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.
Every time I read the name of a new city in Ukraine, I look it up on a map. When considering the vast expanses of farm fields depicted in atlases, I wonder how Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in this spring. I also wonder about the number of war crimes the west will tolerate before doing something more substantial to stop Russian aggression. The invasion began on Feb. 24, although it is being framed as part of a war that began in 2014.
U.S. interest in Ukraine has to do with so many of its citizens being Caucasian. Also, I got to know a group of Ukrainians who were guest workers at the orchard. Many locals have Ukrainian connections. The easy access social media provides to the war (especially via Twitter) makes it real. I was barely aware of other modern genocides, like in Darfur, Rwanda, Myanmar, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, and others. With social bias about white folks, the Ukraine conflict is getting plenty of media attention in the U.S. People here are engaged.
Following the Russia-Ukraine war takes more than a little bandwidth.
All the same, I passed 70,000 words in new writing this year. The main change over last year is the process I developed (and have written about) is working. There is much to consider in a single human life, yet time to experience it only once. As I use a chronological framing to work through the story, I’m surprised at how much I remember and how vivid those memories are.
This week I wrote about my time at the University of Iowa. A valuable resource has been the online archives of The Daily Iowan going back to 1868. I also have letters I wrote and letters written to me, my main school papers, as well as some artifacts from the period. All of these resources aid memory in production of writing that is personally meaningful.
I participated in the May 11, 1972 anti-war demonstrations to protest the Nixon administration’s mining of Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam. The tendency is to accept well published stories about what happened, suppressing our personal experience. I believe writing the story I did provides an alternative. Here’s a sample:
Newspapers reported about 1,000 demonstrators by the time they got to Dubuque Street. Some 60 patrolmen with night sticks and helmets stood side-by-side across Dubuque Street at the Park Road intersection near City Park. They deployed smoke into the approaching line of students in front of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house.
At this point the newspaper narratives diverged. The Davenport Times-Democrat published a headline, “Patrolmen Block Sit-in Attempt.” However, a contingent of protesters returned south on Dubuque to Brown Street and we walked through neighborhoods, then into dense brush to gain access to Interstate-80. At least one person was treated for cuts from barbwire fencing as we found the way to the Interstate through a thickly wooded area. I was among the protesters clearing a path in the brush for others.
We reached Interstate 80, stopped traffic, and set a fire in the eastbound lane. As we did, a bus with Highway patrolmen arrived on the overhead crossing of Prairie Du Chien Road. They climbed down the embankment and formed a line across the eastbound lane. They charged toward us to break up the crowd and extinguish the fire.
From a draft of an autobiography in progress.
If we are not the main character in our own life’s story, then when are we? The new process helps me get a narrative down on paper. Once it is written, editing begins. By the time it is finished, the writing should be quite readable, I hope.
I’m having second thoughts about putting everything in this autobiography. There is too much previous writing I want to include. I see a second volume that is a collection of previous writing, with a section for each type of writing, including letters, poetry, newspaper articles, blog posts, journals and stories. Gleaning the best of this means reading it all. I’d better stick to my knitting and finish the chronological narrative first.
There is also a question of what to do with the images I have on hand. Part of me wants to close the interpretation of images by describing what is in them rather than publishing the image itself. That seems a useful technique. There are so many images there is likely another book with images with extended captions in them. I posted such a work on my Flickr account and it became one of the most widely read posts I made. I took it down when I exited the Yahoo platforms. There is a third book in images and the decision is whether to create it as a bound book, or to make a series of photo albums. It’s an open question.
There is too much information about the Russia invasion of Ukraine to process. I had to get out the maps to keep things straight. The Rand McNally is a bit old as it shows Ukraine as part of the U.S.S.R. The atlases are opened to Ukraine on the living room coffee table.
