On the 77th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, hundreds of diplomats representing the states-parties to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with representatives from civil society, are convening at United Nations headquarters in New York for talks that will shape the future of the international nuclear arms control regime at a time when the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear competition are growing.
Godspeed to the delegates!
I have been writing about nuclear arms reduction since the nuclear freeze days in the 1980s. We don’t seem to be getting anywhere. When the 45th president was in office, he contemplated re-introducing so-called tactical nuclear weapons into our military arsenal and would likely have withdrawn from the NPT if given the chance. He rejected the idea of the U.S. eliminating nuclear weapons.
Where do we go from here?
Nuclear weapons should never be used again. Conservative forces that came to power in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 have been steadily deconstructing the nuclear arms protocols that took so much work to put in place. Unchecked, they will continue their work. It seems clear people with common sense about nuclear weapons need a new narrative. This gets to be a worn sawhorse, but we need to elect politicians willing to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons in accordance with Article VI of the NPT, an agreement the United States willingly signed and ratified. Who knows if the treaty could be ratified again in today’s polarized U.S. Senate?
So another year passed without progress on reducing our nuclear arsenals. If anything, the war between Ukraine and Russia heightened international tensions and has nations keeping their arsenals in place until we know the outcome.
Let’s hope the NPT Conference produces significant results and a viable plan for compliance with Article VI. The United States should lead this effort, although we have been recalcitrant about hanging on to our nukes.
Today we must consider what it will take to make needed change.
Iowans are legitimately worried about the risk of detonation of nuclear armaments as a result of increased tensions in the world. The war in Ukraine is perceived by some as a proxy war between the United States and Russia. While it’s true our two countries have the majority of nuclear weapons that exist in the world, both Putin and Biden have said they seek to avoid a nuclear exchange. The assertions about a proxy war do not seem accurate.
Dr. Robert Dodge, posted the following article at Common Dreams on Friday. It explains how I feel: We need to take a step back from the brink.
Ukraine, Existential Threats, and Moving Back From the Brink We can no longer continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world.
First published on Common Dreams by Dr. Robert Dodge.
This spring, as those before, beckons a season of renewal and opportunity for the future. We have just witnessed the major religions of the world celebrate Easter, Passover, and Ramadan and in the words of Ambassador El Yazidi of the Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany, “We are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good.”
This is also a time when the world celebrates Earth Day with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our world and the intersectionality of mankind’s actions on the survival of our planet. Yet our world is in peril with many intersecting crises from the continued global pandemic, now in its third year, to climate crises that continue to inflict progressive epic storms and devastation. Add to that the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine with threats and nuclear posturing by the superpowers bringing us closer to nuclear war by intent, miscalculation or cyber-attack portending the greatest threat of a global near-death event since the end of the last Cold War.
Against this backdrop, it is also tax season in the United States when the nation funds its priorities as we look to the future. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, “Budgets are moral documents.” And so what are those priorities and how do nuclear weapons factor in?
The 2022 fiscal year budget, the first by President Joe Biden, will see the U.S. rob our communities of precious resources spending nearly $77 billion on all nuclear weapons programs, exceeding the expenditures of the last budget from the Trump administration. In total, the U.S. will have spent approximately $219 billion on all nuclear weapons programs in the last 3 fiscal years while fighting a global pandemic. To see the costs to your community, see the annual Nuclear Weapons Community Costs Project just released by Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.
Current global nuclear arsenals contain about 12,700 nuclear warheads, with the United States and Russia having near 90% of those. The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons threatens life as we know it. A regional nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size weapons (less than half of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals) over cities in India and Pakistan—South Asia’s nuclear powers who have had a tumultuous relationship for decades—could cause a global famine threatening 2 billion people due to the devastating nuclear winter and climate change that would follow. A larger nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia targeting the major cities in each nation could possibly lead to the extinction of the human race.
