liberla Democrat, Lord Purvis of Tweed observed:  
“It was striking that the Government’s response [to the report] seemed to recognise that cyber and hybrid threats create greater uncertainty, but they have not indicated that that, combined with the political and rhetorical instability, is a greater threat to world peace—and the two are combined… The Government imply that we secure political leverage to our advantage with this £50 billion expenditure on [Trident nuclear WMD] renewal—equivalent to the entire Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget for 50 years, and representing less than 1% of all global nuclear capability. The Government state that they are still committed to a nuclear weapon-free world, and that the retention of those weapons gives us a political capability, but they do not state what political conditions they are seeking to achieve to bring this about, nor how they intend to secure them. The argument also follows that we secure a voice with this political tool by retaining our independent nuclear capability, but this has not always been the case either.
It was interesting to read the Cabinet papers from the period between the early 1960s and the signing of the NPT. Both the Macmillan and Wilson Governments argued for a NATO nuclear force. In 1963, Macmillan and Kennedy agreed in principle,
“to use their best endeavours to develop a NATO Nuclear Force … and a new component may be introduced in the shape of internationally-owned and internationally-manned surface ships or submarines armed with Polaris missiles”.
The Wilson Government continued with this and formally proposed the establishing of an “Atlantic Nuclear Force”, including a “mixed-manned element” which,
“would allow the non-nuclear countries to take part in a meaningful way”.​
The Cabinet conclusion of 26 March 1965 went further, proposing a single European vote on doctrine and deployment,
“if the major nations of Europe achieve full political unity, in such a way as to enable the European vote to be cast as one. The European unit exercising a single European vote would have the same veto rights as individual Governments taking part in the Force”.
Therefore, pre-NPT, there was a vibrant debate in government and in Parliament, including in this House, about the Government’s ability to have both a combined deterrent approach and a combined doctrine with our European partners.
Therefore, if the Government’s position today is markedly different from that, which it clearly is—that our ownership of nuclear weapons is purely political, that it is imperative that it is independent, and that it is not concerned with warfighting—we are justified in asking how active their commitment is to disarmament. We will discover this in the periodic review, but there was little optimism among our witnesses that it will contain radical proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, indicated, the impetus proposed by the 2010 review will need to be restored. Even that seems unlikely.
Given the committee’s assessment that the security environment is now more uncertain and unstable, it is imperative that the Government put their full weight behind pillar 1 of the three pillars of the 2010 NPT review conference action plan on disarmament. Action 3 refers to,
“implementing the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals … through unilateral, bilateral, regional and multilateral measures”.
The Cross Bench peer, Lord Hannay of Chiswick – a former UK Ambassador  to the United Nations - stressed “…we need now to give a much higher priority to nuclear diplomacy, strategic stability and arms control than we have done for the last 30 years, is surely perfectly obvious. It is, however, far from clear that the Governments of the two main possessor states, the US and Russia—or indeed our own Government—have reached that conclusion, and, more importantly still, that they are prepared to act upon it. If I may be allowed a brief digression, it is not even clear that the basic facts on nuclear diplomacy are appreciated at the higher levels of our own Government. Yesterday in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary told the press:
“We are totally committed to keeping the Middle East denuclearised”.
However, even if Israel does not admit to its undoubted possession of nuclear weapons, the hard fact is that the Middle East has not been “denuclearised” for many decades. Finding some way of moving towards a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction is going to be a key issue at next year’s NPT review conference, at which the UK, as one of the three NPT depositary states, needs to use as imaginative and constructive an approach as possible. I wonder whether either of the two aspirants to be Prime Minister know any better than the right honourable Jeremy Hunt revealed yesterday: I rather doubt it.”