I filled the auto, mowers and gas cans with gasoline yesterday. Price was less than $4 per gallon with a 20 gallon limit at the pump. Based on being retired this should last 4-6 weeks. When I lived in Germany in 1977-1979 I paid roughly $5 per gallon in 1970s dollars.
Food costs are not an issue here because so much of what we eat comes from our garden.
Even though it has been a mild winter, our natural gas bill more than doubled. Big companies (Mediacom, Verizon, Waste Management, Insurance) all took the maximum rate increase allowed.
Because of increased regulations, our sewer plant is passing along an unexpected $100 charge to cover a loan for improvements in our quarterly billing.
Combine all of this and money will be tight in 2022. I wouldn’t call it inflation, though. This is definitely not a “general price increase.” Each element has specific causes. The big companies are gouging us, even though their websites say they aren’t.
We spent an hour talking about finances yesterday. We’ll get by, although we come just short of paying off our credit card bill each month. There have been some recurring winter expenses like servicing the lawn tractor, printing my blog in book format, a Washington Post subscription, and garden seed purchases. The credit card balance has been manageable. The choices for a family are to stay engaged in things — the Russia-Ukraine war, and household finances — or let things (and our family) slide into oblivion.
Snow fell and a day later it began melting. The ground is partly snow-covered in today’s predawn darkness. With a forecast high of 30 degrees, there will be more melting in sunny areas. Eleven days remain in winter.
With President Biden’s March 8 announcement, “We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” U.S. gasoline prices increased immediately. I’m planning to round up our gas cans, take them to town, and fill them. I expect prices to continue to climb because of Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine. The country should get completely off fossil fuels, although there has been a lack of political will to do so.
Lettuce and herbs are beginning to germinate on the heating pad. As soon as the snow melts I can build the burn pile and clear the first planting plot. As the growing season begins, I’m ready.
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.
In his 1979 book The Third World War: August 1985, General Sir John Hackett identified that the public generally disregards the possibility of war. He wrote about the role media embedded in combat units would play in his hypothetical war, bringing home different aspects of the conflict from what had been experienced in previous wars. What he didn’t predict was the role of mobile devices sending video and photographs from war zones like those we see on social media posts from Ukraine.
At the time, when I was returning to Iowa after leaving military service in West Germany, Hackett’s book was a page from the lives of everyone like me who participated in making battle plans to defend Western Europe as Soviet army units attempted to penetrate the Fulda Gap. Hackett was right about new methods of reporting from war zones. The experience is more immediate after the rise of Twitter and social media. It changes everything.
It is difficult to winnow kernels of fact from streams of social media. While something real goes into images posted there, their meaning and veracity, is an open question. It is not helpful that certain photos, like those of children in a bomb shelter, get the most views. I mean photos like this.
We should take video and photographs coming out of Ukraine with a grain of salt. We should resist confirmation bias and let the events tell their own story. That may not be possible, yet it is important to how we determine what political action our country should be taking.
For example, is this photograph posted on Twitter real or fake? I separated it from the accompanying text which appears below.
The post appears to be real. While the reliability of this reporter is known, there has been an attempt to create a fake profile of him as part of a larger disinformation campaign by the aggressors.
Most reasonable people know social media posts are hardly unbiased information. We should remind ourselves as they become a major source of information about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Around midnight I woke with my mind racing. There was a high-pressure fire hose full of news on Monday. It is continuing into Tuesday.
With Ukraine being eight time zones ahead, there were a lot of reports coming in via Twitter when I looked at the mobile device in bed. Much of the information was negative. The fact there is a war in Ukraine at all is negative. If Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin intended to make quick work of conquering Ukraine, he failed.
