Nuclear Weapons: A Subject With Dire Consequences

With the Iran nuclear agreement now in question and North Korea testing its rapidly developing nuclear arsenal, the terrifying possibility of a nuclear war should be of major concern to all of us. Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist's Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing, just released by Columbia University Press and written by Dr. Lynn R. Sykes for a general audience, is particularly relevant with all that is going on today.

Dr. Sykes, a renowned geophysicist and professor emeritus at Columbia University and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, is in a unique position to discuss this. His close involvement began when he was sent to Russia in 1974 as part of a U.S. delegation to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty. His expertise as a seismologist played an important role throughout these negotiations.

Sykes, who has actively participated throughout the years in top-level discussions and negotiations related to nuclear issues, is able to provide an insider’s account in the ongoing battle for passage and ratifying a treaty.

“I have been working toward the passage of a full nuclear test ban treaty among countries that possess nuclear weapons throughout my 50 years of professional life. I am all too aware that nuclear capability poses an immense threat; in the wrong hands it could lead to the annihilation of billions of humans, the greatest disaster since our species originated.”

Sykes’ specialty is seismology, the study of earthquakes and seismic waves. An extensive worldwide monitoring system set up to measure their occurrence is also utilized to detect nuclear explosions. “Over the years, one of the big problems in the negotiations for a treaty has been whether all nuclear explosions, particularly those conducted underground, can be detected and identified. The evolution of monitors, which can now pick up explosions as small as ten tons, are in place throughout the world. I strongly believe that these, in conjunction with other methods, makes it possible to determine if a country is not upholding a test ban treaty. A full test ban treaty was signed in 1996. The major nuclear powers have not cheated even though the treaty still has not been ratified.”

Silencing the Bomb traces the development of the atom bomb, the nefarious efforts by the Russians to steal the plans shortly after WWII, the frightening nuclear testing by the U.S. and Russia throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, the deceit and lies of those opposed to a treaty and the many attempts at negotiating a comprehensive test ban treaty. “I tried to show that a full test ban could have been enacted and monitored effectively as early as 1970.”

Asked about President Trump’s recent declaration of increasing the U.S. arsenal ten fold, Sykes commented, “The U.S. leads the world in nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Many of the weapons we possess are thirty to one hundred times as powerful as the ones dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It only takes one to totally wipe out a major city. And it is important to keep in mind that if we increase our stockpile and test new weapons so will other countries.”

Dr. Sykes will be discussing his book and signing copies of it at the Palisades Community Center on Sunday, January 21, 4:30 - 6:00 pm.