BRINGING THE NUCLEAR DEBATE
Nuclear Free Schools is a Los Angeles (USA) based initiative promoting support for nuclear disarmament among high school students. Cristopher Cruz is one of its pioneers, eager to share how the initiative came about and help others take a similar track. This is his story.
oung people are making great strides becoming engaged with a cascade of issues threatening their future. But hardened by its technology, history, politics and secrecy, nuclear proliferation resists efforts to curb it nearly 75 years after the first nuclear explosion. Nuclear Free Schools was created as a response to the growing lack of nuclear awareness and denial. The project bridges the gap between high schoolers and young professionals. The initiative started in 2017 as a collaborative effort by our Assistant Principal and CIF participating instructor, Andrew King, classmate Lesly Tobon and me. We used our Critical Issues Forum presentation to showcase our research on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation while providing practical steps other students could follow. Our high school, Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School, is in downtown Los Angeles, California and has a strong sense of community towards education and youth empowerment due to its small student population and interest in politics, both domestic and foreign.
By Cristopher Cruz First-year University Student United States
Nuclear history is a wide and deep pool of information. The goal was not to cram as much information as possible into the minds of developing teenagers, but employ a method of “productive fear” as coined by Andrew King. This was a response from observing current events in US society at the time: noth-
It began with high school students, their teacher, and an idea - how can we engage more students and promote real progress towards nuclear disarmament, especially when it seems like our politicians are doing nothing? Unanimously, we agreed that we had to begin with the youth. And not just with college students and young professionals; but with high school students who are just as capable of promoting real change. From the Nuclear Free Schools Website ing stimulates conversation better than fear. So with fear and uncertainty on their minds, our students began to ask, “is there anything we can do?” The answer was the Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (ADOMHS – NWFZ) – yes, it’s quite a mouthful.
I am Cristopher Cruz, a college student aspiring to help others work together for our common good. I developed an interest in nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation watching science fiction movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s in my childhood as well as reading about the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In my third year of high school I had the opportunity to travel to Nagasaki with the Critical Issues Forum (CIF) to speak about proposals for disarmament as well as promoting immediate entry into force of the CTBT. That’s when I was asked by Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of rhe CTBTO to share our Nuclear Free Schools initiative with the 2017 CTBTO Science and Technology conference. From these and other related experiences my life has forever changed and encouraged me to immerse myself in this work. I joined the CTBTO Youth Group because I see it as a responsibility to share my experiences and knowledge with others so that we can put an end to nuclear explosions and rid the planet of nuclear weapons. I try to demonstrate this responsibility through my personal blog at The Atomic Scholar and as the new administrator of Nuclear Free Schools.
Our NWFZ declaration was modeled after the Oakland and Berkeley Nuclear Weapons Free Zone acts. Several sessions crash-coursing students on the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, were required to win support. The next step was to implement a “nuclear literacy curriculum” offering the following topics to high school students: • A Nuclear Primer – providing a historical and scientific introduction to nuclear weapons and their effects; • The CTBT and History of Nuclear Testing - an in-depth lesson about the health and environmental impact of testing and the political ramifications of continuing it; Hibakusha Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki – readings of testimonies from atomic bomb survivors;
Nuclear Free Schools, www.nuclearfreeschools.com
INTO THE CLASSROOM Nuclear Close Calls: Terrorism, Accidents, Miscalculations - a module exploring accidents, nuclear terrorism, dangers and risks both foreign and domestic.
At the time of writing in 2019, ADOMHS has been only partially successful in introducing some of these elements. Students in US History and first year classes discuss the use of atomic bombs in Japan and third year physics students dissect nuclear fission and fusion, and explore the beneficial and detrimental uses of nuclear energy. But Nuclear Free Schools didn’t stop there. In the fall of 2017, the first ever “Youth Disarmament Conference” (YDC) was organized and held in Los Angeles, California. It was held with The Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility – (PSRLA), which works against nuclear proliferation, climate change, and environmental dangers. Guest speakers included Shigeko Sasamori, a Japanese atomic bomb survivor, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and the successful event welcomed high school and university students and teachers from across southern California. Our work has been met with both interest and challenges. Outside of energetic and informative discussions between high school students sparking interest in others progress is slow.
How do we move forward? Here are To ensure the CTBT becomes internasome views: tional law and the world takes the next step towards ridding itself of nuclear weapons it must do more to engage young people. We Fatima M. (ADOMHS Class of 2020) is are not somehow superior to established concerned over the stagnant growth of experts, but who else is going to continue nuclear literacy, “[it] is limited because this work? Who else can ensure what has of the way high school curriculums [in been learned about nuclear non-proliferathe US] work.” tion, making the world safer, is sustained? This is the goal I want to serve, setting an Luis C. (ADOMHS Class of 2020), after example not just for my peers, friends and a Critical Issues Forum event observed family, but for those who will come after that his fellow programme participants me. Young minds crave information and were the only young individuals conknowledge and what better way than procerned about the nuclear issue. Outside viding us a template to follow. of the keynote speakers—people were on the older side. “It’s disheartening to see that many young persons are not as active when it comes to this topic. There’s a disparity in the age gap of people who are actively reading and talking about this [topic.]” So what’s to be done to close the gap? Co-founder and current NFS leader, Andrew King, argues that “the issue is that [people] talk about [this topic] in grandiose terms as opposed to [taking small] steps or bullet points that other people could follow.” Edgar L. and Yeslie B. (both class of 2019) concur that the educational aspect of the club (NFS) needs to be able to change the way people think about nuclear weapons and the threat overlaps with concerns about climate change. Former CIF participant and ADOMHS classmate, Kimberly Nunez, now studying at Georgetown University expresses dismay over its lack of non-proliferation initiatives while praising the work of NFS for its potential to become a national grassroots campaign that high schools (and colleges) around the country can participate in.
Cristopher Cruz Colorado is in first-year college in the US where is studying towards obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies/International Relations. He stresses the important role of young people to help rid the world of nuclear dangers and currently helps administrate the Nuclear Free Schools project and runs a personal blog at The Atomic Scholar.