The "Post-Cold War" Cold War

Following a 30-year siesta during which most Americans believed the risks from nuclear weapons had simply evaporated, we have awakened to reality, a sobering new reality. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry (age 89) believes "today, the danger of some sort of nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War."

The dangers are all around us and take various forms: increasing tensions between the US and Russia; Russia's provocative breaching of a landmark missile defense treaty; the aggressive policies of a nuclear North Korea; a new nuclear arms race, encouraged by US plans to rebuild its entire nuclear triad of missiles, submarines and bombers; and a stagnant disarmament process. Add to this an American president who is both completely unschooled in nuclear weapons and policies, and psychologically unpredictable and uneven.

It is this sobering constellation of threats to the entire human community that has propelled us at WPSR to rapidly ramp up our strategic commitments on nuclear issues, as well as our organizational capacity for action.

Ultimately it is at the national level that advocacy needs to focus because the policy decisions are fundamentally at the Congressional level. Thus, our efforts to impact nuclear policies must concentrate on our Washington members of Congress. For PSR, the horrendous risks from these weapons of Mutually Assured Suicide have always been nonpartisan. Although Congressional Democrats have generally been more open to arms treaties and reduced arsenals, for the most part the US has long had a single nuclear policy, based on deterrence and a "strong" nuclear posture. 

As former Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Nuclear Command, General Lee Butler, has argued, "I see deterrence in a very different light….It has suspended rational thinking about the ultimate aim of national security: to ensure the survival of the nation." If the results of a full-scale nuclear exchange, for whatever reason, embraced national suicide, how distorted has the defense of our own "national security" become?

The need for objective scrutiny of our ossified policies and a searing debate about how to move beyond our Cold War thinking are stalled by the unrelenting opposition and unexamined objections of the "nuclear priesthood," the military/industrial/Congressional complex that so dominates our policy processes. We at WPSR will not acquiescence to the faded, unchallenged scriptures of this nuclear priesthood. We are committed to reassert the voice of prevention, individual conscience, moral awakening, and reason in the interests of a safer world community.

Our initiatives to impact nuclear policies include: meeting with all 12 WA members of Congress in 2017; formation of a WA Coalition to Stop the New Nuclear Arms Race (currently at 18 organizations) to join the educational and lobbying effort; creation of a panel of WA power brokers from business, healthcare, faith, labor, and academic communities to join our campaign to educate and influence our members of Congress; and, the launching of a public education campaign to further mobilize our citizenry.

This campaign is led by a Nuclear Weapons Abolition task force comprised of 15 members, many with long histories advocating against nuclear weapons.The pace and efficiency of our work is greatly aided by the recent addition of a full-time organizer, Lilly Adams, supported by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund, with whom we are working closely.

These politically unprecedented and unnerving times have called us to arms. We have almost certainly the most extensive and strategic nuclear weapons abolition program of any of the 20+ PSR chapters, and we are committed to the vision of re-establishing a state-wide civil society anti-nuclear movement which we have not seen since the height of the Cold War. We also see this as a model for other states, and we are encouraging PSR chapters across the country to adopt our strategic vision. The hill is steep, but, like Sisyphus we never give up.

bruce-in-iran.jpg
 

Bruce Amundson, MD
President
April 2017

WPSR President's Update September 2016

There are two – and only two – issues that threaten all life on the planet: climate change and a nuclear exchange. These are, therefore, the two main issues that WPSR and our cadre of health professionals and other members are working to avoid.

We are not bit players on either issue. WPSR has emerged to play strategic roles on both issues. This is a consequence of the mission we have defined and the value-driven commitment from both our leaders and our members, now over 800 strong in WA. Allow me to elaborate.

We all recognize that a warming planet is already producing serious health problems, both regionally and globally. Climate scientists have determined that at least 75% of the known fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground if we hope to prevent a tipping point. WPSR is fully engaged in reaching that goal regionally by working collaboratively to enforce the “thin green line” (to quote Sightline Institute) between massive coal deposits (Wyoming and Montana) and Bakken crude oil (North Dakota) and shipping terminals for export on the West Coast. As part of a sophisticated alliance of community and advocacy organizations, WPSR is the leading WA health voice empowering local communities and policy makers to stop the construction of these facilities, thereby preventing the burning of these carbon fuels.