[Indeed, when asked by Baroness Tonge, now independent, former Liberal Democrat peer, 24 June 2019 “what assessment they have made of the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) SIPRI Yearbook 2019, Armaments, Disarmaments and International Security, published on 17 June, which claims that Israel has between 80 and 90 nuclear warheads? (HL16619) foreign affairs minister  Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon answered on 4 July saying that: “Israel has not declared a nuclear weapons programme,” which is nearly true, but misses the point (In a December 2006 interview, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that Iran aspires "to have a nuclear weapon as America, France, Israel and Russia.,7340,L-3338783,00.html;  It’s Official: The Pentagon Finally Admitted That Israel Has Nuclear Weapons Too,” The Nation March 15, 2015;; ]
“To other conclusions of our report the Government’s response seems less satisfactory. The insistence—several times repeated, I may say—that the UK has gone as far as it could on nuclear disarmament is rather odd, because the report at no point suggested that we should do so. Defensive reactions like that will not be a very useful guide to policy in the newly risky period we are living through. If we really are a responsible possessor state, as the Government proclaim us to be, and I recognise that that is a reasonable aspiration, then we will have to have some imaginative diplomacy. Both parts of the Government’s response—simply dismissing out of hand any consideration of no first use or of clearer negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states—seem to me to be distinctly unimaginative. The Government’s attachment to what they call “constructive ambiguity” over the circumstances in which we might use nuclear weapons is deeply unconvincing, in my view.”
Another Conservative peer, Baroness Anelay of St Johns  recalled “My generation grew up during the Cold War. We were keenly aware of the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. I still remember clearly the development of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 and its impact on the view of civil society, and on our view, as schoolchildren, about the risk of nuclear war. The confrontation between the US and Soviet Russia followed the US discovery of Soviet deployment of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Cuba with a range that could hit most of continental USA.
The minimal attention paid by the media and civil society to the risk of nuclear conflagration over the past few decades could be considered proof of the success of the negotiation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 1970. That treaty approaches its 50th anniversary next year. More countries have adhered to the NPT than to any other arms limitation or disarmament agreement —a testament to the treaty’s significance. It has its successes: it has near-universal membership; it has established an international norm against new states acquiring nuclear weapons; and there has been a considerable reduction in nuclear stockpiles since the 1980s…the treaty remains a critical part of international security. As has been mentioned, it is often seen to be based on a central bargain of three pillars: that non-nuclear weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons but that, in exchange, the NPT nuclear weapon states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. I therefore welcome the Government’s response to paragraph 96 of our report, where they now clarify that they remain,
“committed to implementing all three pillars”.
She closed asserting: “Preparations for a successful 2020 [NPT] RevCon [Review conference] are vital for our future security. It is not just our diplomatic reputation that is at stake but our global security. …Complacency about nuclear risk is the greatest ​risk to our global safety. There is an old saying: “a watched pot never boils”. It is time for everyone internationally, parliaments, Governments, media and civil society to watch the nuclear pot with increased care. It cannot be allowed to boil.
A Green Party peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb ( who  made the declaration that she is a vice-president of the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) opened by observing in her view “the world is now almost out of control. We are not taking into account just how powerful these weapons are; they are weapons of terror, and their use is the greatest crime against humanity…” adding “One day, I hope, foreign policy based on mass murder and the inevitable extinction of humanity will be viewed as the most barbaric and depraved idea ever conceived.”
She continued “…we live in dangerous times globally. We have a President in the White House on Twitter, engaged in toilet diplomacy of a kind which can escalate tensions and move global markets in an instant. All the while, his military attaché is just a few metres away with nuclear codes that could be used by mistake or by miscalculation. …There is also the unequal way in which the West treats emerging nuclear powers, casting a blind eye to the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan while taking a hard-line stance against Iran and North Korea. All the while, the non-nuclear countries which signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must feel cheated that the nuclear countries are not holding up their end of the bargain to progressively disband their nuclear arsenals. Instead, we are renewing Trident and expanding nuclear arsenals.”
