Preparing to Fight Off Doomsday

Preparing to Fight Off Doomsday

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has adopted a new strategy to involve citizens and politicians more actively to push for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

The strategy was emphasised at an ICAN conference in Istanbul last week.

The new strategy by ICAN, a coalition of 286 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in 68 countries which jointly campaign against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and aim to ultimately have them banned, aims to do more to sensitise both public opinion and state authorities to the consequences of a nuclear detonation.

ICAN intends to go beyond rhetoric and propose, with the involvement of states sensitive to the issue, concrete measures to cope with a nuclear disaster event. It will be hosting an international civil society forum in Oslo on March 2-3 this year, which will be followed by an experts conference on military nuclear threats organised by the government of Norway with the support of 16 other nations.

“We are constantly told by nuclear weapons states officials that putting into effect the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is not possible, not conceivable in practical terms,” Arielle Denis, ICAN Europe, Middle East and Africa coordinator told IPS. “Our position is that there is record of international treaties which have led to the prohibition of other lethal weapons. If the international community succeeded in banning land mines and cluster bombs, it can certainly ban the ownership of nuclear arms.”

The coalition of NGOs argues that any country, even a nuclear weapons state, could be the target of a nuclear attack in the new geopolitical environment, which it says encourages the proliferation of rogue states and terrorist organisations. “Although no nuclear weapons have been used since 1945, cyber-terrorism makes today the explosion of an atomic warhead realistic,” said Denis.

Core to this strategy is the humanitarian aspect of a nuclear detonation, even of a single device. ICAN published a report in 2012 which identifies immediate and long-term damage to local populations. Blast shockwaves travelling at hundreds of kilometres an hour, are lethal to all those in the proximity of ground zero of the detonation, who often just vaporise due to the intense pressure and heat. Further away, victims suffer from oxygen shortage and carbon monoxide excess, lung and ear damage, and internal bleeding.

But the consequences due to radiation are felt even at greater distances. This affects most organs of the body with effects lasting decades and with genetic alterations suffered by the victims and their descendants.

Such claims are corroborated by studies by the U.S. government and by research institutions between the 1970s and last decade. In a scenario of a nuclear attack involving three medium power warheads against an intercontinental ballistic missiles base in the “farm belt” of the U.S., which covers primarily the northern mid-west, it was calculated that the number of dead could reach 7.5 to 15 million, with 10 to 20 million being severely injured.

The humanitarian aspect of the surviving population would be practically impossible to manage, as the presence of radioactivity would force 40 million people to relocate as far away as possible. Relocation would take from