Putin put Russian nuclear forces on high alert and no one is certain what that will mean, other than creation of an opportunity for unintentional detonation of nuclear warheads. Monday President Biden said people should not fear a nuclear war. He obviously has information I don’t, yet knowing this is happening raised my personal tension a notch.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change released their latest report yesterday. The last sentence of the 3,675-page report says it all. “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in West Virginia v. EPA on Monday. Justice questions centered around “major questions” which should be decided by the Congress, not by a regulatory agency. The fear is SCOTUS will severely limit the kind and amount of regulation the Environmental Protection Agency can introduce, sending any action on controlling greenhouse gas emissions back to a stalemated Congress. With a 6-3 conservative tilt, Republicans got what they wanted when President Trump appointed three justices during his term in office.
Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are making laws without regard for dissenting voices. They have a clear majority and are passing whatever laws pop into their heads. The degrading of intellectual standards among lawmakers is obvious and frustrating.
I continue to wait for dust to settle and determine personal next steps. Spring will soon be here, I’m working on income taxes, and once garden planting begins there will be a rush toward Memorial Day. Things seem a bit out of control.
Later this morning I will take a nap. Otherwise, I’m unlikely to make it until supper time. With everything going on, it is hard to sleep and unlikely there is any returning to normal. It is hard to know what the new normal will be.
Ajuga is a hearty plant. In the 1990s, we brought some from my father in law’s home to use as ground cover. It spread until plants were visible all along the drainage ditch on the north property line, stretching some 80 feet from the house into the ditch. We hope to use it in the planting area in front of the house this spring.
The last couple of years, before the coronavirus pandemic, there was a small crew of guest workers from Ukraine at the orchard. They were great guys, hard workers, and all with families left behind as they worked in Iowa. They lived in an apartment over the retail space and could be seen hanging around outside their apartment as I left work each day. I hope they and their families are alright during the war.
Our household has been consumed by news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We feel powerless. After receiving more than two dozen messages from politicians asking for a donation yesterday, I got an idea.
World Central Kitchen came to Iowa to support us during the aftermath of the 2020 derecho. Chef José Andrés set up World Central Kitchen on the Ukraine-Poland border to feed refugees. I went to a computer and found the non-profit and made a small donation.
It’s a drop in the bucket of needs for humanitarian assistance. It was something useful. We need more of that as the tension escalates.
An inch or two of snow fell overnight indicating winter is not finished.
There is not enough trash and recycling to roll the carts through freshly fallen snow to the street for pickup. I’ll wait until daylight to blow snow from the driveway, without cart tracks and my footprints. With our intent to stay home, I could let it go and natural warmth would clear the driveway within 24-48 hours. I’m ready for some outdoors activity.
Despite snowfall, one senses a pivot toward spring.
The ten-day forecast is for ambient temperatures to begin climbing above freezing tomorrow. After that, highs are forecast in the upper thirties to mid forties going forward. I’m reminded some of our worst Iowa blizzards have happened during March. It may not be the end of winter, yet one can’t help but think of spring. The ground remains frozen.
We hope for spring, even if another thing that fell overnight was Russian missiles on Kyiv, Ukraine.
I try to shut out commentary and focus on news of the Russian invasion. There is plenty of news available, although one needs a filter to separate wheat kernels from the chaff. A cook can’t make bread from opinions. It is ironic that U.S. companies maintain large grain export operations in Ukraine and Russia when Iowa grows 50 percent of its corn to make ethanol. Ethanol should be eliminated due to its impact on the environment. That is commentary readers may not welcome.
While stationed in Germany as an infantry officer, I prepared to fight a European land war against the former Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap. A soldier should know that if Russia planned to lay siege to Kyiv, it would begin this morning at dawn. There is no satisfaction from seeing my prediction come true as it did. Spring is not the best time for tanks to navigate through the countryside. One presumes Russia will make quick work of the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, while the ground remains frozen, before spring thaw and planting time arrives.
I have reading and writing to do and welcome a couple more days of cold weather. I’d like nothing better than to browse a bookstore for a while to see what is available. Instead, due to a lingering coronavirus, I’ll stay in and follow the news of the Russian invasion while keeping my eyes on imminent spring. The pivot has already begun.
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.
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