.., the Foreign Secretary should take a leadership role in this area and represent the UK in international negotiations on nuclear disarmament.​... No serious contender for public office, let alone the Prime Minister, should try to make a political point out of their willingness to initiate a nuclear war and murder millions of innocent civilians. We must strive towards a nuclear-free world where the capability to kill every human being on earth in a matter of moments is consigned to the dystopian nightmares where it belongs.”
Lord Grocott, another rLabour peer said: “…it is inevitable that debates of this sort will be pretty sombre in tone, because this is an extremely sombre—if not deadly serious—subject….
First, to state the opposite, there has not been a complete absence of nuclear proliferation. The number of nuclear states has almost doubled, from five to nine, during the time of the treaty. The four nuclear states who are outside the NPT have a fraction of the number of warheads held by NPT nuclear states, but they are ​significant none the less. We list them in our report. It is estimated that Pakistan has 140 to 150 nuclear warheads; India has 130 to 140; Israel has 80; and North Korea 10 to 20. Of course, North Korea is a special case for all sorts of reasons that I cannot possibly go into, but are the other nuclear states outside the ambit of the NPT now in the “impossible to resolve” category—“We can’t do anything about it, so let’s not even try”—or is there a medium or longer than medium-term strategy to try to bring all the states of the United Nations within the ambit of the treaty?
Then there is the question of the proposed Middle East nuclear-free zone. It was as long ago as 1995 that the review conference of that year stated that the development of nuclear-free zones, of which I have mentioned a number, should be encouraged as a matter of priority, and specifically mentioned the importance of establishing one in the Middle East. Since then, progress has been glacial. Last year, however, a UN resolution called for a conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East to be held in 2019. In our report, we state that the UK should continue to support work towards such a conference and should encourage Israel to participate. I am afraid that the Government in their reply say that the UK remains committed to the 1995 NPT resolution—of which, incidentally, we were co-sponsors —but they remain undecided about whether to participate in the forthcoming UN conference, giving a long list of difficulties.
Of course there are difficulties. This is the most dangerous region in the world, with current or recent wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, not to mention Iran and the JCPOA. But to say that we may well not attend a UN conference to try to reduce the risk of weapons of mass destruction being deployed in this most dangerous of regions seems inexplicable, ..”
Another Labour peer, Lord Collins of Highbury,  observed that the blog by Aidan Liddle, the [UK] ambassador and permanent representative to the Conference on ​Disarmament [has a] clear message is that many countries want to see more progress on disarmament, and another thing he referred to was the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, mandated by the 1995 conference,” adding that Lord Hannay highlighted that the Government said in their response that they remain committed to the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. What are the Government doing about that? What is their strategy? We need to know more about it.
Answering as a stand-in for the unavoidably absent minister Lord Ahmed, Conservative Baroness Goldie said that the NPT “has been at the heart of global efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and encourage nuclear disarmament efforts for nearly 50 years. It has overwhelmingly delivered on its objectives and we should celebrate its success.”
She then pointedly remarked to Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb that while “I may not support her view on unilateral disarmament, but I respect and see the passion with which she holds it.”
Remarkably, Goldie immediately wh en ton to assert “The NPT has provided the framework and confidence for a significant reduction in nuclear weapons following the end of the Cold War. The UK has provided a good exemplar, significantly reducing its nuclear weapon stockpile since the Cold War peak.”
All of this was, in practice, done unilaterally, as no British nuclear weapons have vet been entered into  multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations under the auspices of Article 6 of the NPT, which reads:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Finally, the minister extolled how the treaty “extended the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy around the globe “adding  “I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for his recognition of these virtues.”
If only the  minister had read that  warning made in the 1955 memo!
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Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Tested to destruction; two historic blasts, one of hope, the other deep despair: both on 16th July

In the past week the media has been rightly swamped by articles and films  looking back on the most amazing human exploration in history: when three men were transported from Earth to our nearest heavenly body, the Moon, some 240,000 miles away- and back again safely.(;
The three American astronauts  -representing all humanity- Neil Armstrong ( the first human to step on another planetary body), his fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Command module  pilot Michael Collins, famously blasted off on top of their Saturn V rocket at 1.32 pm GMT from Cape Canaveral (Kennedy) on 16 July  fifty years ago today.
