On anniversary of catastrophic nuclear test, missile launch postponed

Action comes after arrest of 15 activists at earlier test

A unarmed nuclear missile test launch scheduled for early this morning (Thursday) has been postponed, the Lompoc Record, the local newspaper in Lompoc, Calif., where the missile was set to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, is reporting.

The Record reports that the Air Force has blamed postponement of the launch, which was to come on the anniversary of the 1954 testing of the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the U.S., on technical problems.

“The test launch is delayed in order to replace a test-unique tracking component used only on test missiles,” said Air Force Global Strike Command officials.

Peace activists have been quick to say that the postponement may have been due to negative reaction regarding the timing of the launch on the anniversary of the 1954 test.

That test, which was known by the code name Castle Bravo and saw the detonation of a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb with a yield of 15 megatons, led to what has been called the largest accidental radioactive fallout of any nuclear test. Although conducted in the Marshall Islands, traces of radiation from the fallout were detected as far away as Australia, India, and Japan.

The radiation also affected a Japanese fishing boat, where one member of the crew eventually died from the effects, and significantly affected islanders who returned to the island after the test.

At the Nuclear Peace Foundation’s Waging Peace blog, Rick Wayman, the foundation’s director of programs and operations, pointed attention to the fact that his group had put out an action alert calling on people to contact President Barack Obama to demand a stop to the test.

News of the postponement also comes days after a separate unarmed nuclear missile test launch at Vandenberg saw activists gather in protest.

According to reports, some 100 protestors gathered at the base earlier Saturday morning to protest the test launch of a Minuteman 3 missile, and 15 were arrested when they left a designated protest area and walked towards the base’s main gate.

Among those arrested were Daniel Ellsberg, the man responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971; Cindy Sheehan, who became an anti-war activist after her son was killed serving with the Army in Iraq; and Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale, who has been arrested multiple times in earlier protests at Vandenberg.

In a posting on the Nuclear Abolitionist blog, one of the coordinators for Saturday’s protest said activists began the protest at five minutes to midnight as a reflection of the current setting of the “Doomsday Clock” maintained by the Federation of American Scientist's Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to signify how close the world is to nuclear war.

“The test-launch of ICBMs makes hypocrites of U.S. foreign policy planners who demand a stand down of nuclear ambitions from countries we're hostile to, while furthering the upgrade of our own weapons of mass destruction,” wrote Jim Haber, the coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience.

“The quantity and quality of U.S. nuclear weapons dwarf all others; we must not wait for other nations to pull back but must increase the rate of dismantlement of our own nuclear weapons.”

All of those arrested Saturday were issued citations for trespassing and later released, according to a report by the Santa Ynez Valley News.

Air Force officials told the Lompoc Record that a new launch date has not been determined for today's postponed test, but that replacing the malfunctioning part of the missile would take three to four days.

One activist said in an email to supporters that activists would continue to protest future launches.

"The Minuteman III is a dangerous Cold War relic originally intended to target primarily military bases and cities (yes, civilian targets) in the Soviet Union," wrote Leonard Eiger, a longtime activist in Washington state who works with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

"The continued deployment of Minuteman III is destabilizing to any serious efforts toward nonproliferation and disarmament. Based on the history of testing of the Minuteman III the government already has a high degree of confidence in the missile's ability to operate as designed. If we are serious about disarmament, then these unnecessary test launches must stop."

See below for a video of Saturday's protest, which shows Ellsberg addressing the crowd, and the protesters being placed under arrest.

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