The results so far have been astounding and unprecedented. In spite of the immense power of the fossil fuel industries, six of six proposals for new terminals have been defeated to date. This is nothing short of amazing. The health risks from these export terminals and related transport – together with their inevitable contributions to health problems from further climate change – have been core arguments in stopping their construction. WPSR has led the effort to highlight these health risks. Our role in this strategic campaign illustrates that we are not playing at the margins. We are effectively engaged at the deepest levels to combat the plans contributing to climate change in our region.

On the issue of nuclear weapons, enlightened analysts argue that the risk of a major nuclear exchange is greater now than at the peak of the Cold War. Partly this is because more countries house nuclear weapons, but also because the risks from rogue nations and terrorists complicate the supposed logic of two-nation “deterrence.” The policies of the major nuclear nations are stuck in the sclerotic and unexamined hair-trigger positions of the 50-year Cold War.

The new and sobering wrinkle, however, is that the President and Congress are moving ahead with proposals to “modernize” our entire nuclear arsenal – the triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, and bombers – at a projected cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years. If these dangerous, illegal, financially irresponsible and immoral proposals are not stopped, the U.S. and other nations involved in this new nuclear arms race will put the world at risk of annihilation for decades to come.

WPSR, with our cadre of members who are experts on nuclear issues and still fervently involved with them, has taken a strategic position that “modernization” must be stopped. We have expanded our nuclear weapons task force, met with WA members of Congress to urge opposition, put new resources into rebuilding a Northwest coalition of organizations to pressure our members of Congress, and successfully argued that national PSR step up its work to defeat these proposals. Further, recognizing that the three West Coast states have some of the most progressive members of Congress, we are leading a 3-state, 5-chapter campaign to enlist Congressional “champions” against the modernization. It is arguable that our chapter has the strongest capacity of any of the 20-plus PSR chapters on this issue, and our leadership is recognized and appreciated by our national organization and by other peace, faith, labor, and advocacy organizations in the Northwest.

I have felt I was overdue bringing our members up to date on our strategic program work. Our current leadership team is truly remarkable. It is a pleasure for me to report this and to acknowledge the impressive efforts of our staff, board, and task force leaders.

I need to clarify that we also have a third priority program: income inequality, and the related issue of paid parental leave. The only reason I am not discussing it further here is that, while it impacts huge numbers of people and families, it does not represent the global threat to humanity that this letter is focused on.

We need to grow our membership. We need to expand our financial resources to fully and proportionally support the programs I’ve outlined above with appropriate staff and technology. Please do all you feel you can to pitch in, either with your time and participation or with your checkbook.

We deeply appreciate these various means of support, which provide a stronger foundation for our continuing advocacy.

Bruce Amundson, MD
President

Transporting Oil and Coal by Rail: The Under-Appreciated Risks

Everyone in the Pacific Northwest is aware of the major uptick in rail shipments of coal and oil, with potentially much more ahead. While our coalition of activist organizations and public officials has stopped a number of proposed regional oil and coal shipping terminals, the struggle for a safer region is not over. Even if coastal oil terminals for international export are stopped, plans are proceeding to greatly expand the transport of crude oil from the Bakken fields to serve the refineries in our area. With the slowing of oil from the Alaskan fields that has largely fed the three Anacortes refineries, the companies are looking to North Dakota to increasingly make up the difference.

Since 1862 when BNSF’s predecessor railroads began service, to now, 154 years later, railroads have never put the public at such risk. Railroad analysts and employees have identified two major reasons. The first is train length. Up until quite recently when a train pulled more than 50 cars, it wad divided. Now trains are commonly over 100 cars (this while dramatically reducing the number of employees per train, now typically down to two).

The second reason is what is carried. Coal and oil are much heavier than many other types of freight, and they are replacing much of the other freight in the northwest as the movement of oil and coal to western ports has become economically attractive to both the energy companies and the railroads.