This is not a situation that has to be. The existence of nuclear weapons and the continued dependence on fossil fuels with the destruction of our environment result from our way of thinking and behavior. We cannot continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels that threaten destruction of our life sustaining ecosystems. Instead, we must recognize our interdependence as one human family. Nuclear weapons have been made by man and can only be eliminated by man. Ending the subsidy and our dependence on fossil fuels while transitioning to sustainable renewable resources is also in reach given the political will.
The United States can and must lead on these issues. There is a rapidly growing national intersectional movement in the U.S. called Back from the Brink. It is a coalition of individuals, organizations, and elected officials working together toward a world free of nuclear weapons and advocating for common sense nuclear weapons policies to secure a safer, more just future. Endorsed by over 400 organizations, 326 U.S. elected officials, 58 municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies, it calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:
Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.
Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack.
Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.
All are invited to endorse and join this movement. We have a way out. There is hope for the future and that of our children’s children. At this moment in history we must understand the threat and opportunity before us. Let this be a time when we choose hope for all of humanity.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely. Robert Dodge
Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.
Open Letter From Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and Citizens of the World Against War and Nuclear Weapons:
We reject war and nuclear weapons. We call on all our fellow citizens of the world to join us in protecting our planet, home for all of us, from those who threaten to destroy it.
The invasion of Ukraine has created a humanitarian disaster for its people. The entire world is facing the greatest threat in history: a large-scale nuclear war, capable of destroying our civilization and causing vast ecological damage across the Earth.
We call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine, and for all possible efforts at dialogue to prevent this ultimate disaster.
We call on Russia and NATO to explicitly renounce any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, and we call on all countries to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to ensure that we never again face a similar moment of nuclear danger.
The time to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is now. It is the only way to guarantee that the inhabitants of the planet will be safe from this existential threat.
It is either the end of nuclear weapons, or the end of us.
We reject governance through imposition and threats, and we advocate for dialogue, coexistence and justice.
A world without nuclear weapons is necessary and possible, and together we will build it. It is urgent that we give peace a chance.
Signatories list of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates:
His Holiness The Dalai Lama (1989) International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2017) Juan Manuel Santos (2016) Kailash Satyarthi (2014) Leymah Gbowee (2011) Tawakkul Karman (2011) Muhammad Yunus (2006) David Trimble (1998) Jody Williams (1997) Jose Ramos-Horta (1996) Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (1995) Óscar Arias Sánchez (1987) Lech Walesa (1983) American Friends Service Committee (1947) International Peace Bureau (1910)
If you would like to join more than 780,000 other citizens of the world in signing this open letter, which will be presented to the leadership of NATO and Russia, click here.
Joint Statement from the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group Condemning Russian Nuclear Threats
WASHINGTON, DC— Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Don Beyer (VA-08) and John Garamendi (CA-03), co-chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, today issued the following statement condemning Russian nuclear threats:
“On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear deterrent forces to be put into an alert status, further intensifying his unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by threatening a nuclear attack.
“We, the Co-Chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, condemn President Putin’s threats to escalate a conflict of his own creation into nuclear war. His invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in the tragic loss of life, and an escalation to nuclear war would bring untold additional suffering.
“President Putin should recall what he said in January, along with leaders from the United States, France, China, and the United Kingdom, that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’
“We applaud the Biden administration for trying to deescalate against such provocative actions and for making clear that America’s own alert status has not changed. It is in the fog of war that there is the greatest risk that a conventional conflict escalates into a nuclear one. That is why it is imperative that the United States, Russia, and all nuclear powers back a No First Use nuclear policy and affirm that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons. The crisis in Ukraine is evidence that there are no plausible military options for direct confrontation between the United States and a nuclear armed adversary – and the folly of investing $1 trillion in unusable new U.S. nuclear capabilities.
“At the same time, as the U.S. works in lockstep with our European allies to rebuff Russian aggression, we must coordinate closely on our nuclear policy as well. The U.S. Department of Defense should also continue its efforts to open military communication channels with Russia, as they have done in other theatres where the Russians are present, so that “red-lines” are not inadvertently crossed.
