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Nuclear Science: Good Judgements versus Poor Judgements

Photo: Hiroshima Aftermath. Source: Amusing Planet

By Rameez Raja

There is a marked difference between knowledge and wisdom and both the entities play an important role in decision making process. A good judgement has direct connection with wisdom and a poor decision, of course, lacks wisdom. We find instructions in religious texts that one should “use wisdom” and be steadfast and believe in justice. We are also taught in schools by our teachers to follow personalities like Newton, Einstein, Gandhi, Kalam, and several other influential and talented people and to take inspiration from them. However, sometimes we are compelled to take a contrary position and change our minds whenever we come across a bad decision taken by the people in the past.

Poor judgements come from scientists, too, as it is evident during the 1930s and 1940s, when several scientists undermined the true spirit of science and discovered the nuclear science. After going through several authentic books on issues of nuclear energy and conducting interviews with physicists as part of my study, I conclude that numerous scientists, along with engineers, who are known for their contribution to research and science, have murdered the true spirit of science. For my research, I studied several famous authors related to the field such as Kenneth Waltz, Scott Sagan, Sumit Ganguly, S. Paul Kapur, Rajesh Basrur, Ramesh Thakur, Bharat Karnad, Rajesh Rajagopalan, George Perkovich, Itty Abraham, Zafar Iqbal Cheema, Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, and Ken Booth. In addition, I read some of the physicists such as Homi Bhabha, M. V. Ramana, Dr. Abdus Salam, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Riazuddin, Zia Mian, Dombey, and several other scientists, who are working in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai.

The perception that nuclear science is the chief source for generating electricity has been challenged by many physicists and academic think tanks. The studies also reveal that nuclear energy would never be a cheap source for generating electricity. In addition, several states like Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom have shut down their nuclear reactors after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Chernobyl accident in 1986, and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. It is estimated that twenty-one nuclear reactors have been shut down worldwide so far. The general public knows very little about the harmful effects of nuclear radiations and the destruction it can cause as the concerned authorities hardly make any efforts to educate people about the same. The other factor for championing nuclear energy by optimists, nuclear hawks, and nuclear nationalists is deterrence theory that nukes play an important role in avoiding major wars between the countries. However, the claims made by these people stand contrary to the current world scenario, where there is an ever-increasing threat of a nuclear warfare or exchange on the cards due to unresolved crisis and sub-conventional conflicts between the nuclear powers.

Initially, I tried to stay neutral between the optimists and pessimists as I couldn’t understand the deterrence theory properly. In addition, nuclear energy is generally considered pollution free throughout world and, owing to which, the panel on climate change did not put nuclear energy as a source of pollution. However, during the course of my study I found that Kenneth Waltz’s deterrence theory is problematic. Lewis Mumford rightly said, ‘America is living among madmen’ in relation to bombings carried out by the United States over the two cities of Japan in August 1945. The Manhattan project was directed by Major General Leslie Groves of the US Corps of engineers, who with the help of President Truman ordered to drop the two bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) over Japan’s two cities to test their strength or potential. As a result of this experiment, an engineer with the help of US pilots killed thousands of innocent lives. However, during the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, it is reported that a Russian pilot refused to drop a nuclear bomb over the US, although permitted by the Soviet Union.

The bombardment over Japan was without any warning. It was an experiment carried to test the warheads, but unfortunately resulted in mass destruction. The historians reject the US statement that Japan surrendered because of the atomic bombardment in World War II. Rather, they argue that it was a bad decision that culminated in the murder of an innocent people by the US to traumatise the world in general and Japan in particular. As we know, Japan was ready to surrender at that time, but what made the US to attack Japan without any warning remains a question to be answered. The deterrence theory rests on rational decision making but, unfortunately, we are living with nuke speakers who undermined humanity and ethics. Even a minor mistake from any of the sides can wipe us out from the face of earth in a blink. The nuclear doctrines of respective states clearly mention about the ‘unacceptable damage’ to their foe that means civilian areas. A single bad judgement from the scientists or a bad decision by the heads of states will definitely lead to a bad future, a major nuclear accident or a nuclear war. Indian nuclear industry has a long list of mishaps like leakages, fire, corrosion problems, technical/mechanical errors, delays, reactor shut downs and finally strike from the workers.

