Commemorating International Day against Nuclear TestsWednesday, September 01, 2021
Nuclear tests have caused enormous environmental damage and terrible consequences on the health of people living in affected areas. It's time to outlaw all nuclear tests, by anyone, anywhere. There is no excuse to delay achieving this goal. — António Guterres
SINCE nuclear weapons testing began on July 16, 1945, over 2,000 have taken place.
In the early days of nuclear testing not much consideration was given to its devastating effects on human life, more so the dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. We have all seen the movies and read about the horrors of nuclear weapons.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively. The United States of America bombed Japan towards the end of the World War II, prompting the Japanese to surrender on August 15, 1945, bringing the conflict to an end. The first atomic bomb known as Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima by a modified B-29 bomber christened Enola Gay, after the mother of its pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. Three days later, a plutonium bomb, known as Fat Man, was loaded on a B-29 bomber called Bockscar, which was flown by Major Charles Sweeney. The initial target was the city of Kokura, but because of thick clouds, the bomb was dropped on the secondary target of Nagasaki.
While we are not completely sure how many Japanese died in both bombings, it is estimated that around 140,000 of Hiroshima's population of 350,000 were killed in the bombing, and it is estimated that around 74,000 people died in Nagasaki. In Hiroshima, on August 6, around 80,000 people were killed, immediately, when the bomb was dropped. In Nagasaki, on August 9, around 40,000 people were killed instantly. Tens of thousands of others died in the aftermath of radiation poisoning and their injuries. Regardless of the exact numbers, we are certain that thousands, tens of thousands, of Japanese were killed as a result of the bombings.
According to the United Nations, on December 2, 2009, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared August 29 the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. The resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions, or any other nuclear explosions, and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world”. The theme for the International Day against Nuclear Tests is 'The Path to Zero: The Role of the United Nations in Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation'.
From the beginning of the nuclear age, civil society has played an important role in the effort to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons. Physicists, seismologists, and other scientists; physicians and lawyers; women's organisations; research institutes and non-governmental organisations (NGOs); mayors and parliamentarians have all played their role in moving us towards a nuclear weapon-free world.
We do not need to be a member of the scientific community to know about the dangers and long-term effects of nuclear weapons. It is widely documented that many of those who survived the atomic attack on the Japanese cities later developed cancers and developmental issues from the poisonous radiation.
Have you done an X-ray? If yes, you are aware that the radiologist goes into a separate room after he or she prepares the patient. Clearly, this speaks to the dangers associated with radiation.
The cold war between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States of America caused both countries to increase the number of their nuclear weapons. At its peak, the USSR had a total of approximately 45,000 operational warheads and the United States had 32,000 ( https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.2968/066004008). After the USSR disintegrated thousands of nuclear weapons on both sides were dismantled.
Because of the broad lethality and destruction of these weapons, governments have negotiated arms control agreements such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1996. The NPT's purpose is to inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons. There are two types of States parties – nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The NWS are the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. Under the treaty, NWS are not allowed to assist NNWS in developing nuclear weapons, and NWS have the inalienable right to research, develop, and use nuclear energy for non-weapon purposes.
Among the other countries with nuclear weapons are Russia, US, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, and North Korea. Israel has never confirmed whether it possesses nuclear weapons; however, it is a popular view that Israel has nukes.
Interestingly, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America – are all nuclear weapon states (NWS).
The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security; however, many countries seek nuclear weapons as leverage in possible wars and regional conflicts. North Korea, for example, sought and obtained nuclear weapons to ward off attacks from Western powers and South Korea.
The UN atomic watchdog has said in an annual report that North Korea appears to have restarted a nuclear reactor that is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency has had no access to North Korea since Pyongyang expelled its inspectors in 2009. The country then pressed ahead with its nuclear weapons programme and soon resumed nuclear testing. Its last nuclear test was in 2017.
In the volatile Middle East Iran is is said to be actively pursuing nuclear weapons. As a result, Saudi Arabia has openly declared that once Iran obtains nukes they, too, will pursue the same path. Can you imagine a world where terrorist groups will have access to nuclear weapons?
There are those who will argue that once you have nuclear weapons there will be the need for testing of such weapons; however, we must begin somewhere regarding the end game – disarmament of nuclear weapons.
In commemoration of International Day against Nuclear Tests let us use our platforms to advocate for a ban on all nuclear tests.
In the words of Ban Ki-moon, we have a legal and moral obligation to rid our world of nuclear tests and nuclear weapons.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org