Nuclear Weapons and Notre Dame

On June 12, 1982, one million people gathered in New York City. It is still among the biggest demonstrations in U.S. history. What motivated these protestors? Time is short, and there are many pressing issues that face Notre Dame students and us all. Yet the marchers’ message that day was simple:  “No Nukes.” Although nuclear weapons have ceased to figure in our political and moral agendas (except for those who stand to profit from them), they are coming back in force. Today’s nine nuclear-armed nations are embarking on a new atomic arms race. In the face of movements for socio-economic justice and the need to save our planet, our leaders follow a Cold War mentality investing trillions of dollars in weapons that can destroy us all.

Those who seek justice must respond to this existential threat.

What can we do? Although this particular challenge may seem insurmountable, there are small steps available to Notre Dame students. While nukes have faded from the light, the nuclear industrial complex is hard at work, even here on campus. According to the 2019 ICAN Schools of Mass Destruction report, there are two channels through which Notre Dame contributes to our nuclear weapons regime. As of 2017, the University’s Actinide Center of Excellence receives tens of millions of dollars from the Stewardship Science Academic Alliance which “seeks and funds proposals that have relevance to the stewardship of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.” And the Center for Shock Wave-Processing of Advanced Reactive Materials, in the need to simulate nuclear explosions beholden to the test-ban treaty, receives an estimated twenty million dollars a year to develop “capabilities within a discipline ‘of interest’ to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s mission.” (The National Nuclear Security Administration is the federal agency managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.)

We emphasize that this is not an attack on the students or faculty that are affiliated with these components of our institution. Rather, the goals are to demand greater transparency and awareness, review our processes for ethical research, and ultimately advocate for reinvestment in non-proliferation and environmental remediation efforts. Opponents of a sane nuclear policy may cast this as a personal strike, but we are all in this together.

As we depart on summer vacation, let us maintain focus on inspiring causes. Although we may have lost sight of this one, it has not lost sight of us. So, let’s begin this conversation together. Since 1945, nuclear weapons have been part of our lives. It is time to ask how. In what ways are they connected to our community? What should we do about it? The path is not clear, but in light of the challenges our generation faces, we must take ownership over the existential threats that we control. Nuclear weapons are chief among them.

Sean Raming is a PhD student in Peace Studies and History at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. His research focuses on Cold War era militarism. Matthew (Matty) Bisner is a third-year undergraduate student studying Peace Studies, Political Science, and Gender Studies; they also serve as the student body vice president.

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