But twenty four years to the day before in complete secrecy- compared to the  global media splurge that accompaniedd the manned Moon visit adventure -  the US Government detonated the first ever atomic bomb, at a  secret site near Socorro, in New Mexico desert. This was a very different blast.

The story has been told many times, not least in the 1962 book 'Now it can be told' by General Leslie M. Groves, the feted military man - who along with scientist, Robert Oppenheimer - who designed the atom bomb in the clandestine Manhattan Project.

But this week a new and worrisome interpretation of the deadly effect on Americans living in ih e near vicinity of that first atomic test is published in the internationally renown journal, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by two very experienced adiation risk researchers (one posthumously)

The story befits  being included in  wider account of the disastrous effect of atmospheric tests, that resulted in the US military endangering its own citizens to  save them….it chillingly fits into the description "Killing our own."

Here is the full article:

Trinity: “The most significant hazard of the entire Manhattan Project”

A senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, Robert Alvarez served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department's secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. During this tenure, he led teams in North Korea to establish control of nuclear weapons materials. He also coordinated the Energy Department's nuclear material strategic planning and established the department's first asset management program. Before joining the Energy Department, Alvarez served for five years as a senior investigator for the US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. John Glenn, and as one of the Senate’s primary staff experts on the US nuclear weapons program. In 1975, Alvarez helped found and direct the Environmental Policy Institute, a respected national public interest organization. He also helped organize a successful lawsuit on behalf of the family of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear worker and active union member who was killed under mysterious circumstances in 1974. Alvarez has published articles in Science, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Technology Review, and The Washington Post. He has been featured in television programs such as NOVA and 60 Minutes.
Kathleen M. Tucker (1944-2019) was president of the Health and Energy Institute, where she organized national and international conferences about radiation and the law. She also published several reports regarding nuclear waste processing and disposal, uranium mining, and occupational hazards at private nuclear sites. She was best known as a public interest lawyer who helped raise national awareness of the case of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear worker and union activist employed as a technician at a plutonium fuel fabrication plant in Cimarron Oklahoma owned by the Kerr-McGee Corporation. On November 13,1974, she was killed after her car hit a culvert on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter. Tucker went on to organize a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood’s family, which found Kerr McGee liable for contaminating Silkwood’s home. The decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court. Since then numerous books, articles, documentaries, and a critically acclaimed Hollywood motion picture have focused on the circumstances surrounding Silkwood’s death. Tucker also represented victims of human radiation experiments by the nuclear weapons program and brought to light hidden overexposures of US nuclear weapons workers, revelations that helped in the enactment of the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.
For the past several years, the controversy over radioactive fallout from the world’s first atomic bomb explosion in Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945—code-named Trinity—has intensified. Evidence collected by the New Mexico health department but ignored for some 70 years shows an unusually high rate of infant mortality in New Mexico counties downwind from the explosion and raises a serious question whether or not the first victims of the first atomic explosion might have been American children. Even though the first scientifically credible warnings about the hazards of radioactive fallout from a nuclear explosion had been made by 1940, historical records indicate a fallout team was not established until less than a month before the Trinity test, a hasty effort motivated primarily by concern over legal liability.
In October 1947, a local health care provider raised an alarm about infant deaths downwind of the Trinity test, bringing it to the attention of radiation safety experts working for the US nuclear weapons program. Their response misrepresented New Mexico’s then-unpublished data on health effects. Federal and New Mexico data indicate that between 1940 and 1960, infant death rates in the area downwind of the test site steadily declined—except for 1945, when the rate sharply increased, especially in the three months following the Trinity blast. The 21 kiloton explosion occurred on a tower 100 feet from the ground and has been likened to a “dirty bomb” that cast large amounts of heavily contaminated soil and debris—containing 80 percent of the bomb’s plutonium—over thousands of square-miles. (See Figure 1.)
