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Nuclear War Theme Parks: Mass Destruction for the Whole Family

Plutonium was named after Pluto, “god of the underworld,” Hades, or hell. It was created inside faulty reactors, concentrated, and machined by US scientists into the most devastating and horrifying of all weapons. Photos of what the Manhattan Project’s plutonium bomb did to human beings at Nagasaki prove the point. There is radioactive blowback in the fact that the thousands of tons of plutonium created since 1945 is so dangerously hot and long-lived that, like the underworld itself, nobody knows how to handle it at all — except maybe to trivialize it.

Hoping perhaps to show that the bomb from hell can be transformed from a vengeful, self-destructive, nightmare demon, into a benign, peace-loving, fairy-tale prince, nuclear propagandists and their friends in Congress are establishing nuclear war theme parks — without the taint of mass destruction — at former bomb factories and nuclear weapons launch pads all across the country.

Tours are being offered at the “B Reactor,” on the Hanford Reservation in Washington State which in 2008 was declared a National Historic Landmark. Plutonium production reactors for the nuclear arsenal were sloppily operated there for decades, releasing large amounts of radioactive fallout and causing permanent tainting of groundwater which now threatens the Columbia River—cover it up, make it a destination.

A National Wildlife Refuge has been established at Rocky Flats, Colorado, outside Denver, where the machining of plutonium for nuclear bomb cores has poisoned dozens of square miles.

Near Fargo, North Dakota, the State Historical Society has acquired a deactivated Minuteman missile launch control center, dubbed it “Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site,” and opened it to tourism.

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Launch control at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site Park.

In South Dakota, a retired launch control center is now the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and is run by the National Park Service. With enough willful blindness — that if looked at squarely, might be considered a kind of devil worship — visitors may go underground and personally simulate a missile launch. “Satan laughing with delight.”

Outside Tucson, Arizona, you can tour the Titan Missile Museum which opened in 1986 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

At White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, six hours from Washington, DC, the Greenbrier hideaway was built by the Eisenhower Administration as a nuclear war fallout shelter for 1,000 people — including members of Congress and their families. The bunker came with a generator, a 60-day supply of food, a hospital, kitchen, dining room, waste-disposal, and a dental operating room. Of course, a nuclear attack on Washington would have rendered evacuation impossible, the airport a smoldering ruin, and the trains unworkable. Now deactivated and elegantly restored, the site is making money by charging visitors for tours.

In 2011, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recommended to Congress that a national historic park be established to honor the Manhattan Project — the secret program whose atom bombs killed 140,000 people at Hiroshima and 70,000 at Nagasaki. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said then in a press release, “Once a tightly guarded secret, the story of the atomic bomb’s creation needs to be shared with this and future generations.” Jarvis insults our intelligence by feigning ignorance of the vast literature concerning the development and use of nuclear weapons which is available in any good library — histories based on formerly classified documents that demolish the official government myth — that the Bomb “ended the war” and “saved lives.”

These nuclear war theme parks are part of a deliberate attempt to trivialize nuclear weapons and to dumb down popular understanding of their environmental and human health legacy. After employing hellish mythology to manufacture real massacres so vast that governments might quake, it wasn’t too big a leap for the same scientists to follow Hiroshima and Nagasaki with 16,000 human radiation experiments on US citizens, 100 atmospheric bomb tests, deliberate mass venting of radiation, intentional “test-to-failure” reactor meltdowns, and ocean sinkings of tons of rad’ waste and entire navy propulsion reactors. All this coldblooded recklessness severely and permanently endangers human, animal and environmental health, because radiation in the body in cumulative doses attacks the gene pool in multi-generational perpetuity. Enormous radiation releases by commercial reactors and nuclear waste sites — at Windscale, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, etc. — have resulted directly from the nuclear weapons program first unveiled in a show of butchery, and later peddled like laundry soap to an uninformed public as a “peaceful atom” that would bring “electricity too cheap to meter.” We now know the nuclear age will bring a never-ending due bill too gargantuan to quantify.

Last month, thanks largely to Senators from nuclear weapons states Tennessee and New Mexico, a Manhattan Project National Historical Park was officially authorized. Oddly, three proposed sites for this “park” are secret sections of the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tenn., off limits to the public.

In view of the fact that the Manhattan Project’s atomic bombings of Japanese cities were not merely unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary, the United States should be making formal apologies to the victims and their survivors in Japan, and offering reparations to them, not glorifying the planning, preparation and commission of mass destruction.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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