Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – civil society forum

02.03.2013 - Oslo, Norway - Tony Robinson

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Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – civil society forum
ICAN conference, Oslo Norway, 2nd March 2013 (Image by Jana Jedličková)

The first day of the formal part of the ICAN Conference on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons finished today with a relentless flow of extraordinary information about how even a limited nuclear exchange would leave a fraction of humanity surviving and they would probably wish they were dead.

According to organisers over 440 participants from 70 countries and all continents of the world have gathered in Oslo for the forum organised by the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons.

The morning session was opened by presentations ranging from basic physics, to the subject of activism, the intergovernmental conference, and religion.  Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, expanded the subject from the immorality of using nuclear weapons to the immorality of using any weapons.

Gry Larsen, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs talked about the role of the Norwegian Government in organising the Inter-Governmental and the need for strong involvement of civil society.  “Without civil society we will not reach our goals,” she said.

Referring to the Inter-Governmental conference she updated everyone with the news that 132 countries are now registered to participate on Monday and Tuesday, and in regard to the boycott of the P5 countries of the UN Security Council she quoted Norway’s Foreign Minister who said, “Their arguments were not very convincing.”

The real meat of the conference, the humanitarian consequences, was brutally presented in the afternoon plenary session, first of all through the harrowing testimonies of two survivors of the bomb.  Rev. Yutama Minabe, whose parents and elder brother survived the bomb on Hiroshima whereas Minabe was born shortly after.  He explained about the stigma, the silence and the discrimination that survivors had to deal with, besides the heightened rates of cancer and mortality.  He explained how his family most likely only survived because his father had been forced into working for the army and so had access to food and healthcare.

Dr Terumi Tanaka was in Nagasaki and survived the bomb and recounted the horror of the first few days after it exploded; the dead, the fires, the river full of bodies and the desperation of people searching in vain for their loved ones.  Truly moving testimony that all the world’s politicians should be made to listen to.

After this the scientists were unleashed on us, we heard astonishing presentations from Dr Andy Haines, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dr Alan Robock of Rutgers University, Dr Ira Helfand from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and Dr. Rianne Teule from Greenpeace International.

The presentations were brilliant but devastating.  A small exchange of a few bombs between India and Pakistan, for example, would throw up enough smoke into the atmosphere to effectively block out the sun for a decade, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, reduce global temperatures to create a nuclear winter and cause famine for billions.

Noting that global food stocks could probably last for no more than 60 days, it would be inevitable that starvation would ensue for those even in places that weren’t bombed.

Dr Helfand set out the stark consequences of a bomb on New York, for a 3km radius around ground zero, temperatures would be greater than the surface of the sun after a millionth of a second, for the next 3 km the shock wave would cause destruction and death of everything living, the next zone of 3 km would experience a fireball as all flammable material would instantaneously combust and suck up all the available oxygen.  Further out the devastation would be less but still significant.  These would be the immediate effects without the subsequent radiation poisoning and climate effects.

Dr Teule of Greenpeace connected the nuclear weapons issue to the nuclear energy issue and highlighted problems of radioactivity stigmatisation that people are facing as a result of the supply of nuclear fuel and the use of radioactive materials in the wars in the Middle East.

The scientists were keen to stress that their models were just that, models, but their numbers were always underestimates of what the reality could be, and that they have constantly challenged colleagues to find errors in the models or come up with more refined data.  But the results are always the same: the Earth will experience a nuclear winter, crops will fail for years, and humanity will be brought to the edge of disaster.  And in their models they work with the detonation of a small fraction of the world’s 19,000 nuclear warheads.

In the interchange, Dr Helfand made an interesting point that there are 2 generations of people who have been born since the end of the Cold War who just don’t have the information about the nuclear issue and the generations prior to this frankly wanted to forget the horror of it all after the fear of the 60s, 70s and 80s.  It is for the younger generations to inform themselves and push for disarmament.

An item not touched upon, but which seems clearly relevant in this forum is the fact that any nuclear attack would cause such terrible consequences to the supply of electricity and back up fuel, that after a while the nuclear power stations would start to overheat, go into meltdown and explode.  Add that to a nuclear winter and on top of the lack of sun, the atmosphere would be radioactive.

In the light of all this information it is clear that there is no justification for even possessing a nuclear weapon, either by design or by accident a nuclear war would not just affect the warring parties, it would devastate humanity and all the other life forms on the planet.  The question about whether these weapons are legal or not becomes rather moot.

The boycott by the P5 countries therefore cannot be seen as anything other than a child covering their ears because they don’t want to hear the truth about bedtime.  The military-industrial-economic-media-government complex in place is making mind-blowing profits off the nuclear weapon industry and it is just not interested in hearing these arguments.

There is therefore hope then, even in the absence of the P5, that the rest of the world will be so disturbed by the graphic descriptions of the humanitarian consequences, that they will make unilateral moves to negotiate a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons and the P5 will have no choice other than to go along with the will of humanity.

Categories: International, Peace and Disarmament
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