But here is where these trends link to an increased risk. A recent study by the LA Times of 31 rail accidents involving crude oil since 2013 found that 17, or 55%, were ascribed to “track problems or track failure.” While the rate of railroad accidents overall has trended down, the rate of accidents involving crude oil transport has gone up. Oil trains appear to cause unique stresses on the tracks. And “wide gauge” was found to be largely responsible - the immense weight of rail cars in 100-car trains causes the tracks to push apart. If that happens as little as three inches, the cars derail. It is also presumed that the sloshing of oil in the cars is a factor because it increases the stress on the tracks.

Railroads, including BNSF, have spent millions of dollars upgrading their tracks. But, it is important to note that derailments were found to be occurring even on upgraded sections of tracks.

The derailment in Mosier, Oregon, this month was attributed to “track failure” but from a different cause. A railroad tie and its metal pin failed.

What is emerging from these accidents across the US in the past few years is evidence that no amount of preventive track maintenance can prevent derailments. The massive loads and the stresses produced overwhelm the infrastructure that is in many cases over 100 years old (think of the bridges next).

This conclusion is supported by the people that know best: railroad employees and firefighters. It explains why months ago the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters adopted a position opposing the transport of crude by rail because they stated that it simply “cannot be done safely.” The Vancouver, WA Fire Fighters Union similarly opposes building a large crude oil export terminal in Vancouver on the Columbia River.

So far most of the oil train derailments have occurred in rural areas. Several have not, or have been in dangerously close proximity to town or city populations (the Mosier accident is an example). Trains carrying crude oil in WA pass through almost every large city in the state, and many smaller communities. 

WPSR believes, therefore, that there is no safe way to transport volatile crude oil by rail. The bigger issue, as we all know, is that most of the world’s known crude oil and coal needs to stay in the ground to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. That’s the long-term goal. Over the shorter term, the risks to people in our state from crude oil accidents and fires are unacceptable, and we believe we need to work to stop their transport completely. Our medical adage holds again: prevention is the best (and here, only) treatment.

(In a subsequent article I will address the scientifically documented risks to human health from the transport of coal by rail.)

Bruce Amundson, MD
President

It's The Leadership, Stupid!

The effectiveness with which WPSR is managing its programs now is very heartening. We've not only clearly defined the 2016 strategic plans for our Climate and Health, Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Income Inequality programs; we have also enlarged the task forces working on each program.

However, the most important development over the past two years has been the expansion of our leadership. We have very committed co-chairs for each task force who are bringing exceptional leadership skills and program competency to our work. As with any successful organization, it all starts with leadership - leadership that involves not only commitment and time but knowledge of both the program and organizational principles.

Our Climate and Health task force is led by Mary Margaret Thomas and Mark Vossler. Mary Margaret brings an exceptional history in organizational effectiveness and transformation together with interpersonal skills that make people want to be involved. She also has a rich experience with Healthcare Without Harm. Mark has engaged the climate change issue with a ferocity that is remarkable. In spite of his full-time cardiology practice, his time management skills have allowed him to be remarkably responsive to opportunities to lead, testify, educate and be involved. Together, their co-management of the task force through a detailed work plan and assignments of responsibility is a model for organizational efficiency and effectiveness. We have quickly evolved to be the state authority on the health effects of climate change, and we are participating in several powerful regional coalitions committed to cap and reduce carbon emissions in WA. Time is not on our side.

The Nuclear Weapons Abolition task force is led by David Hall and Judith Lipton. David's life-long commitment to reducing the risks from nuclear weapons has made him a national authority on the issue. He has recently completed an e-book, Planning for Global Suicide, on the history of the nuclear era and the risks posed by a nuclear-armed world. Judith was the founder of the WPSR chapter in 1979 and worked tirelessly at both the local and national levels to empower physicians to address the extreme Cold War risks. After some time out for renewal, she has re-engaged the issue and brings exceptional knowledge and passion to this work. As the US begins to launch a surprising and ill-conceived policy to "modernize" its entire nuclear triad, submarines, missiles and bombers, at a projected cost of a trillion dollars over 30 years, we have to say no. WPSR's leaders have recognized that no other organization in the Pacific NW has either the knowledge or commitment to organize civil society to educate and pressure our elected officials on this issue. We're on it, aggressively, and with the most sophisticated leadership we could hope for.

