“Nuclear catastrophe still a very real possibility”

On Aug 9, 1945, the face of the world changed forever. That was the day an atomic bomb was dropped over the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing up to 80,000 people and ruining the lives of millions of others, as well as future generations.

It has now been over 70 years since that fateful day, but the world’s nuclear stockpiles have only increased in that time. To understand what disarmament efforts are being made at the international level, Dawn spoke to Haneen Khalid, South Asia organiser for Global Zero – an initiative that advocates a phased withdrawal and destruction of all nuclear devices held by all countries of the world.

Q: What happens after a nuclear weapon goes off?

A: The problem is that the story doesn’t end with a bomb being exploded, that’s just the beginning. The effects last for generations. There is no way to predict the after-effects of radiation, or how to limit damage to a limited geographical area. Scientific research still cannot tell us what the effects of nuclear radiation will be a thousand years from now.

A recent study has shown that even a very limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could disturb the global climatic and crop cycle to such an extent that people will be dying of famine on the other side of the world.

It is never just about the countries that possess these weapons or those ones that use them; this is a very global issue with very global consequences.

Q: What are the risks posed by the existence of nuclear stockpiles in a particular country?

A: It is about weighing your options. On one hand you have the eventuality of a catastrophe; a nuclear missile could go off – either by deliberate action or by accident. There have been documented cases of mishap: 11 missiles were lost in the US and never found.

There have also been documented cases where America’s nuclear arsenal was manned by minutemen – military technicians with their finger on the nuclear button – who were under the influence of drugs.

In this context, it is noteworthy that countries such as Russia and the US have thousands of weapons ready to launch. They are pointed at different cities and we don’t even know what their targets are. So it is not fear mongering to say that an accidental nuclear launch is a very real possibility.

One of the key arguments for the pro-disarmament side is that the entire idea that nuclear weapons will be used in a rational context relies on the assumption that human beings are rational beings.

In wartime, emotions are running very high and there are big egos at play. It is very important to recognise the impact of human fallibility in this context. Even the slightest human error can be catastrophic for millions of people.

Q: What is Global Zero and what does it do?

A: Every year, on the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Global Zero conducts events all around the world.

Volunteers demarcate an area that would be affected should a small nuclear bomb be used, which is roughly four square kilometres – based on blast radius of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The hydrogen bombs in vogue now are several times more powerful.

So, along this radius, we take citizens around the city in order to demonstrate to decision makers, leaders, students and anyone with any level of public consciousness that this is what we stand to lose in the event of a nuclear disaster in that particular city.

I always like giving the example of Lahore, where we have the Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort and Minar-i-Pakistan within a very small radius –three historic and culturally symbolic landmarks for Pakistan.

Should a nuclear missile land in that area, thousands of years of human history will go up in smoke in just a moment.

This year, the event is being held in four cities across Pakistan and we have tried to pick out key landmarks from those cities and point out landmarks that people usually take for granted.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2016

You can find a link to the story here

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