“President Putin has already made his country a global pariah by launching an unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine. His threat to escalate his meritless invasion of Ukraine into nuclear war would cross a line from which our world cannot return. The United States and its allies must do everything in their power to disincentivize this dangerous and costly mistake.
“We continue to stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in this crisis as they fight to preserve their sovereignty and democracy,” the lawmakers said.
The crisis in Eastern Europe could become a regional and global humanitarian catastrophe if war involving nuclear-armed nations erupts in Ukraine. IPPNW hosted an emergency briefing on 19 February with a distinguished panel of experts to examine the terrible human cost if diplomacy fails. The experts’ remarks are outlined below, topics include:
Conventional war – Possible direct and indirect impacts of a conventional war in Ukraine on health, human rights, and the environment. Presented by Barry Levy, M.D., M.P.H.
Damage to nuclear power reactors – The risk of large radioactive releases from one or more of the 15 nuclear power stations in Ukraine that are vulnerable to deliberate or accidental destruction or meltdowns due to loss of power through cyber attacks. Presented by Linda Pentz Gunter
Escalation to nuclear weapons – The catastrophic regional and global consequences if nuclear weapons are launched intentionally or by accident or miscalculation. Presented by Ira Helfand, M.D.
During war, civilians are often injured or killed directly — sometimes accidentally — by the indiscriminate use of weapons. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But increasingly, civilians are targeted — attacked on purpose, as part of a strategy of war. Men are taken from their homes in the middle of the night, never to return. Women are raped and often killed. Even children are sometimes targeted and killed as a strategy of war.
However, most deaths during war are not caused by direct attacks, but indirectly. Many of these indirect deaths result from damage to infrastructure. After farms and the food supply system are damaged, people become malnourished and more susceptible to respiratory infections, like COVID-19. Water treatment plants are bombed, and people develop cholera, dysentery, or other diarrheal diseases. Hospitals and healthcare workers are attacked, public health agencies are not able to function, and people are unable to receive clinical care or public health services. And power plants, communication networks, and transportation systems are damaged, leading to disease and death.
Population displacement is another major cause of indirect deaths during war. People can be displaced within their own country or as refugees to other countries. Internally displaced persons are generally worse off because they have inadequate food, water, health care, and security — and therefore are at increased risk of disease and death. And if war continues, people may be displaced for long periods of time.
Indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war. Since 1990, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden has recorded an average of about 50,000 direct deaths per year in state-based armed conflicts. In a separate analysis for the same period of time, Mohammad Jawad and colleagues estimated about one million indirect deaths occurred per year, on average – 20 times more indirect deaths than direct deaths. Even if the estimate of indirect deaths is too high or the number of direct deaths recorded too low, indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war.
Noncombatant civilians most frequently suffer from the following diseases during war:
Malnutrition — with young children and pregnant women at greatest risk
Communicable diseases, including diarrheal diseases such as cholera, acute respiratory infections such as COVID-19, and other diseases such as measles and tuberculosis
Mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide
Adverse effects on reproductive health, including higher rates of maternal mortality, infants born with low birthweight, and infant mortality.
Noncommunicable diseases, with greater occurrence and exacerbations of heart disease and stroke, chronic lung disease, and cancer — and less available treatment for these diseases.
While everyone is at risk, some populations are especially vulnerable: women, children, displaced people, older people, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities.
How many people will suffer from the health impacts of a war in Ukraine? No one knows.
But there could be large numbers of civilian deaths, widespread damage to health-supporting infrastructure, millions of people displaced, many people with post traumatic stress disorder and depression, widespread violations of human rights, and substantial damage to the environment — all of which occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq 20 years ago.
Ukraine today is similar in some ways to Iraq in 2003 and different in others. Ukraine has 42 million people, Iraq then had 26 million, but was more densely populated. Life expectancy in Ukraine today (72 years) is about the same as it was in Iraq in 2003 (69 years). But the population of Ukraine today is much older than the population of Iraq in 2003; 17% of Ukrainians are 65 years of age or older, compared to about 3% in Iraq — the percentage of older people is five times higher in Ukraine than in Iraq. Therefore, they have higher rates of chronic disease and disability, more dependency on ongoing medical care, less mobility, and increased vulnerability to COVID-19. Therefore, the death rate in a protracted war in Ukraine could be even higher than in the Iraq War.