Our Income Inequality task force is led by Stephen Bezruchka and Adam Hoverman. Stephen is a national authority on health disparities and the economic and social determinants of health. He has spoken and published extensively on the reasons for the extensive health disparities in the US and has worked tirelessly to help health professionals differentiate between personal and societal explanations for the indefensible inequalities that have evolved in this country. Adam has also been deeply involved with this issue, and brings a powerful sense of economic justice to our work. His teaching position in Yakima is coupled with deep community involvement with the cultural and social issues of that region. In addition to our support for the $15 minimum wage in Seattle, we are focusing our strategic work on the passage of legislation in WA mandating paid maternity leave for families. This is our focus due to the overwhelming body of research showing that a substantial percentage of each person's health is programmed in early life - the importance of the "first 1,000 days" argument.

Our overall leadership has also been greatly enhanced by an enlarged and more diverse Board of Directors. We have expanded the board to 10 members representing a mix of both older and younger health professionals, as well as several community members. WPSR has a working board, and the level of engagement from our board is terrific.

All of this is buttressed by the remarkable leadership of our Executive Director, Laura Skelton. Laura, in a brief year and a half, has brought us effective management, guidance in our strategy formation, renewed community networking and a prodigious capacity for work. Her participatory style and warm interpersonal nature have made her a joy for all of us to work with. In addition, she has helped solidify our finances.

I'm honored to work with this team. The long-standing principle that an organization's strength and effectiveness correlate primarily with the quality of its leadership is borne out for WPSR. Our investment in thoughtful, explicit leadership recruitment and development is paying huge dividends.

Bruce Amundson, MD
President

WPSR President's Update Sept 2015

WPSR’s history of education and advocacy has always been concerned with the major threats to the health of the human community. PSR was birthed at the height of the Cold War out of physicians’ visceral concerns that a nuclear war would destroy civilization as we know it, and with the understanding that only prevention was a relevant strategy for confronting the risk. Later we fully engaged the slow-moving catastrophe of climate change and its expanding threats to people and our planet. More recently WPSR has identified income inequality and its serious impacts on health as a third major risk to human health and well-being.

These three threats exhibit substantial threads of interdependency, and we view our commitment to collectively addressing these three as essential for ensuring the health of individuals and the greater human community.

We might imagine health as a balancing act of sorts. Similar to a three-legged stool which relies on all three legs for support, health relies on the support of more than one factor. The schematic below illustrates how all three legs of the “stool” we call health must be addressed to fully ensure that individuals and communities can be assured of sustained health.

Abolishing nuclear weapons and their risks is necessary to ensure individual and collective safety and survival.

Limiting the life-altering effects of climate change will be necessary to ensure a thriving, sustained natural environment for the global community.

Reducing income equality by addressing the social and financial determinants of health is necessary to ensure that individuals can experience a full measure of personal and societal security.

This systems thinking has allowed WPSR leaders to develop a strategic perspective that both argues for the necessity for our full engagement with each of these major three threats to health and establishes a unifying vision of what is required for “health.”  We do not believe that as an organization we are committed to these health threats simply because they have been historically important to PSR. We believe our three strategic priorities must be addressed simultaneously to be able to achieve improved health and security of the human community.

Addressing such complex issues is not for the faint of heart. By its very nature, social activism requires a willingness to be engaged for the long haul, as WPSR has been over its 35 years of dogged work to reduce the stockpiles and risks of nuclear weapons. 

We continue to recognize the critical role physicians, nurses and other health professionals play in bringing our evidence-based health perspective to these three issues. Although we work in coalitions with others who are concerned about these threats to humanity, the particular credibility of our arguments adds weight to our work.

WPSR has established working groups, task forces led by board members, for all three program areas.  We are pleased to report the robust status of the organization right now – including our board of directors, staff, strategic orientation, coalitions, and enhanced financial resources. These factors ensure that we will continue to be engaged in our work for the long haul. 

Thanks for being part of WPSR’s work for social change.  Social change is not a program; it’s a sacred and empowering life-long commitment. And, it is most gratifyingly experienced through working with value-driven colleagues.

