Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 4, Part 2

Chapter 4: NATO's Cold War relics
Part 2: Hangars

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Nuclear warheads suspected of being stored underground

The sprawling Ghedi Torre Air Base is located on the plains of Lombardy in Italy. Hangars with semicircular-shaped roofs are visible beyond the barbed wire fence. It is said that U.S. B61 nuclear bombs are deployed here.

There are 22 hangars for Tornado fighter aircraft at the base. It is believed that more than half of them house B61s and that as many as four bombs can be stored in underground vaults below each hangar.

The hangars nearest the barbed wire fence are within a stone’s throw of it. One local resident said, “Someone who works at the base told me soldiers patrol 24 hours a day. Local residents realize they are not just ordinary hangars.”

Meanwhile, the existence of an internal U.S. military document which states that the decentralized management of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe poses a security problem was recently revealed. Some believe that the estimated 20 to 40 B61s that were housed at the Ghedi Torre base have already been removed.

Anna Giulia Guarneri, 53, mayor of the city of Ghedi, who is running for reelection, agreed to be interviewed by the Chugoku Shimbun. “There are still American military personnel at the base, and I doubt that the nuclear weapons have been removed. But even when I ask for an explanation from the government, I don’t get a straight answer.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has adopted a policy to neither confirm no deny. Under this policy it acknowledges that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons exist within the NATO area but has never revealed their location or number.

The town of Brescia is a 30-minute drive from Ghedi. Carlo Di Giovambattista, 51, is a member of a local group that monitors the base. “There is a strongly held belief in Italy that accepting the burden of nuclear weapons enhances the country’s influence in NATO,” he said. “Even if the U.S. proposes removing the weapons, the government will oppose it.”

There are so-called non-nuclear nations that, in fact, possess nuclear weapons, and efforts to eliminate this contradiction are ongoing.

In the small town of Aviano in northeast Italy overlooking the Alps, there is a U.S. air base at which B61s are said to be deployed. Stefano Del Cont Bernard, 48, mayor of Aivano, said, “The town can’t survive without the base.” The number of Americans is about the same as the population of the town, around 9,000. Coexistence with the base is a major premise of the town. “But nuclear weapons are another matter,” the mayor said.

Like the mayor of Ghedi, Del Cont Bernard is also a member of Mayors for Peace, chaired by Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba. Both mayors cooperate with citizens’ groups and have worked to add a no-nuclear clause to the Italian constitution.

“I don’t believe Italy alone can solve the problem of nuclear weapons, but from an ethical standpoint, coexistence with weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable,” said the mayor decisively. He believes that speaking out as a representative of Aviano’s residents is the first step toward “moving mountains.”

(Originally published on June 14, 2009)

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