War and its health impacts can be prevented. There are four levels of prevention that can be applied:
Primordial prevention addresses the root causes of war.
Primary prevention addresses the precipitating causes of war and aims to resolve disputes nonviolently.
Secondary prevention attempts to end war and reduce its impacts
Tertiary prevention rehabilitates and restores the health of individuals and communities after war has ended.
But soon, it was be too late for primordial or primary prevention, and efforts may need to focus on protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure, providing humanitarian assistance, and working to end the violence as soon as possible.
Damage to Nuclear Power Reactors – Linda Pentz Gunter
The 15 nuclear power reactors at four sites in Ukraine both face and create a series of risks should a war or escalated conflict break out there. Even if the reactors sites —which deliver 50% of Ukraine’s electricity needs — are not embroiled in the conflict zone, they are still vulnerable to catastrophic outcomes.
The Chernobyl nuclear site and the Exclusion Zone are also potentially at risk.
The presence of 15 reactors in Ukraine, or any nuclear reactors anywhere, automatically adds to the medical risks for the surrounding populations should something else major happen. And that something else need not be a war.
We are already seeing the ravages of the climate crisis and how this can knock out
essential power supplies. Nuclear power plants are already vulnerable. They are more so if caught up in a war that could cause the grid to go down.
There are 15 reactors in Ukraine grouped at 4 sites and providing 50% of the country’s electricity needs. They are Russian VVER reactors of 1,000 megawatts each, similar in design to our traditional light water reactors.
And there is the closed Chernobyl nuclear plant in the north, which were RMBK graphite moderated reactors.
If a war takes out the electric grid, whether by accident or deliberate sabotage—including even through a cyber attack, the nuclear plant operators will try to shut the reactors down. But if they lose onsite power as well, should that backup power fail, as it did at Fukushima, things can get far more dire with similar outcomes to an actual attack.
Are any of Ukraine’s reactors likely to be within the battle zone? Rivne and Khmelnitsky in the far west, are probably out of harm’s way. South Ukraine is also less likely to come under direct attack. Of most concern, given its size and location is Zaporizhzhia. It’s the largest nuclear power station in Europe, with a net capacity of 5700 MW. The Zaporizhzhia reactors were already vulnerable during the Crimea invasion in 2014 when a far-right Ukrainian group tried to gain entry. They are about 200 kilometers from the Donbas conflict zone.
If any of these reactors are embroiled in the war zone but not attacked or hit, the nuclear plant workers, may fear for their lives and the lives of their families. They would want to — and should — evacuate with their loved ones.
But what happens if they do? The answer is they can’t. Or not all of them. Nuclear power plants, even under normal circumstances are never walkaway safe. Some workers would have to stay behind. If the nuclear workforce evacuates, you set in motion a cascade of meltdowns at that site, whether or not it is directly attacked.
If one or more of these reactors takes an accidental hit from a bomb or missile or even just artillery fire, we could be talking about another Chernobyl or, actually, multiple Chernobyls.
The worst of all possible outcomes is that a direct hit destroys the reactor immediately. But even if the reactor is severely damaged or disabled, then you start to lose coolant and the reactor heats up, the fuel rods are exposed, and explosive gases are created. One spark and you could see an explosion as we did at three of the Fukushima reactors.
Some of the workforce may be injured or killed, or struggling to shut down the remaining reactors. Added to that, if the spent fuel pools boil and evaporate, exposing the rods, these could catch fire. A fuel pool fire is even worse than the reactor exploding because spent fuel pools contain a far hotter radioactive inventory than the reactor itself.
