Advocates see momentum against nuclear weapons gaining

  • April 13, 2010
OTTAWA - Unprecedented momentum is building towards a nuclear weapon-free world and the opportunity must not be lost, says Douglas Roche.

“This is certainly the most opportune moment that I have experienced in my lifetime for real concrete movement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons,” former senator Roche told journalists after an April 9 meeting with Stephen Harper.

“We are not a bunch of naive people who think this can be done overnight, but the failure to start down the road toward verifiable phased reduction of nuclear weapons with a visible intent to get to zero will mean we are going to have the status quo prevail.”   

That status quo of 23,000 nuclear weapons, held by nine countries that are trying to prevent others from acquiring them, Roche said, is “unsustainable.”   

Joined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist John Polanyi and Pearson Peace Medal winner Murray Thompson, Roche said they found the meeting with Harper “very positive.”

“We are hopeful the Prime Minister will give very serious consideration to having Canada play a strong role in the development of international dialogue which has been given a resurgence by (U.S.) President (Barack) Obama,” said Roche.

The delegation, representing 505 fellow Order of Canada recipients, met with Harper one day after Obama signed a strategic arms reduction treaty (START) with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague and just before the Nuclear Security Summit Obama convened in Washington April 12-13.

Roche described the latest START treaty as “very modest,” but said he supports any movement in the right direction. He said the Nuclear Security Summit was even more important because it attracted India to the table of 47 countries sending representatives. India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which comes up for review next month at the United Nations.

The Washington Summit looked at the dangers of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists or organized crime. It aimed to improve the securing of nuclear material, whether obsolete warheads in the countries of the former Soviet Union, to fuel rods from nuclear power generation in Canada.

Polanyi pointed out that while Canada eschewed the use of nuclear weapons, it imports highly enriched uranium from the United States every year to produce medical isotopes at Chalk River, Ont. He suggested the use of this weapons-grade uranium be phased out, and any unused material returned to the United States for safe-keeping. Canada has been importing an average of 20 kilograms of this material a year and it takes only 40 kilograms to make the simplest type of atomic bomb, he said.

On April 12, Harper announced from the Washington summit that Canada will work with the United States to return the spent uranium held at Chalk River so it can be converted to a form unusable for nuclear weapons.

Polanyi provided the impetus to the initiative to gather Order of Canada recipients when he launched a full-page ad eight years ago featuring more than 100 Nobel Prize laureates opposed to nuclear weapons. Thomson then began the work of contacting recipients who call for international negotiations towards a nuclear weapons convention.

Signatories include L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, theologian and former priest Gregory Baum, writers such as Margaret Atwood and many other leaders from politics, business, philanthropy and the arts world.

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