When people question how WPSR can hope to make a dent in entrenched problems such as nuclear stockpiles, I say in return that we are undaunted by the odds and empowered by compassion.

Bruce Amundson, MD
President

WPSR President’s Update, February 2015

One of our major strategic priorities for 2015 is to use our voice to support and initiate action on climate change.

A 2014 Gallup poll asked respondents to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields. Nurses, physicians, and pharmacists had the highest ratings. WPSR members – including physicians, nurses, and other health professionals and public health advocates in WA State – are working to use their trusted voices to argue for evidence-based action on climate change.

WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force – a group of practicing and academic physicians and nurses – seeks to bring attention to climate change as a current personal and public health issue, enlist physicians and other healthcare leaders to speak out on the health impacts of climate change, and provide a medical voice for promoting low-carbon energy sources. To achieve these goals, the task force is working to:

  • expand our speakers bureau of health professionals trained to speak publicly about climate change, energy use, and health;
  • educate more health care professionals about the consequences of climate change and fossil fuel use through physician seminars and medical student education; and
  • engage additional physicians in addressing climate change as a health issue, in part through passage of a resolution to take action against climate change by key organizations such as the Washington State Medical Association.

Connecting to Local Fossil Fuel Issues

At the present time our climate change task force has identified crude oil transport in WA as a major priority. The rapidly increasing volume of crude oil traveling through the state by rail is projected to soon eclipse the maximum daily volume that the Keystone XL pipeline could carry. Interrupting this ‘pipeline on rails’ in the Northwest is one way to incentivize and buy time to develop alternative, low-carbon transportation fuels.

To this end, our task force has extensively researched the medical literature to identify negative health consequences of transporting and storing crude oil. Our research led to WPSR taking an official position against crude oil transport by rail, storage, and shipment by vessel. We are currently soliciting signatures from medical professionals in WA and OR to call for a moratorium on new oil transport and storage projects in both states.

Further, we have taken the unusual stance of focusing on the terminals that receive oil trains, at a time when many of WA’s leading environmental organizations are focused more on train safety and potential derailments. Unlike rail transport, which is regulated at the federal level, terminals are regulated by state and local authorities. If we can block permits for the terminals along the western side of the state that receive and store oil, we can interrupt the ‘pipeline on rails’. Due to the flammable nature of the crude oil being stored, we believe that siting terminals in population centers poses an unacceptable risk to the public health of residents.

We are also calling upon the WA Department of Ecology and Governor Inslee to deny permits for proposed terminals. In our initial meetings with the Governor’s staff, it is clear that our concern about terminals is a new issue for consideration. The health and safety concerns associated with terminals lie outside a traditional environmental impact assessment, giving us a novel tactic for reducing petroleum’s short-term health and safety risks in WA, as well as its long-term implications for climate change.

Our Strategic Priorities

WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force developed and is guided by the following strategic plan:

Goal 1: Establish WPSR as the leading healthcare organization in WA on the health impacts of climate change

  • Objective 1a: Establish a panel of WPSR members available to testify to the legislature and to other elected bodies on climate change and/or coal and oil issues
  • Objective 1b: Enlist physicians and other healthcare professionals in WA and OR to sign our letter on health risks of oil transport and terminals
  • Objective 1c: Develop a presentation focused on the personal and public health consequences of climate change
  • Objective 1d: Meet with Governor Inslee and/or his high-ranking staff to share our climate priorities and express our willingness to support climate change initiatives in WA
  • Objective 1e: Regularly participate in work by WA climate change leaders
  • Objective 1f: As a partner in the West Coast Climate Campaign, publicly support thepassage of ambitious and integrated climate and clean energy policies

Goal 2: Educate and enlist physicians and other healthcare leaders and institutions to speak out on the health impacts of climate change

  • Objective 2a: Present on health consequences of climate change to WA healthcare organizations and providers
  • Objective 2b: Develop collaborative relationships with WA healthcare organizations to advance climate change policies
  • Objective 2c: Present on the health consequences of climate change at hospital Grand Rounds
  • Objective 2d: Support development and implementation of a climate change health impacts curriculum for educators
  • Objective 2e: Enlist student chapters in hosting and/or assisting with 3 or more climate-related presentations and events
  • Objective 2f: Support climate change work at healthcare institutions