Those radioactive releases would be dispersed across thousands of miles. We have already had a glimpse of what that would look like for human health after Chernobyl. The plume pathway for just radioactive cesium-137 resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl explosion hit Belarus, Russia and Ukraine the worst. But it went all across Europe. Not all the hot spots were concentrated closest to Chernobyl.
If any of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were hit, it would be much worse than Chernobyl. All of them are older than Chernobyl Unit 4 was in 1986. They have bigger radioactive inventories. And they are all multiple reactor sites. People all across Europe would be affected.
But what if there was a deliberate attack on the reactors, an act of sabotage to disable them, or even a cyber attack? We know nuclear sites are vulnerable to cyber attack. We’ve seen it before with the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack on 15 of Iran’s nuclear facilities including the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
Would Russia — or any country or even rogue group —really use reactors as weapons of war, allowing them to deliberately melt down and potentially contaminate wide portions of Europe?
This would seem like a scaled down exercise in mutually assured destruction, given prevailing winds would likely blow much of the radiation across Russia and Belarus. A deliberate attack on a nuclear plant would have much the same outcome as an accidental one. It would release a massive plume of radioactivity and would be a medical and humanitarian disaster of monumental and likely completely unmanageable proportions.
What would that mean for human health?
We should have a guide from the example of Chernobyl. But there was a scandalous and even heartless international effort, by agencies like the IAEA, with vested interests in minimizing the disaster, to do just that. We must look to independent sources to get a truer sense of the numbers. And here we must remind ourselves that, with Chernobyl, we are talking about just one, relatively new reactor not the multiple ones now in Ukraine containing far more radioactivity.
Looking at a specific sample of Chernobyl victims, Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, a physician and geneticist, who conducted post-Chernobyl research in Polissia, Ukraine, found birth defects and other health disturbances among not only those who were adults at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, but their children who were in utero at the time and, most disturbingly, their later offspring.
So if reactors are breached during a war in Ukraine, that war, in a medical sense, will never be over.
But what about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? Could it, and the nuclear site itself, get caught up in a war?
Russian troops could choose to cross into Ukraine from Belarus, the shortest route to Kyiv, taking them through the Chernobyl Zone. But it is marshy and difficult terrain, in addition to being radioactive, so certainly not the ideal entry point.
The destroyed Chernobyl Unit 4, along with 200 metric tonnes of uranium, plutonium, liquid fuel and irradiated dust, are encased in a sarcophagus completed in 2019. But that sarcophagus, which is only supposed to last 100 years, could collapse under the vibrations of explosions in a war zone. That would loft radioactive dust into the atmosphere causing yet another major health crisis.
And there is one more huge threat to this area, as well as to any war zone involving nuclear plants, and that is fire. We’ve already seen literally hundreds of fires in the Chernobyl Zone, sadly many started deliberately. Under ever more extreme climate conditions, wildfires will get larger and more frequent. In 2020, a forest fire that broke out within the Chernobyl Zone threatened to reach the plant site.
Forest fires reloft and redistribute radiation trapped in the soil. The 2020 fire increased radiation levels to 16 times higher than they had been previously. War clearly raises the risk of fires. And the Chernobyl Zone is a tinder box.
Dr. Tim Mousseau and his team discovered that dead wood and leaf litter on the forest floors is not decaying properly, likely because the microbes and other organisms that drive the process
of decay are reduced or gone due to their own prolonged exposure to radiation.
Equally, wildfires triggered by war close to any of Ukraine’s operating reactors could have dire consequences. Even under just normal reactor operating circumstances, fire is considered the bulk of the risk for a core melt.
Wars in regions where there are nuclear reactors raise the dangers to almost unimaginable heights. All of this, in my view, strengthens the argument to permanently close and dismantle the world’s nuclear power plants as soon as possible.
Escalation to Nuclear Weapons – Ira Helfand, M.D.
A large scale conventional conflict in Ukraine will create a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. But the parties to this dispute, NATO and Russia, are armed with enormous nuclear arsenals, and so it is important to consider also the consequences if the conflict escalates to the use of nuclear weapons since both NATO and Russian military doctrines allow for the use of tactical nuclear weapons to fend off defeat in a major conventional war.