After a nearly half a century of denial, the US Department of Energy concluded in 2006, “the Trinity test also posed the most significant hazard of the entire Manhattan Project.”[1] Four years later the US Centers for Disease Control gave weight to this assessment by concluding:
“New Mexico residents were neither warned before the 1945 Trinity blast, informed of health hazards afterward, nor evacuated before, during, or after the test. Exposure rates in public areas from the world’s first nuclear explosion were measured at levels 10,000- times higher than currently allowed.”[2]
Figure 1.

Estimated exposure rate in milliroentgens per hour (mR h-1) 12 hours after detonation; GZ = ground zero of Trinity. Source: Centers for Disease Control (2010).
Meanwhile the National Cancer Institute is conducting a study to model the dispersion and dose reconstruction for people who may have been exposed to fallout from the Trinity explosion. Regardless of the outcome of this study, it is clear the public was put in harm’s way because of US government negligence in conducting and its participation in a coverup of the results of an exceedingly dangerous experiment.
Infant mortality concerns raised about Trinity. In October 1947, the first concerns over a rise in infant mortality along the fallout path of the Trinity explosion were raised in a letter to Stafford Warren, a medical radiologist and radiation safety chief of the Manhattan Project and the Trinity test in particular. “As I recall, in August 1945, the month after the first bomb was tested in New Mexico, there were about 35 infant deaths here…” Kathryn S. Behnke, a health care provider from Roswell, New Mexico, wrote. “I understand the rate at Alamogordo, nearer the site of the test, was even higher than Roswell.”[3]
On December 4, 1947, Warren’s medical assistant, Fred A. Bryan, replied to Ms. Behnke, writing that “we can find no pertinent data concerning infant deaths; in fact there is no report as to the number of or specific cause or dates and, as far as Alamogordo is concerned.”[4]  Bryan also wrote that he “wanted to assure you that the safety and health of the people at large is not in any way endangered.”[5]
Bryan failed to mention that he did not bother to examine New Mexico’s vital statistics. About a month after Bryan’s reassured Behnke of no evidence of harm, a state health official sent the actual unpublished data on infant deaths collected by the state to Los Alamos. [6]  Soon thereafter, in a letter dated, January 22, 1948 to Bryan, Wright Langham, biomedical group leader at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), forwarded hand-written sheets from the state of “the records of infant births and deaths during 1945-1947.” Langham added: “I am sure what I am sending you will not be of much help.” The New Mexico Health Department data indicated that the infant death rate increased by 38 percent in 1945 compared to 1946 and was 57 percent higher than in 1947.[7]
Finding the facts. More than 70 years later, we examined the vital statistics collected by the US government and the state of New Mexico in the 1940s to determine if area health patterns changed after the first atomic explosion. The data eventually provided to Los Alamos and Bryan in January 1948 indicated a sharp rise in infant deaths following the Trinity explosion. Later, between 1940 and 1960, infant mortality in New Mexico showed steady and deep annual declines—except for 1945, when it shot up.[8] The infant mortality rate in New Mexico in 1945 was 100.8 per 1,000 live births; the rate for 1944 was 89.1, and for 1946 it was 78.2.[9] (See Figure 2.) The unpublished data sent to Los Alamos indicated an infant death rate nearly 34 percent higher in 1945 than subsequently made public.
