Should nuclear weapons be outlawed worldwide?

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Gabriela Fonseca


Professor Raphael Bennett

June 17, 2017

Should nuclear weapons be outlawed worldwide?

With each passing year, technology is becoming more and more advanced. Among that technology are weapons of mass destruction. The fear of nuclear or biological attacks is present today, and that’s why the issue needs to be addressed immediately. The effects of a nuclear warhead are catastrophic, environmentally and economically on a global level. “Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.” (Red Cross, 2010). The abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent one, because prohibiting their use and production is the only guarantee that they will never be used.

Nuclear weapons were created solely to completely wipe out any sort of life forms on Earth. Aside from the immense death toll it would take upon its initial impact, the use of a nuclear weapon can have long-lasting and devastating effects on the environment. For example, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, everything in a 4 mile radius was decimated. The trees in surrounding areas were scorched and stripped of their leaves, surviving animals and humans suffered severe burns and radiation poisoning; prolonged exposure to radiation can alter the DNA of complex life forms. According to an article published on Environmental Health Perspectives, genetic mutations caused by radiation have led to cancerous tumors in bombing survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Genetic mutations in nature can have drastic effects like reducing the reproductive capacity, or cause birth defects. An ongoing study that began in 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics found a link between radiation and its effects in children with disabilities focused in Belarus, a town in the Ukraine that’s just 4 miles away from Chernobyl, where there was a nuclear reactor catastrophe. The town of Belarus sustained roughly 70% of the nuclear fallout, and a study by UNICEF proposed that 20% or more of adolescent children in Belarus suffer from disabilities caused by birth defects from the accident that happened 30 years ago. The fires from the meltdown at Chernobyl burned for 10 days, releasing roughly 400 times the amount of radiation than the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima at the end of World War II. In parts of Central and Eastern Europe, plants and animals are still being affected by the radiation, they contain so much that they’ve been deemed unsafe for human consumption. Similar to the human and animal survivors of Hiroshima, mammals around Chernobyl have smaller sized brains and cataracts, which scientists have found is a direct result of exposure to ionized radiation in the air, food and water supply. According to an article from 2016, scientists of the Chernobyl Research Initiative are studying the DNA of certain animals found in the areas around Chernobyl. They’ve noticed that in certain species of birds, the reproductive cycle has been affected, some males being completely sterile and not able to reproduce at all. Moreover, there is also an issue pertaining to the environmental effects from producing these weapons. The process of making weapons of mass destruction generates large amounts of waste that often ends up in our oceans, rivers, and the soil. The United States spends millions of dollars trying to clean up the waste from the nuclear plants. Some of these plants like the one located near Cinncinatti, Ohio that produces uranium for nuclear weapons. An article published in the New York Times in the late 1980’s found that the plant had been leaking uranium for some time, and that the government knew and did nothing to stop it. Also, there was nothing proposed in the plans on what exactly to do with all the waste, it wasn’t mentioned in the plans for the plant at all. Accidents at military and civilian reactors and power facilities have been knowingly or unknowingly leaking cancerous chemicals into our environment for more than 60 years. Radiation-related cancers have also been recorded in the workers and military personnel involved in the process. The potential environmental effects and ongoing effects from the already present amount of radiation unfortunetly isn’t convincing enough to propose a disarmament, it’s all about money.

Not only are the environmental effects disastrous, as are the economic effects. The nuclear-armed nations, including the United States and Russia holding the most, along with the United Kingdom, Israel, China, France, Pakistan, India, and North Korea, spend upwards of billions of dollars every year updating their nuclear weapons arsenals. Funding these weapons programs are taking funds away from each nations’ more important issues such as education and health care among other services. According to, “globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$105 billion – or $12 million an hour”. It would take the Office of Disarmament Affairs, which is the United Nations body that advocates the advancement of a nuclear weapon free world, less money to propose disarmament efforts. In 2009, President Obama signed a treaty with Russia to limit both countries to 1,500 active warheads. Shrinking America’s nuclear warhead arsenal has turned out to be far easier said than done. Despite the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty cuts on producing warheads, federal spending on the atomic stockpile is actually beyond what was spent during the Cold War, driven by congressional leaders who are eager to modernize the United States arsenal and fund projects that could cause unrest and other nations to start beefing up their weapons arsenal as well. So, it would actually be cheaper to all nations to call truce and dismantle their nuclear weapons programs, but its not that easy. Even though a treaty was signed to ensure both leading nations had a certain amount of active warheads, that doesn’t include the thousands more inactive warheads stored around the United States and all of the warships and submarines holding these deactivated missiles of death.

The fear of nuclear weapons and if and when they will be used is a rational fear. The continued productions and upkeep of nuclear weapons is a threat to national security. And not just to warring nations, to everybody. All around the world, people are still holding onto the idea of “nuclear deterrence”, a misguided idea that means if a nation hold the most nuclear weapons, then it means no other nation will try to go to war with them. Some psychologists believe that there are positives from people living with this fear, saying that upon realizing the threat people will educate themselves and understand the consequences therefore avoiding war. I believe it’s the exact opposite. I believe it breeds mistrust among the nations. Ever since the Cold War ended, the purpose for weapons of mass destruction were lost. There’s no legitimate strategy to use them, but all nations are in a race to produce them because the rest of the world does. These weapons won’t do anything in regard to our current security issues like climate change and terrorism. The Pentagon’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (PDF) concluded that “[t]he massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War era of bipolar military confrontation is poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons.” According to a large scale study conducted by M. Schwebel in America in 1960s into the psychological impacts on humans, especially to the children and adolescents of school age, “the nuclear threat greatly affected the thoughts, life plan and feelings of the younger generation, enhancing the anxiety among large populations.” They have found while studying children, adolescents and adults with families and found that the lot of people surveyed showed that their lives are being in some way disrupted by the fear of nuclear war. Because these nuclear warheads have the capacity of destroying life on the planet, people are hesitant in taking steps toward their own future, hesitant to begin planning of families, doubting the future of human society, and meaning of the existing world. Nations of people feel helpless and vulnerable, the ever present fear of nuclear warfare negatively effects humans psychologically. It also instills a lack of confidence in people, people loosing their purpose, people becoming apathetic about their future.

In conclusion, it is still unclear to me why the nations of the world haven’t come together and dismantle their nuclear weapons programs. The amount of damage its doing to the environment just by storing the weapons and waste will continue to negatively affect everything on the planet. The amount of money the United States is using along could be funneled into projects that adversely affecting the population now, the money being wasted on these weapons we don’t need could be used in other ways that benefit the nations citizens. Abolishing the use and production pf nuclear weapons would also set the nations at ease, so that we could properly address real threats instead of just holding all of the weapons for nothing, it is irresponsible to continue the nuclear weapons program. The fear and anxiety are making tensions rise in nations of the world, further spreading mistrust despite treaties ensuring safety.


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