Justifications for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki are ultimately based on the idea that yardsticks applicable to most nations are inapplicable to the US government and its allies. The same presumption has often undermined international arms control efforts. The mainstream Western discourse on Iran holds that it would be undesirable for Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb—but simply ignores the fact that US or Israeli possession of nuclear arsenals is equally problematic.
For about four decades, the late Praful Bidwai, who was 66 when he died suddenly last month in Amsterdam, was no stranger to the readers of this journal. He wrote prodigiously on various aspects of nuclear weapons and energy. Even for someone as widely published as Praful, the sheer volume of his output is noteworthy.
Recent media reports suggest that all is not well within the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Scientists have reportedly written to the Prime Minister seeking intervention in the management of the Centre. Their complaints mostly revolve around internal matters such as harassment and promotions, but an important revelation should be of public concern. One scientist has reportedly alleged that his supervisor had directed that effluents from the reprocessing plant be released into sea with radioactivity levels much higher than permissible limits. Absent transparent inquiry, we cannot ascertain the veracity of this allegation, but there is a historical basis for taking this seriously and be concerned.
On August 9, 2011—66 years after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki but only about five months after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue observed that, until Fukushima, many people had believed in the myth of safety at nuclear power plants. “But what about the more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world?” asked Taue. “Do we still believe that the world is safer thanks to nuclear deterrence? Do we still take it for granted that no nuclear weapons will ever be used again?”