Figure 2
Month-by-month data for the years 1943 to 1948 revealed the highest infant mortality rates in late summer, following the Trinity blast, with a significant peak in September 1945. Infant mortality for the months August, September, and October after the explosion indicated that New Mexican infants had a 56 percent increased risk of dying, with less than a 0.0001 percent chance that this was due to natural fluctuation.[10]
In 1945, infant death rates increased on average by 21 percent (with a statistical error range of plus or minus six percent that applies to all the rates listed in this paragraph) in counties where fallout was measured by Manhattan Project personnel. Rates in these counties dropped by an average of 31 percent in 1946. The infant death rate in Roswell, where Ms. Behnke first alerted Warren of the problem, climbed by 52 percent in 1945, after falling by 27 percent between 1943 and 1944. The rate then dropped in Roswell by 56 percent in 1946.  Rates in the downwind counties where fallout was measured dropped by an average of 31 percent (plus or minus eight percent) percent in 1946
We found no extraordinary metrological conditions, such as heat or heavy rains and floods, that may have competed with radioactive fallout as a factor in the increase in newborn deaths after Trinity. According to the CDC in 2010, risks to newborns were especially heightened as “residents reported that fallout ‘snowed down’ for days after the blast, most had dairy cows and most collected rain water off their roofs for drinking.”[11]
The Trinity Test was conducted on July 16, 1945. The rate of infant mortality began rising in July. The month of August showed an infant mortality rate of 152.3 per 1,000 live births. In September, the rate was 187.8, and in October 123.1. Infant mortality change rates for August, September, and October show a dramatic increase in 1945 when compared to the same three months for the years 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1948 (see figure 3)
Figure 3

Ionizing radiation is especially damaging to dividing cells, so the developing infant, both before and after birth, is susceptible to radiation damage, as Alice Stewart, an epidemiologist who first demonstrated the link between X-rays of pregnant women and disease in their children,[12] first warned in 1956.[13] This damage may be seen years later with the development of leukemia and other cancers in children exposed in utero to ionizing radiation, as Stewart and others confirmed in subsequent studies.[14] By 1958, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation  recognized that, in the short term, radiation damage can be reflected in fetal and infant deaths.[15]
Fallout protection was not a priority for the Trinity explosion. The Trinity test was top secret to all but a few scientists and military officials. No warnings were issued to citizens about off- site fallout dangers, although off-site measurements done with a paucity of instruments and people indicated that radiation spread well beyond the test site boundaries.  [16]
The Trinity bomb was detonated atop a 100-foot steel tower. With an estimated explosive yield of 21,000 tons of TNT, the fireball vaporized the tower and shot hundreds of tons of irradiated soil to a height of 50,000 to 70,000 feet, spreading radioactive fallout over a very large area. Fallout measurements taken shortly after the explosion were very limited and primitive instruments were used; the data suggest no measurements regarding inhalation or ingestion of radionuclides were taken.
Joseph Shonka, a principal researcher for the study of the Trinity shot for the Centers for Disease Control, recently concluded that the Trinity fallout “was similar to what might occur with a dirty bomb. A fraction of the plutonium [~20%] was used in the explosion [and] … the fireball contacted the soil. Because of the low altitude, fallout exhibited a ‘skip distance’ with little fallout near the test site. Although there were plans for evacuation, radio communication was lost as the survey teams traveled out to follow the overhead plume. Thus, the command center was unsure of whether that the criteria had been met … and failed to order the evacuation.”[17]
Scientists had stressed the importance of protection from radioactive fallout following a nuclear weapon explosion, five years before the Trinity test. “Owing to the spread of radioactive substances with the wind, the bomb could probably not be used without killing large numbers of civilians, and this may make it unsuitable as a weapon for use by this country,” warned Manhattan Project physicists Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls in their important memorandum of March 1940, which accelerated production of the first atomic weapons. “[I]t would be very important to have an organization which determines the exact extent of the danger area, by means of ionization measurements, so that people can be warned from entering it.”[18]
As preparations were being made to test the first nuclear weapon, warnings by Frisch and Peierls about fallout hazards were lost on the leadership of the Manhattan Project. Were it not for two physicists at Los Alamos who warned in a June 1945 memorandum that “radiation effects might cause considerable damage in addition to the blast damage ordinarily considered,”[19] little would have been done. Later Joseph O. Hirschfelder, one of the concerned scientists, recalled that “very few people believed us when we predicted radioactive fallout from the atom bomb. On the other hand, they did not ignore this possibility.”[20]
On first being warned by Los Alamos scientists, Gen. Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project director, dismissed concerns about fallout as being alarmist. But Warren convinced Groves of the potential risk of legal liabilities, and Groves grudgingly agreed to assemble a team at the last minute to track fallout from the test.[21]
A lot was at stake. First, there was the enormous expense involved; the Trinity device cost approximately 15 percent of what the United States spent on all conventional bombs and other explosives during World War II.[22] Then again, there was great pressure to test the Trinity device before July 17, 1945, when the three heads of government of the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain were to meet in Potsdam, a German suburb of Berlin, to address the end-stage of World War II and post-war policies. Compared to the political imperative of Potsdam, the hazards of radioactive fallout took a back seat.