Goal 3: Gain public recognition for climate change as both a personal and public health issue

  • Objective 3a: Solicit formal comments from WPSR members in support of the proposed EPA rules (and/or even stronger reduction targets) on carbon emissions from power plants
  • Objective 3b: Present health risks from coal and oil trains and storage/shipping terminals
  • Objective 3c: Publicly oppose the siting of major oil storage and shipment terminals in densely populated or ecologically sensitive settings
  • Objective 3d: Create online and printed literature that communicates critical information about why climate is a public health issue and activities for mitigation and adaptation in WA

Goal 4: Provide medical voice for supporting low-carbon energy sources

  • Objective 4a: Provide free electronic and print resources about low-carbon fuel sources for electricity and transportation, from a health perspective
  • Objective 4b: Voice support for transition off fossil fuels to renewables (i.e., support for wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal over natural gas, coal, and oil)
  • Objective 4c: Continue to oppose nuclear energy as a suitable alternative to fossil fuels, on grounds of major public health and personal medical risks

WPSR Climate Change Task Force Members

The following nine individuals make up WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force:

Bruce Amundson, MD, task force Co-Chair

  • retired family physician
  • WPSR Board President and longtime member of PSR and WPSR
  • experience with establishing sustainable organizations and rural healthcare systems
  • one of four principal investigators on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Hanford Thyroid Disease Study

Mary Margaret Thomas, RN, MSN, task force Co-Chair

  • environmental and occupational health nurse
  • WPSR Board Secretary
  • involved in clean-up efforts for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
  • active in Health Care without Harm; served as Co-Chair of their Nurses Work Group (NWG)

Phyllis Eide, PhD, MPH, MN, RN

  • Assoc. Professor and Campus Director at WSU’s College of Nursing campus in Spokane, WA
  • former program coordinator for College’s Advanced Population Health masters’ degree
  • has worked in a wide variety of community settings, including positions in public health, migrant school nurse, and vocational rehabilitation
  • certificate in Decision Making for Climate Change from University of Washington

Larry Freeman, MD

  • board certified in general psychiatry and board eligible in child and adolescent psychiatry
  • longtime member of WPSR and the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • former faculty of the Family Practice/Spokane residency program at UW

Kenneth Lans, MD, MBA

  • retired general practice physician
  • founding board member of WPSR
  • trained as a volunteer for public action and speaking through Climate Reality Project
  • photographer and long-time publisher for Seattle Mountaineers

David Masuda, MD, MS

  • lecturer at UW in two departments: Dept. of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine; Dept. of Health Services, School of Public Health
  • completed residency in diagnostic radiology
  • masters degree in administrative medicine
  • completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biomedical and health informatics

Laura Skelton, MS

  • Executive Director at WPSR
  • master’s degree in ecology
  • former program director and interim executive director at two Seattle-based nonprofits
  • co-authored national curricula on climate change

Michael Soman, MD, MPH

  • recently retired President and Chief Medical Executive of Group Health Physicians
  • spent over 20 years as a practicing physician, including 14 years as a clinic chief
  • had operational responsibility for Group Health Delivery System for a decade
  • active around climate change issues; member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Mark Vossler, MD, FACC

  • Medical Director of the Heart Failure Program and Cardiac Enhancement Center at Evergreen Hospital
  • board certified in cardiovascular diseases
  • former faculty at OHSU
  • longtime member of WPSR

I hope you are as excited about our climate change program as I am. Together, we can do great things! In fact, we already are making great strides.                 

Bruce Amundson, MD
WPSR President

Militarization, Its Costs, and the Nuclear Weapons Component: A Bad Dream?

As a citizen and your chapter president, I am incensed by the over-militarization of our American culture and our parallel addiction to military spending on behalf of local economic "vitality." Our bloated military establishment and its profligate missions hardly surface as an issue for the American public. Our public policy perspective – that this is normal or inevitable – only serves to forestall the debate we should be having on how the nation allocates its resources to appropriately address its common needs.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and US Territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the US spends approximately $250 billion each year just maintaining this global military presence.  The total estimated cost of our military and national security programs is estimated to be nearly a trillion dollars a year. These figures, of course, are numbing – impossible to truly comprehend. But common sense tells us that this is both unsustainable and clearly starving other sections of civil society – everything else the federal government has not been adequately funding for years, including investments in improved infrastructure, education, and human services.

