This week I had the opportunity to attend for the second year in a roll the Prague Agenda Conference. Since President Obama’s 2009 announcement of his long-term nuclear disarmament vision in Prague - in his iconic Prague Speech - and the following signing of the 2010 US-Russia START Treaty, Prague has established itself as a venue for discussion and taking stock of issues related to nuclear arms control, nuclear security, disarmament and non-proliferation. Also, with the recent presidential election in the U.S., an expert workshop was organised on "The Future of the Prague Agenda under a new US Administration". It was in such a context that I attended both an academic and political conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic.
The Czech MFA, headquartered at the Czernin Palace
The event counted with top level academics and officials, including the former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane. I guess it is needless to say that I really enjoyed being in such an environment, and also being able to informally chat with prominent academics in the field I want to write my dissertation on.
Yet, I have to admit that the most remarkable moment of this conference was the field trip to a former Soviet military base "Javor 51" in the region of Brdy, south of Prague. Javor 51 is one of the three military bases in Czech Republic where Soviet nuclear weapons were reportedly stored during the Cold War - and the only one that was preserved. It is also the sole facility of its kind in the world that is open to the public. Recently, the former top-secret area was made into a museum, which features a unique exhibition of historic artifacts and information panels about nuclear weapons and energy.
Inside the underground facility for 90 unforgettable minutes
Personally relating to nuclear weapons is not an easy exercise for someone who was born after the end of the Cold War. Even though we have North Korea occasionally performing nuclear tests, or Iran wanting to get hold of the bomb but being held back by the international community, nukes are just not in the mainstream media or in the daily conversation of an average citizen.
For this reason, I was extremely grateful for being given the chance to come down that steep staircase into what was a sobering moment that made me reflect immensely about the work I'm carrying on.
"Fat Man" cut open with its solid plutonium core visible
While watching our guide explain how the Nagasaki "fat man" bomb works - with a real model in front of him - I was reminded that all the destruction it caused 71 years ago is peanuts compared to the power of modern H-bombs and their improved delivery systems. The trip back to Prague was haunting.