But five days after the explosion, Warren reported to Groves that “a very serious hazard” existed over a 2,700 square mile area downwind from the test that had received high radiation doses.[23] Tissue-destructive effects from fallout were observed in livestock in areas that were incorrectly assumed to be uninhabited by people.[24] After realizing the magnitude of the problem, Warren advised Groves that the fallout danger zone, originally set at a 15-mile radius, was too small by at least an order of magnitude and that “there is still a tremendous quantity of radioactive dust floating in the air.”[25]
After more than 70 years, radiation exposures from inhalation and ingestion of water and food contaminated by Trinity test fallout were never assessed,[26] and it may prove to be difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct doses from internal exposures, given the deaths of residents living in the vicinities from the passage of time and the major changes in lifestyles and dietary habits that have occurred since 1945. Fallout maps of the Trinity test have been made, but they contain strong elements of speculation because of the paucity of radiological monitoring at the time.
The National Cancer Institute is near completion of a fallout dispersion study of the Trinity explosion. Regardless of the outcome of this study, it is clear the public was endangered because of US government negligence in conducting a highly dangerous experiment, as was the case for the downwinders living near the Nevada Test Site, where above-ground nuclear tests were conducted. Because of passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990, 22,220 “downwinders” exposed to fallout from open air nuclear weapons tests near the Nevada Test Site received an official apology from the US Government for sending them in harm’s way through deception. Through 2015, they had also received nearly $2 billion in financial compensation.[27]
But the people downwind of the 1945 explosion in New Mexico have been denied official recognition, even though the Trinity shot was considered one of the dirtiest of American nuclear tests, with a significant absence of safeguards to protect people from dense radioactive fallout. Safety took a back seat to making sure the first atomic bombs would meet their enormously destructive potential. Alvin Weinberg, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory during and after the Manhattan Project captured the prevalent mindset in his memoir by saying that “all else, including safety, was secondary.”[28]
Several years ago, residents of central and southern New Mexico organized to fight for compensation. Known as the Tularosa Basin Downwinders, they have made a compelling case that cancers and other diseases are due to the Trinity blast and subsequent radioactive fallout from open air atomic bomb tests in Nevada.
Indeed, coming to terms with the legacy of the Trinity explosion through radiation dose reconstruction is further complicated by the fallout that drifted from the Nevada tests into New Mexico. As indicated by the Centers for Disease Control in 2005, northern and central New Mexico were among the areas where significant amounts of fallout were deposited from the Nevada open air atomic tests.[29] Even so, the strong correlation of increased infant deaths in the months following the Trinity explosion cannot be ignored.
We should remember that compensation for people near the Nevada test site was not exclusively based on abstract modeling of radiation doses. Rather, downwinders were also compensated because the burden of proof fell unfairly on them. They were victims not just of willful negligence, but also the government’s purposeful deception and suppression of evidence about the high-hazard activity that the US nuclear weapons program constituted. The current body of historical evidence of harm, negligence, and deception—especially the evidence of increased infant death following the first nuclear explosion—should be more than enough for long overdue justice for the people in New Mexico who were downwind of Trinity.