The notion that nuclear energy is pollution free has been challenged by the Japanese nuclear chemist, Jinzabura Takagi. He has argued that carbon dioxide levels in Japan have increased from 1965 to 1995 as the carbon dioxide emissions went up from about 400 million tonnes to about 1200 million tonnes during this period. In addition to that, nuclear waste and radiation are genuine issues, which are disregarded by the nuclear states.

Experts believe that peaceful utilization of nuclear energy is nothing but a hidden ploy to continue working on developing weapons programmes. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is not accidental but a well-designed and collaborative process where the nuclear industry is directly involved in proliferating and imparting nuclear related information to current nuclear states which were non-nuclear weapons states in the past.

While criticizing Waltz’s deterrence theory, Scott Sagan argues that the situation in India and Pakistan is different from that of the US and Russia. Sagan states that the region is inhabited by ‘imperfect people inside imperfect organizations’ and someday deterrence will fail in South Asia. Some people in the Indian army even think of detonating an atomic bomb at Siachen glacier to wipe-out Pakistan completely and to solve the problem once for all. In addition, many people in India wish for a natural calamity like a massive earthquake to destroy Pakistan as an easy solution for the unresolved dispute. Similarly, the people of Pakistan also want to nuke India. Indian nuclear tests were code named as “Buddha is Smiling” and Islamic bomb of Pakistan was the direct outcome of Indian nuclear experiments. We know that both the religious figures (Muhammad [pbuh] and Lord Buddha) are known for their peaceful teachings and compassion, but the policy makers from both the states defy their teachings and present them in a negative way.

The decision for manufacturing of nuclear weapons worldwide starts with the scientists and engineers in collaboration with politicians and policy makers. Physicists/scientists came up with numerous theories that helped people to know about the radioactivity or nuclear energy such as Albert Einstein, who after seeing the destruction caused by the nuclear bombs in Japan regretted the discovery. Similarly, Ted Taylor, a weapon designer, changed his stance and started advocating for the abolition of nuclear programmes. Dr. Riazuddin was unhappy when interviewed after Pakistan’s nuclear tests. Kenneth Bainbridge, the director of the Trinity test, said immediately to Robert Oppenheimer after the nuclear tests, ‘Now we are all sons of bitches.’ Oppenheimer in his own words evoked a line from the Gita, ‘Now I had become death, the destroyer of the world.’

Today, politicians feel proud of their nuclear tests. After the 1998 nuclear tests, Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee updated Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan “Jai Javan, Jai Kisan” (hail the soldier, hail the farmer) to “Jai Javan, Jai Kisan, and Jai Vigyan” (hail science). Jay Vigyan did not mean basic science, but only nuclear weapon tests. Similarly, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, responded with anger that they have not worn bangles and carried out six nuclear tests in retaliation. The majority of people in both nuclear states happen to live below poverty line and nuclear tests hardly provide them hope regarding their safety and security. According to 2017 world nuclear industry report published by the Bulletin of the Atomic scientists, India and Pakistan are qualitatively and quantitatively increasing its nuclear arsenal.

The nuclear science is regarded as second-rate science and is just a knowledge. The nuclear scientists themselves know the reality about the bad future and that is why some of the nuclear scientists turned against it. The list of those who turned anti-nuclear is long. Unfortunately, because of so-called threat to national security, states have not given enough consideration to them. Wisdom is linked to good judgements and a good judgment is never harmful for anyone; however, bad decisions often culminate into bad results.

To sum up, it can be said that the atomic bomb manufacturers are poor decision makers and lack wisdom. Ramesh Thakur argued that if nuclear war is an evil then the commitment of first-use or no-first use of nukes is also morally wrong.

Rameez Raja
 is a Ph. D. scholar at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. Email ID:


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