Archbishop John C. Wester remembers the sadness he felt upon seeing the Genbaku Dome, a remnant of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
The domed ruin was preserved in its damaged state as part of a peace memorial to the bomb devastation, in which an estimated 140,000 people died. A second bomb dropped in Nagasaki killed up to 74,000 people.
Wester said the monument struck a chord with him and the bishops who accompanied him on the trip to Japan in 2017.
“I remember hearing the heartbreaking story of Japanese schoolchildren who rushed to their classroom windows, drawn by the bright light of the exploding atomic bomb,” Wester said. “One can only imagine their fate.”
Wester told the story Tuesday during an online press conference to highlight the purpose of a pastoral letter he published, denouncing what he called a second, more dangerous arms race and calling for nuclear disarmament. in the whole world.
He pointed to the two national laboratories in New Mexico as contributing to weapons of mass destruction potential, especially with the growing budget for such programs.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is upgrading its plutonium facility to make more bomb cores, or pits, than ever before. Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque manufactures non-nuclear components for weapons and other technologies.
A nuclear security agency is pushing for Los Alamos to make 30 plutonium pits by 2026. The agency also hopes the Savannah River site in South Carolina will produce 50 more pits by 2035.
A recently passed military spending bill will channel $1 billion into the lab’s pit operations – a huge increase from last year’s $837 million and more than triple the $308 million allocated in 2020 .
Wester said the lab preparing for more well production in the state he calls home heightened its sense of urgency by releasing the anti-nuclear letter.
“This is where the nuclear arms race really started in many ways – the making and creating of these nuclear weapons – and after being in Japan and seeing the devastation they caused,” Wester said. . “It’s such an important topic that we really can’t dwell on it. It is now.”
In the letter, Wester argues that the current arms race is more treacherous than the Cold War because of multiple nuclear threats from countries such as Russia, China and Iran.
Some nuclear experts share his concerns about the proliferation of threats. In a recent survey of Foreign Affairs, 20 of the few dozen experts polled believed that more countries would obtain nuclear weapons in the coming years.
Wester said the Los Alamos and Sandia labs could be converted into facilities that use their high-tech equipment and skilled labor to support nonproliferation efforts, which could create new jobs.
Wester agrees with Pope Francis’ anti-nuclear sentiments.
“Pope Francis has made clear statements about the immorality of possessing nuclear weapons, moving the Church from past conditional acceptance of ‘deterrence,’ to the moral imperative of abolition,” Wester wrote in the summary of the letter.
Wester said he knows dialogue on disarmament can be difficult because there are many points of view. “I also know that all women and men of good will want peace,” Wester said. “And coming together to talk, converse, discuss is the only way to rid the world of the colossal threat that nuclear weapons pose to our security, to life and to the common good.”