Despite reductions in nuclear forces over the last several decades, Russia still has 1900 tactical nuclear weapons and 1600 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. On the NATO side, France has 280 deployed nuclear weapons and the UK, 120. In addition the United States has 100 B 61 tactical bombs deployed at NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey and an additional 1650 deployed strategic warheads. (Ref)
If even a single 100 Kt (kiloton) nuclear weapon exploded over the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people and injure a million more, completely overwhelming the disaster response capability of the Russian capital. A single 100 kiloton bomb detonated over the US Capital would kill over 170.000 people and injure nearly 400,000. (Ref)
But it is unlikely that an escalating nuclear conflict between the US and Russia would involve single warheads over their respective capitals. Rather it is more likely that there would be many weapons directed against many cities and many of these weapons would be substantially larger than 100 Kt. For example, Russia’s 460 SS-18 M6 Satan warheads have a yield of 500 to 800 Kt. The W88 warhead deployed on US Trident submarines has a yield of 455 Kt.
Major cities like New York or Moscow are probably targeted with at least 10 to 20 nuclear weapons each 30 to 50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. To describe the destruction they would cause we can use the model of a single 20 MT (megaton) bomb. The total megatonage in an actual attack would be less, but, because the explosive force would be spread out more efficiently across the metropolitan area, the actual destruction would be even greater.
Within 1/1000th of a second, a fireball would form reaching out for two miles in every direction, four miles across. Temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, and everything–buildings, trees, cars, and people–would be vaporized.
To a distance of 4 miles in every direction, the blast would produce pressures of 25 pounds per square inch and winds in excess of 650 miles per hour. Forces of this magnitude can destroy essentially anything that we build including reinforced concrete and steel structures. Even deep underground bomb shelters would be crushed.
To a distance of six miles in every direction, the heat would still be intense enough to melt sheet metal. And to a distance of 10 miles in every direction, the blast wave would create pressures of 7 to 10 pounds per square inch and winds of 200 miles per hour.
To a distance of at least 16 miles in every direction, the heat would ignite all easily flammable materials–paper, cloth, wood, leaves, gasoline, heating oil–starting hundreds of thousands of fires. Fanned by blast winds still in excess of 100 miles per hour, these fires would merge into a giant firestorm 32 miles across and covering 800 square miles. Everything within this entire area would be consumed by flames. Temperatures would rise to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. And everyone would die.
If just 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal got through to urban targets in the US, 75 to 100 million people would die in the first half hour and tens of millions would be fatally injured. Huge swaths of the country would be blanketed by radioactive fallout and the industrial, transportation and communication infrastructure which we all depend on would be destroyed. The internet, the electric grid, the food distribution system, the public health and banking systems would all be gone. In the following months the vast majority of those who survived the initial attack would also die, from radiation sickness, epidemic disease, exposure and starvation. A US attack on Russia would cause similar devastation.
But these are just the direct effects. In addition, the large scale use of nuclear weapons would also cause catastrophic climate disruption. When a nuclear attack causes a city to burn, enormous amounts of soot are lofted into the upper atmosphere. If all of the deployed weapons in the US and Russian arsenals were used against urban targets some 150 Tg (terragrams or million tons) of soot would be generated, blocking out the sun and dropping temperatures across the planet an average of 100 C. In the interior regions of North America and Eurasia temperatures would drop 25 to 300 C. The Earth has not seen temperatures this cold since the last Ice Age. In the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere there would be 3 years without a day free of frost—the temperature would drop below freezing every single day. Under those conditions the ecosystems which have evolved since the last Ice Age would collapse, food production would plummet and the vast majority of the human race would starve. (Ref)
Even a much more limited nuclear war would cause catastrophic global climate disruption. As few as 250 100 kiloton bombs could generate 37 Tg. of soot dropping temperatures 5.5 0 C and triggering massive crop failures and catastrophic worldwide famine that would put hundreds of millions, possibly billions of people at risk. This would not mean the extinction of our species; if would mean the end of modern civilization. No civilization in history has survived a shock of this magnitude and there is no reason to assume that the delicate, complex economic system on which we all depend would do any better.
