Nuclear Warfare - The Biggest Global Threat

Gigantic threats to human existence are in the form of nuclear warheads attached to short and long range missiles. Confusion is common between the relatively safety and desirability nuclear reactors for energy production and bombs for destruction. It is possible to build safe reactors and dismantle bombs.

All environmental threats become insignificant when you consider the apocalypse that would be created by the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs. In 2017, Helfand et al expressed their increasing concern about the threat of war using nuclear weapons. ” After the end of the Cold War, the intense military rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was replaced by a much more cooperative relationship, and fears of war between the nuclear superpowers faded. Unfortunately, relations between Russia and the United States/NATO have deteriorated dramatically since then. In the Syrian and Ukrainian wars, the two have supported opposing sides, raising the possibility of open military conflict and fears that such conflict could escalate to nuclear war. Speaking in January, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock would remain at 3 minutes to midnight, former US Secretary of Defense William Perry stated, "The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, in my judgment, is greater that it was during the Cold War...and yet our policies simply do not reflect those dangers." His assessment was echoed 2 months later by Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2004. Speaking in Brussels on March 18 2016, Ivanov warned that "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s."


My early life was dominated by three horrific preoccupations; the holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and the destruction of animals and their natural environments all over planet earth. By age ten, I knew in theory how to construct both fission and fusion bombs and knew how destructive they were. I would study civil defense maps showing the extent of destruction from hydrogen bombs of different strengths exploded above Canadian and US cities. Later, I took courses in nuclear physics and the medical management of radiation sickness. For many years, I belonged to organizations that protested the development of more nuclear bombs. If you asked me in 1970, I would have told you that I had little confidence in modern civilization and wanted to live away from urban centers and the madness prevalent in the world. For me, the natural world of coastal British Columbia was sane, rational and enduring. Here, I felt part of an ancient natural order that would continue even if humans departed. I could ignore, at least for awhile, the folly of self-destructive humans.

As a young man I was always reassured to know that Albert Einstein existed and joined millions of educated others in admiration of his intellect. In a review of Einstein's impact on human awareness, Brian Greene wrote:" Albert Einstein once said that there are only two things that might be infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And, he confessed, he wasn't sure about the universe. When we hear that, we chuckle. Or at least we smile. We do not take offense. The reason is that the name “Einstein” conjures an image of a warm-hearted, avuncular sage of an earlier era. We see the good-natured, wild-haired scientific genius whose iconic portraits—riding a bike, sticking out his tongue, staring at us with those penetrating eyes—are emblazoned in our collective cultural memory. Einstein has come to symbolize the purity an power of intellectual exploration."

Einstein revealed the stunning relationship of mass to energy in the famous formula, E=MC². The speed of light, C, is a large number so that a small amount of annihilated mass produces a large amount of energy. This equation explains the prodigious energy production of our sun and other stars. Einstein did not imagine man-made devices that suddenly convert mass to energy, creating gigantic explosions. The discovery of the neutron chain reaction in radioactive materials such as purified uranium suggested the possibility of a nuclear bomb. A physicist friend, Leo Szilard, had patented an atomic bomb design in 1934. He feared that Germany might construct nuclear weapons and encouraged Einstein to sign a letter to US President Roosevelt, warning him.

A second Einstein-Szilard letter was sent in March 1940 and led to the Manhattan Project in 1942, designed to produce nuclear bombs based on the fission of purified, radioactive uranium. Scientists from all over the US were recruited to purify bomb-grade uranium and to work out the details of a denotation system under the direction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientists had been highly motivated to end the destruction inflicted on the world by Germany and Japan. Their work lead to the sustained proliferation of nuclear weapons in the US, Russia and six other countries. The US tested at least 1100 nuclear weapons and continues to maintain the second-largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world. Sensible humans were alarmed by the persistent belligerence of the US and the Soviet Union and sought to limit or abolish nuclear weapons. 

I called the blind proliferation of nuclear weapons Nuclear Weapon Insanity and proposed an international institution for the politically insane that could arrest and contain politicians voting for nuclear weapons. In 2017 there is an increasingly urgent need for such an institution.

