Richards is currently in Vienna, the headquarters of the IAEA

by Linda M. Richards*

May 1 is a real Worker’s holiday all over Austria, so today the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) was closed and there were no official NPT Preparatory Committee meetings. The NPT is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Almost all the shops and businesses are closed, except for restaurants and–luckily–this internet cafe where I rented a computer for one Euro an hour to offer this humble blog piece.

This morning the members of the Japanese peace group Gensuikyo and Soku Gakkai International, both groups that supported Linus Pauling, invited the NGO NPT Prep Com participants to march with them in the massive worker’s rights parade with survivors of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. NGOs are Non Governmental Organizations, like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). I am a member of WILPF, like Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, and because of WILPF’s historical role in the founding of the United Nations, our members have observer status and can participate and attend UN meetings such as the NPT Prep Com.

I attended the Gensuikyo meeting in 2010 so it was nice to meet them again. In 2010 I retraced the Paulings 1959 trip to the Hiroshima Commemorations during my time in Japan. At the 1959 Commemorations, Pauling delivered his speech “Our Choice: Atomic Death or World Law” that is still current today, and I have been reflecting on that speech while listening to the ambassadors at the Prep Com. State officials attend three prep com meetings to prepare for the 2015 NPT Review, and this is the first prep com of three that will be held, and it is also the first prep com since the successful 2010 NPT review that got most nations back on track to the disarmament focus of the NPT. Every five years the NPT is evaluated.

Several members of Soku Gakkai International have been a joy to meet as well and discuss the past exhibition of Linus Pauling by OSU that toured over 60 cities from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. That exhibit was also reminisced about at the Linus Pauling Award dinner the night before I boarded the plane for Vienna. The people here I have met from the Japanese NGOs and those at the dinner, including Richard Yoshimachi of the IKEDA Center, expressed real interest in displaying the exhibit in the future, as the display showed disarmament is possible by sharing the achievement of the first test ban treaty. Mr. Yoshimachi had facilitated the exhibit with OSU and especially with Cliff Meade.

Today at the march, I enjoyed meeting the Gensuikyo national staff members as well as the brave hibakusha who are now elders and despite their many illnesses and health limitations, travel the world to appeal for global nuclear disarmament. I also was so happy to talk with the Japanese I met because they know much of the same history as I do, but from a Japanese perspective.  The Japanese NGOs are as perplexed as me about the amazing lack of acknowledgement of the ongoing Fukushima accident by member states of the NPT at the Prep Com.

The NPT went into force in 1970. To dangerously summarize for the purpose of this blog, the NPT obligates those with nuclear haves to reduce their nuclear weapons to zero in exchange for non nuclear weapons states forgoing nuclear weapons and also, the support of technology transfer to non nuclear nations for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Some call this a devil’s bargain, but in essence, one has to keep in mind the entire purpose and mission of the IAEA was to promote nuclear power. It seems only fitting this prep com should be held here. While the IAEA is not as impressive of a building as one would expect because of current asbestoes removal–one of the buildings is cocooned in baggy wrapping–but the internal hallway displays show the wonders of nuclear energy with more glitz and sexiness than a Vogue magazine cover.

It was impossible not to cry during the official national opening statements that I witnessed yesterday. The few Japanese could not bear it and had to leave the room, because the ambassadors of one country after the other insisted nuclear development for energy was ongoing and necessary for their countries and the word Fukushima was left unspoken. On the positive side, there were passionate statements about eliminating nuclear weapons, despite a disconnect that a nuclear energy plant can become a potent nuclear weapon when there is an accident such as Fukushima. However, all the plenaries I witnessed are “off the record” but I can in general say that many countries are quite hopeful that this meeting will be successful. By May 11 when the meeting ends, the many ambassadors repeated often that each hopes this Prep Com will provide a valid assessment of each nation’s progress on the 64 point action plan developed from the last 2010 NPT meeting, There is quite a bit of support for nuclear free zones and tangible excitement for a 2012 meeting that will convene on the topic of the creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, something that has been called for by the NPT since 1995. It was wonderful to hear from government representatives what an inspiration, and a model, these nuclear weapons free zones have become for creating true human regional security.

It was also expressed by many ambassadors that there is hope that the UN General Assembly may soon introduce a weapons convention and that this was necessary to move beyond a focus on nonproliferation to the neglected topic of weapons reduction. However, it is important to understand that while the actual numbers of weapons are being reduced, the effects of modernization of weapons that is happening at many countries, including the US, makes these decreasing numbers of weapons unfortunately much more powerful in terms of kiloton yield and targeting accuracy.

Also, an upcoming conference on the comprehensive humanitarian catastrophic costs of nuclear weapons will be organized by Norway. The Norwegian government is acting in response to pressure from civil society and because of powerful statements by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent that condemned nuclear weapons as a threat to world public health from the diversion of resources to weapons that create poverty to the direct impacts from manufacture and use. Because of my role at WILPF I was allowed to speak with the Norwegian Ambassador, as well as others who will be organizing this meeting as no indigenous representative are here at the NPT; even among the NGOs. As most people who know me are aware, at least 80 % of the nuclear fuel chain, the mining, milling, manufacture, testing, and storage of nuclear materials, takes place on indigenous lands, but their voices are not heard in these nation state discussions. I have been working on ensuring future partnerships as well with the ICANW.org organizers and have been invited to join the Abolition 2000 working group on indigenous issues to further this work.

Yesterday I also had an official tour of the IAEA archives with the archivist Leopold Kammerhofer and it was fascinating. I have been treated like a goddess in their archive and I am the first person to ever be in their research room! In between the Prep Com and abolition NGO meetings, I am photographing as many documents as possible for my dissertation.

To learn more about the NPT Prep Com or one of the NGOs working on disarmament that I was invited to join and attended their annual meeting this past weekend, see reachingcriticalwill.org  and icanw.org.

Hugs all around, Linda in Vienna

*Linda M. Richards is pursuing a Ph.D. in History of Science at Oregon State University.  Her research focuses on radiation effects and radiation safety policies throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, and she is currently collecting material from the archives of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

Linda's photo of Bruegel's The Tower of Babel, from the Vienna Art History Museum
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