This week marks the 67th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the combined initial death toll of approximately 200,000 and thousands more in the years that followed. As Albert Einstein famously said: “With the dawn of the nuclear age everything changed save [except] our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
At a time when global economies are on life support and the US is eking out an economic recovery, we are spending over $54 billion annually on nuclear weapons programmes. As we face economic challenges every day with so many of our infrastructure and pressing human needs of education, medical care, police and fire protection going unmet, we can ill afford this expense. The nuclear weapons industry has no usefulness.
Environmental challenges are real and threaten us daily. Climate change itself and its associated depletion of resources is a source of conflict. Gen Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine and the former Head of the Central Command, warned: “We will pay for this (climate change) one way or another.……We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives.”
In a nuclear world, all war has the real possibility of going nuclear and yet we allow the continued existence of these weapons and incomprehensible stockpiles. In addition, nuclear weapons production, accidents, storage and use have left us with an environmental risk and legacy that will extend for an unimaginable half a million years, while civilisation has existed for just a few thousand years. If these weapons are ever used in a full-scale nuclear war, the extreme climatic change that follows would end life as we know it.
Nuclear reactors further compound the nuclear legacy both from an environmental and health standpoint as last year’s Fukushima disaster so readily makes clear. The long-term effects on health and the environment may never be fully known and it will take years to determine the cancer and increased death toll.
From a military standpoint, the average nuclear power plant produces enough plutonium every year to produce 100 nuclear bombs. That’s the equivalent of 3,000 nuclear bombs per reactor over a 30-year nuclear plant life. The US has 104 commercial nuclear power reactors. As a result, the world is awash with plutonium, the most deadly substance on the planet.
How can this continue? International surveys about public support for nuclear weapons show 76 percent of global citizens favouring the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. In the US, 77 percent of the citizens favour their elimination. Their utility among military planners is also questioned with the US Air Force and nuclear planners suggesting that our stockpiles could be reduced to 300 weapons.
We stand at a tipping point with our world threatened every moment of every day with annihilation from nuclear war and the steady choking of the planet through climate change. Our future great-great-grandchildren are calling to us asking: what did you do when the planet was threatened. How will you respond? Your response will help determine their existence.
n The writer is family physician practicing in Ventura, California, and co-chairman of the Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. This article has been reproduced from the Middle East Online.