Nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons demand particular attention.  They represent mankind’s ultimate means of self-destruction, and our ultimate confrontation with the natural environment.  The purpose of these weapons is wholesale destruction on a massive scale.  Despite no nuclear weapon having been detonated in warfare since 1945, there are still over 15,000 of them in nine countries and they pose an unacceptable risk of use.  Even their development and testing has caused permanent and severe human and environmental damage.

Nuclear weapons production and testing

There are major health, safety and environmental problems at nuclear weapons complexes around the world.  In the US, the task of dealing with the toxic and radioactive legacy of 50 years of nuclear weapons production is said to be the most technologically challenging and costly public works project ever conceived[1]. The US Department of Energy has estimated that minimal remediation of the nuclear weapons complex will cost $230 billion over 75 years. Even at this level of expenditure, many sites and buildings will remain out-of-bounds for human access for the foreseeable future.[2]

In Russia, the situation is probably worse than in the US.  Vast quantities of radioactive waste, including nuclear reactors, from Soviet and Russian nuclear-powered ships and submarines were dumped into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.  Between 1948 and 1956 radioactive waste from the vast Mayak (also called Chelyabinsk-65, or Kyshtym) plutonium production complex was poured straight into the Techa River, the source of drinking water for many villages. 

Nuclear weapons test sites around the world, including the Maralinga site in South Australia, remain contaminated and uninhabitable.  It is estimated that the radiation exposure from nuclear weapons testing fallout will result in a total of 2.4 million human cancer deaths[3]

Nuclear weapons use

If nuclear weapons are used again, either by decision or accidentally (a distinct possibility as there are approximately 1,800 US and Russian nuclear weapons still on high alert), the human and environmental consequences will be unprecedented and catastrophic.  Depending on how many weapons are used, they could bring the end of civilisation as we know it.

Recent studies have estimated that the use of just 100 Hiroshima-sized (ie “small” by today’s standards) weapons in urban areas could cause severe global climatic consequences.[4]  Fires from burning cities would release copious amounts of light-absorbing smoke and debris into the upper atmosphere, causing decreases in growing seasons in many parts of the world, with severe reductions in food production and likely famine[5].

Nuclear weapons abolition is needed, not promotion of nuclear weapons producers

There is a strong global movement, at both government and civil society level, for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, just as chemical and biological weapons are banned by treaty. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, which began in Australia, is a leader in this movement.

ICAN encourages divestment from companies that produce nuclear weapons.  The following companies (or their parent company) are among those involved in nuclear weapons manufacture[6]:

  • Raytheon is involved in communications, command and control for Trident II (D5), Minuteman III and nuclear armed bombers for the US.
  • Thales is part of a joint venture to build the M51 submarine-launched nuclear missiles for the French Navy.
  • BAE Systems has contracts for US and UK Trident II (D5) strategic weapons system programmes and US Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system engineering
  • Lockheed Martin is responsible for the construction of the Trident ll (D5) nuclear missiles for the US and the UK, is involved in the production and maintenance of the US Minuteman lll Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system, and helps manage the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment.

The promotion and “normalization” of these industries at Canberra Airport, while civil society globally and a majority of governments are striving for a total ban on the horrific weapons they produce, is offensive

August 2015.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     


[2] ibid

[3] International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. Radioactive Heaven and Earth: The health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons testing in, on and above the earth. Apex Press, New York, and Zed Books, London.Page 40

[4] A Robock  et al. Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion 2006; 6 :11817 - 11843

[5] I Helfand.  An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting from Limited,  Regional Nuclear War.  Presented at “Nuclear Weapons: The Final Pandemic” conference. October 3-4, 2007, London.

See also Bulletin 4 for an update on this article