Nowhere is this misallocation of federal dollars better illustrated than in the nuclear weapons budget. A May 2014 report by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability entitled "Billion Dollar Boondoggles" assessed where we are.  In 2000 Congress created the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) within the Department of Energy to be in charge of DOE's nuclear weapons research and production programs. The NNSA has proposed a program to "modernize" US nuclear weapons. The money would continue to flow into the sprawling complex for making nuclear weapons that consists of eight major plants and laboratories employing more than 40,000 people. Much of the 60-year old infrastructure of these plants is characterized by accidents, fires, and explosions.

But more sobering is the plan for overall weapons "modernization." Plans call for overhaul of all three legs of the weapons triad: 12 new Trident submarines, up to 100 new bombers, and 400 land-based missiles, either new or refurbished. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost to taxpayers will be $355 billion on modernization over the next ten years.  The following two decades will be even more expensive. The plan calls for spending more than $1 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and their missiles, subs and bombers over the next 30 years.

The sheer bizarreness of this plan is illustrated by the fact that the budget for nuclear weapons and research exceeds the all-time record set by Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War. In a world with thousands of fewer nuclear weapons than at the peak of the Cold War, and when the threats of the Cold War have largely disappeared, why is the nuclear weapons budget higher than at any point in history?

Part of the blame rests with the NNSA, impacted by the power of the defense contractors and the nuclear bureaucracy. The NNSA continues to mislead Congress by obscuring the true costs of modernization, as well as ignoring the risks inherent in the program. In response to NNSA's dysfunction, Congress (usually a puppet for military expenditures) has commissioned two panels to review and make recommendations for governance of the nuclear weapons complex.  The preliminary findings of one of these panels declared that the agency is a "failed experiment."

What this entire effort really illustrates is the greed of contractors and especially the extent to which Congress and the Departments of Defense and Energy are stuck in a Cold War mentality. Our nuclear policies have no relationship to real and current threats to national security, a world without the nuclear enemy that existed at the height of the Cold War.

Of great regional concern has to be the location of the nuclear submarine component of our nuclear triad which is home-ported on Hood Canal, 20 miles from Seattle. Right now more than half of the US Trident fleet homeports there.  Each of the 12 new Trident warships under the modernization would carry 96 hydrogen warheads. And EACH warhead outsizes the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by a factor of 7 to 30 times.

"The hostile use of any modern nuclear weapon for deterrence or whatever other justification would constitute a crime against humanity by any of the standards leveled against aggressors in past wars," argues Dr. David Hall, Chair of WPSR's Nuclear Weapons Task Force. This is our argument as physicians and other clinicians against our current nuclear policies. Further investment in nuclear weapons is economic lunacy. What's more, it is morally indefensible.

WPSR and PSR nationally have to push back against policies which further proliferate these life-destroying weapons (whether used or not) with the full vigor of our being.  We have to use every means possible to bring our policy makers to their senses in a relentless push to stop further funding of nuclear weapons modernization. Join with us.

We have a plan to meet with most of our members of Congress in WA and OR. We're working with several allies in these delegations (like Rep. Jim McDermott, WPSR member) to form a "Northwest Congressional Coalition for Nuclear Sanity."  We will need WPSR and OPSR members from each Congressional district to be partners with us when we hold these individual meetings.  We are committed to develop a bi-state Congressional coalition that other Congresspersons can be recruited to, specifically by enlisting the participation of other PSR chapters across the country.

Our north star in this work is our profession's faith in prevention as the only medicine, clearly illustrated when considering the use of nuclear weapons.

Bruce Amundson, MD
WPSR President

WPSR President's Update July/August 2014

Over the past several months WPSR has been undergoing a major revitalization effort that has implications for both our structure and our program engagements. For several years the chapter’s strength had ebbed due to dynamics that commonly impact any organization’s vitality. These included such factors as the retirement of several key leaders and long-term board members; staff turnover; strategic drift and lack of program clarity; and, the atrophy of financial support.