Plutonium, the second fissile elements used to create nuclear explosives, is not found in significant quantities in nature. The production of plutonium started with the Manhattan Project and accelerated as nuclear reactors were built for weapons production. Plutonium is created in a nuclear reactor by bombarding. Uranium 235 with neutrons to produce the isotope 239 U, which beta decays becoming a neptunium isotope which again beta decays to 239 Plutonium. Uranium and plutonium are radioactive substances that release radiation – electrons, neutrons, alpha particles, X-rays and gamma rays.

When the bomb project began, scientists did not understand the health damaging effects of radiation. In the US, reckless if not cruel experiments were inflicted on naive “volunteers” to determine the effects of radiation on human subjects. Credit goes to the US Department of Energy who established the Office of Human Radiation Experiments in March 1994 to reveal the shocking story of radiation research using human subjects in the US.

The complete detonation of one kilogram of plutonium produces an explosion equal to about 20,000 tons of chemical explosive. Nuclear explosions produce blast effects, thermal radiation, ionizing radiation and delayed effects, such as radioactive fallout that can damage all living creatures hours to years after the blast. When a nuclear bomb is detonated on or near the Earth's surface, the blast destroys everything in a central zone, creating a large crater. A cloud of particles rises into the air and returns to the earth’s surface downwind as radioactive fallout.

An intense burst of thermal and gamma radiation travels at the speed of light in all directions. The flash of light is followed by a blast wave followed by hurricane-like winds. Humans who survive the direct blast can be injured in many ways. For example, gamma radiation exposure causes radiation sickness and death. Thermal radiation and secondary fires will cause burns in many of the blast survivors. Third-degree burns over 24 percent of the body, or second-degree burns over 30 percent of the body, will be fatal unless prompt, specialized medical care is available. Fallout consists of particles made radioactive by the explosion, distributed at varying distances from the site of the blast. The fallout is greater if the burst is close to the surface. The area and intensity of the fallout are determined by local weather conditions. Winds and rain distribute radioactive particles.

Areas receiving contaminated rainfall become "hot spots," with greater radiation intensity than their surroundings. Radioactive isotopes enter the soil, the groundwater and accumulate in rivers and lakes. Lower level radiation exposure received by people hundreds to thousands of miles from the blast center leads to delayed consequences such as cancer many years after exposure.

The ongoing manufacture of plutonium is one of the many features of political processes that ran amok after the Second World War. Sherwin summarized the nuclear insanity:” Armed with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons capable of being launched from land, sea, and air, the United States and the Soviet Union became prisoners of a cold war process that neither controlled. Locked into a nuclear arms race justified by national security, they increased their peril, diminished their economies, and promoted an international atmosphere of impending catastrophe. While each government held the population of the other hostage to annihilation, both engaged in conventional wars on the territories of other nations.

“Occasionally, as in the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, they pushed each other to the nuclear brink. Living in the nuclear bull's-eye became a way of life. How to prevent the nuclear system from becoming a way of death was the question that dominated the debate over nuclear weapons from their inception. Most responses to it promoted the nuclear arms race, including the massive retaliation doctrine, limited nuclear war plans, the concept of mutual assured destruction (mad), the Strategic Defense Initiative, and even the salt and start arms control negotiations.”

The scientists that opposed the development of nuclear weapons are examples of smart, pragmatic people who used a variety of strategies to advance human well-being. Einstein is the worlds’ best known scientist. According to Levenson, a producer of NOVA's Einstein Revealed, Einstein was the greatest of the great. In the last ten years of his life, Einstein warned against the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons He advocated nuclear disarmament and international cooperation. He proposed a world government that could enforce disarmament and impose negotiated settlements to disputes among nations.

Einstein joined some of the smartest, nicest humans on the planet in intelligent opposition to nuclear bomb development, tests that contaminate air, soil and water with radioactive materials. He believed that rational thinking could supersede the self-destructive features of human nature. In association with Bertrand Russell, the British mathematician and philosopher, a manifesto of reason was issued that remains a guide for nice and smart people who will continue to seek a peaceful planet. 

From Surviving Human Nature

By Stephen Gislason MD. The books is available as an eBook download.