[1]Terrence R. Fehner & F. G. Gosling U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History, Battlefield of the Cold War, Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing 1951-1963, DOE/MA-0003,p 25
[2] Final Report of the Los Alamos Historical Document and Retrieval and Assessment Project, Prepared for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2010, pp. ES-34-35.
[3] Kathhryn S. Behnke, Chiropractor, Letter to: Dr. Stafford L. Warren, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, October 20, 1947.
[4] Fred A. Bryan, Letter to Katheryn S. Behnke, December 4, 1947.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Letter from Marion Hotopp, M. D., Dept. of Public Health, dated Dec. 19, 1947.
[7] Letter from Wright H. Langham,
[8] New Mexico Summary of Vital Statistics, 1945 vol. 26, #31, July 16, 1947 & Vital Statistics-Special Reports, Federal Security Agency
[9] Ibid
[10]Communication with David Richard, Professor and radiation epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, November 27, 2017.
[11] op cit ref 3.
[12] See
[13] Stewart, Alice, Webb, J., Giles, D. & Hewitt, D., Malignant Disease in Childhood and Diagnostic Irradiation In Utero;  Preliminary  Communication, Lancet 2, 1956, p. 447
[14] Stewart, Alice, Webb, J., & Hewitt D., A  Survey of Childhood Malignancies, BRITISH MEDICL JOURNAL 1, 1958, 1495-1508; MacMahon, Brian, Prenatal X-Ray Exposure and Childhood Cancer, J. NATIONAL CANCER INST., 28 (5) May, 1962, p. 1173; Diamond, Earl, Schmerler, Helen, & Lilienfeld, Abraham, The Relationship of Intra-Uterine Radiation to Subsequent Mortality and Development of Leukemia in Children, AMER. J.  HYGIENE, 97 (5) May, 1973, 283; Sternglass, Ernest, Cancer:  Relation of Prenatal Radiation to the Development of the Disease in Childhood, SCIENCE Vol. 140, 1963
[15] UNSCEAR 2001 Report, Hereditary Effects of Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, UNSCEAR 2001 Report to the General Assembly, with Scientific Annex
[16] Op Cit ref 3.
[17] Personal communication with Joseph Shomka June 2019.
[18] Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, Memorandum on the Properties of a Radioactive “Super-bomb,” March,1940.
[19] Hirschfelder and J. Magee to K. Bainbridge, “Danger from Active Material Falling from Cloud Desirability of Bonding Soil Near Zero with Concrete and Oil,” June 16, 1945, NTA.
[20] Joseph O. Hirschfelder, The Scientific and Technological Miracle at Los Alamos, Reminiscences of Los Alamos, 1943-1945, Boston: D. Reidel. Publishing Company, 1980, p.67.
[21] Ferenc Morton Szasz, The Day the Sun Rose Twice, University of New Mexico Press, (1984), pp-71-72
[22] Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of Nuclear Weapons since 1940, Steven I. Schwartz Ed., The costs of the Manhattan Project, Brookings Institution Press, 1998.
[23] Memorandum, To: Major Gen. Groves From: Colonel Stafford L. Warren, Chief of Medical Section
Manhattan District, Subject: Report on Test II at Trinity, 16 July 1945, U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project Files, folder 4, “Trinity Test.”
[24] U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Final Report of the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment (LAHDRA) Project, November 2010, p.22-3.
[25] Memorandum, To: Major Gen. Groves From: Colonel Stafford L. Warren, Chief of Medical Section
Manhattan District, Subject: Report on Test II at Trinity, 16 July 1945, U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project Files, folder 4, “Trinity Test.”
[26] Op Cit ref 3, p.22-3.
[27] Congressional Research Service, The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA): Compensation Related to Exposure to Radiation from Atomic Weapons Testing and Uranium Mining, June 11, 2019.
[28] Alvin M/ Weinberg, The first Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer, The American Institute of Physics, New York (1994). P.188