We currently find ourselves in a dramatically changed and improved situation. WPSR has both expanded its board and added fresh voices. We have produced a strategic plan that clarifies our priorities but also expands our “social” mission (see our 2014-2015 Strategic Plan on the website). We have recruited for the first time in many years a FULL-time executive director, and Laura Skelton has brought a terrific range of administrative and program strengths to the organization. Financially we have experienced an unprecedented level of giving from a number of board members and other members that has helped secure our financial situation, even as we currently prepare to launch a fundraising effort to significantly broaden the base of members who contribute to our work. WPSR as an organization has not been this healthy and mature for many years. Our chapter is now administered by professional management that is having dramatic impacts on program effectiveness.

Please review the full content of our strategic plan on this web site. In summary our program priorities involve the following areas: (1) working to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons and stockpiles; (2) expanding public knowledge of and support for cleaning up the contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation; (3) closing Washington’s only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station; (4) addressing income inequality and non-livable wages due to their relationships to poor health outcomes; (5) engaging WA health professionals in addressing the threats to human health and the globe from climate change; (6) reducing the risks to health from environmental toxins; and, (7) supporting initiatives for peace in the Middle East through delegations of health professionals to the region.

To more effectively carry out our work in these seven areas we have established a task force for each program, chaired by a board member(s). The task forces are being expanded to include interested members or people from throughout the state who want to be involved. The strategic plan for each program area has been expanded and refined to ensure progress and accountability by the board. You will note that this ensures that the structures we have put in place are geared to support our program priorities, and this has included recruiting new board members with expertise in programs that are new or needed new leadership. Leadership has been key to our new vitality, and it is reflected across both board and staff.

This website is regularly being updated with information on our program efforts. But to give our members, our partnering organizations and other community members a better sense of the relevance and strategic nature of our current work, I would like to provide a couple examples of current work.

The nuclear monster has been with us since the birthing of PSR, and while progress has been made reducing the nuclear threat, we are still a long way from secure. This issue plays itself out in grand but horrendous style through the basing of more than a quarter of the US nuclear stockpile at the Navy’s Bangor base of Puget Sound. WPSR is deeply involved in two efforts to address Bangor. First, we are a partner in a lawsuit to halt the construction of a second explosives handling wharf at Bangor to service the new generation of Trident submarines, a suit challenging the Navy’s failure to conduct the required environmental and risk assessments for this construction. This has the Navy’s attention. Second, we are actively engaged in establishing a collaborative of WA and OR Congresspersons which could lead the opposition to the administration’s proposed funding of a rebuild of the Trident fleet. This involves presentations to key Congressional staff, gaining access to the Senators and Representatives themselves for a powerful presentation on the folly of cold war thinking, and new information on the likelihood of a global nuclear winter in the event of a nuclear exchange between such unstable nuclear nations as India and Pakistan. We are working to exploit the fact that our two states have elected an atypically large number of Congressional members who share our position on this issue, or whom are open to listening and possibly joining a NW collaborative effort to significantly impact the nation’s nuclear policies, especially regarding Trident modernization and the bloated nuclear weapons budget.

WPSR has also generated a burst of interest in and commitment to the issue of climate change. Our climate change task force has enlisted new physician and nurse participants who bring sophisticated preparation for public speaking, backgrounds on the issue and new energy to this work. The unfilled niche in WA on climate change relates to the health implications, so it is natural that we can cooperate with other effective organizations to bring a professionally credible perspective on human health risks to the regional work. With members in most communities of any size in WA, WPSR has begun to access the healthcare communities in order to bring climate-focused grand rounds to hospitals as well as presentations to the larger populations. We are committed to activate the physician and clinical communities in the state to aggressively build support for policies that aim to stem this impending catastrophe.

Your perspective, commentary and/or engagement on these and our other program activities is heartily sought. A lot is happening, and our board and staff are committed to the vision that WPSR will play a highly relevant role in addressing the major threats to human and global health and will be leaders in the healthcare community on behalf of these issues.

Bruce Amundson, MD
WPSR President