Friday is the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Monday is the anniversary of Nagasaki. The world little realized the devastation caused by President Harry Truman’s decision to detonate those bombs.
In response to the anniversary, the Nuclear Threat Initiative organized a global project to make paper cranes and post them on social media with the hashtag #CranesForOurFuture. The idea is an affirmation of hope and a unified statement that a world without nuclear weapons is possible on what should be this weekend of peace.
I hope you will join us in this project.
For more information about how to participate, paper crane folding and social sharing instructions, including a video and printable template prepared by Hiroshima Prefecture, click on the link: https://www.CranesForOurFuture.org/Fold
World War II veterans were still living when our family moved back to Iowa in 1993. In each conversation with one of them, I asked about the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan and the Nagasaki bombing three days later. To a person, they felt the bombings were warranted, agreeing with President Harry Truman’s decision to drop them. As they aged and died a couple changed their minds.
We have come to accept what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev said in Geneva, Switzerland 36 years ago, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Since then, the U.S. rushed to undo arms control measures. Under President George W. Bush we withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Under President Trump, we withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Deal), the New START Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty. Hard work of arms control, and compliance with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, seemed to have been abandoned.
On the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings we are heartened by the June 16 meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders released a joint statement, “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” They pledged to launch a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue to lay the groundwork for future arms control. We can only work toward the idea that this time it sticks.
~ First published in the Solon Economist on July 29, 2021.
While it got scant notice in the U.S. press, the joint statement after the Geneva, Switzerland meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin was significant:
We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.
The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.
The joint statement echoed what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said 36 years earlier in Geneva, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
“The complete abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to be safe from their threat,” president of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Los Angeles Robert Dodge, M.D. wrote in Common Dreams.
The United States and Russia possess far more nuclear weapons than the rest of the nuclear states combined, enough to destroy life as we know it on Earth many times over. The two states working toward strategic stability is essential to compliance with Article VI of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. During the previous U.S. administration, future compliance with the NPT came into doubt. President Biden is getting the U.S. back on the right track.
That’s not to say it will be easy. As Dodge points out, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force January 22 this year. Currently it has been signed by 86 nations and been ratified by 54. Neither Russia nor the U.S. have joined the treaty and the prospects of them doing so near term are dim.
All nine nuclear states must take a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Geneva statement on strategic stability suggests it is possible to do so.
To learn more about the U.S. grassroots organizing effort to produce the safer, healthier and more just world that is possible without nuclear weapons, visit the Back from the Brink website.
We received news on Tuesday afternoon the New START Treaty was extended.
“A week ago, the United States and Russia ‘exchanged diplomatic papers’ in order to extend the New START treaty for 5 years,” wrote Physicians for Social Responsibility in a Feb. 2 email. “Biden and Putin got this done in time — before New START was set to expire this Friday, Feb 5.”
Recent Republican administrations have not favored arms control treaties. In fact, the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations exited existing agreements. U.S. Admiral Charles Richard recently wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute journal Proceedings, the potential for nuclear war remains present.
“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” the four-star admiral wrote.
There’s nothing new in the Richard’s statement. While our relations with Russia and China require scrutiny, not only with regard to nuclear weapons, but with every facet of their complexity, a few things remain clear about the course the United States should be taking to prevent the detonation of nuclear weapons which may escalate into a full on war. In their new book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power From Truman to Trump, William J. Parry and Tom Z. Collina outline a framework that includes these items:
The president should not have sole authority to launch a nuclear weapons attack. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war. They should be engaged with any decision to launch nuclear weapons against another state or non-state actor. There is no need for the “nuclear football” that has been shadowing the president since the Kennedy administration.
We should never rush into nuclear war. Experience has shown us time is required to gather all the information needed to verify an attack is in progress. There is simply no need for the president to decide to retaliate based on sketchy or incomplete information in a matter of a few minutes. Launch on warning should be prohibited.
