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It’s later than we think on nuclear weapons threat

When the board of the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists recently reset its “Doomsday Clock” to three minutes before midnight, we asked our 17-year-old grandson what his peers think about the threat of nuclear war. His response? A shrug. “They don’t think about it.” he said.

Our generation remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis, “duck and cover”, and useless fallout shelter signs in every community. But for the past 25 year our government has been strangely silent about the continuing dangers that nuclear weapons present.
So, should we worry?

There are about 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, most of them under the control of the United States and Russia. More than 2,000 are on hair-trigger alert, mounted on missiles and ready to launch in 15 minutes. Recent international conflicts and nuclear saber-rattling should wake us up to the reality that conflicts can spiral out of control and lead to catastrophic events with global disruptions.

A 2002 study showed that if even 300 nuclear warheads successfully targeted U.S. cities, 75 to 100 million people would die in one-half an hour. Infrastructure damage, both physical and electronic, would disrupt the entire country. Of course, the same damage or worse would result from U.S. missiles raining down on Russia. Besides the immediate effects of the blast and the long-term damage of nuclear fallout, 150 million tons of soot in the upper atmosphere, (from firestorms), would trigger temperature drops and would disrupt agriculture, sending ripples of disruption throughout the globe.
The threat of an accidental nuclear exchange also exists. Since 1979, either Moscow or the U.S. came close to launching a retaliatory response to a false alarm on several occasions.

So, yes, we should worry.

However, more and more countries and concerned global citizens are working together to ban and then eliminate these weapons. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent has voted to educate people about the dangers of nuclear weapons. The American Medical Association and The World Medical Association, mindful that there can be no meaningful medical response to a nuclear bomb, have joined in the effort to educate people and nations and to abolish these weapons.

Physicians for Social Responsibility and The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have joined the effort by leading the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. We bring together hundreds of thousands of people in nearly 500 organizations in 95 countries. In addition, over 140 countries have called for a new treaty to prohibit these weapons.

We hope that our educational efforts will help people, especially those who believe they don’t have to think about it, to take another look, take a deep breath, and join us. We need to encourage our representatives to join rather than impede efforts to build a safer, nuclear weapons free future.

Brita Larsen Clark is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Western North Carolina chapter.

Originally published as a Guest Columnist in the Asheville Citizen Times on Feb. 5, 2016

Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.