First use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited. Given U.S. conventional force superiority, there is little reason to use nuclear weapons.
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads, positioned in silos to launch on warning are obsolete. If the U.S. were attacked with a large-scale nuclear missile launch, ICBMs in silos would be the among the first targets. They are part of the so-called nuclear triad which includes submarines and bombers ready to launch a nuclear attack or counter attack. If there were a nuclear attack on the U.S., submarines and bombers would comprise our primary retaliatory response. ICBMs are obsolete sitting ducks.
Strategic missile defense systems don’t work, despite billions of dollars spent developing them. Russia sees U.S. missile defense systems as a threat to their ability to retaliate in the event of a U.S. nuclear attack. U.S. missile defense systems, by their existence, block advancement of arms control negotiations between the world’s two owners of 90 percent of nuclear armaments.
The bigger picture is nuclear states should take seriously Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and work toward elimination of nuclear weapons. For those nuclear states which haven’t joined the treaty, they should. Countries should reduce and eliminate spending on weapons of mass destruction.
While I don’t agree with the Biden administration’s military spending priorities, I’m glad to receive the news they extended New START for five more years. Now build upon it.
While returning from a walk in the state park I picked up four yard signs a neighbor placed in their yard. Two of the candidates are poised to win and two are not.
While crossing the street, another neighbor called out but I couldn’t hear them. They walked over to discuss Saturday’s events in the general election. They had considered leaving the country if the president were reelected. Like many in our neighborhood, they keep their politics private. Sigh of relief the president was defeated. They are good neighbors.
After my walk I drove over to a damaged street sign and removed the signs from the pole. It is hard to get the screws loosened so I brought it home to repair in the garage if I can. Leaves are mulched with the mower so the minerals can return to the soil. The smell of neighbors burning leaves permeated the neighborhood. What fall work remains in the yard is optional. Today looks to be in the 70s so it is a chance to work outdoors.
Emails began arriving from groups with which I associate after the election. This one from the Climate Reality Project is typical.
We will mobilize support like never before for federal-level climate policy, and will bolster this with continued state and local-level work, which has been so instrumental in building this movement since 2016. We will persist in fighting for climate justice, by forging partnerships and adding capacity to campaigns that address systemic ways the climate crisis hurts historically marginalized communities. And we will continue to the grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, ensuring we have even more voices conveying our clear message. We have the solutions at-hand, and there is no more time to waste.
Ken Berlin, President and CEO, The Climate reality Project
To work on any of the received requests, I had to get organized. Here is what I came up for post-election priorities from an email to friends:
My first Iowa work will be determining a leverage point to advocate for mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus prevents us from organizing as we are accustomed. I plan to follow State Senator Rob Hogg’s lead on this. As you likely know, experts are saying we will be challenged by the virus into 2022. This is a high priority.
I’m working on nuclear arms control issues with the Arms Control Association, and on the climate crisis with the Climate Reality Project. I’m also working with the Sierra Club on the Pattison Sand proposal to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it to arid western states. However those things dovetail with your organization will be our points of opportunity to work together.
The Biden administration will quickly become besieged with its efforts to undo the four years of the current administration, therefore I view moving the ball forward on our issues as something our folks in DC should lead. My expected local contributions include writing an op-ed for the Cedar Rapids Gazette every 4-6 weeks (arms control and social topics), organizing a group in Solon to help me work on issues including politics and political advocacy, and set the stage for a Democratic comeback in the 2022 election. Tall orders all.
I don’t see Iowans devoting much bandwidth to the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) until there is an opportunity for the administration to listen and take action on the treaty. I forget who’s having the Zoom meeting that includes Rose Gottemoeller but I plan to listen in. For the time being, the U.S. government and those of the other nuclear states are ignoring the treaty. If that changes in the next couple of years I’ll get more involved.
If we don’t get organized ourselves, we will be hindered in working with others. Onward we go!