Nuclear weapons debate


Nuclear weapons debate
Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have remained highly controversial and contentious objects in the forum of public debate.
A graph showing evolution of number of nuclear weapons in the US and USSR and in the period 1945-2005. US dominates early and USSR later years with and crossover around 1978.
U.S. and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, 1945–2005.

The nuclear weapons debate is about public controversies relating to the use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Even before the first nuclear weapons had been developed, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project were divided over the use of the weapon. The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades.

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence.

Various American government officials, who were in office during the Cold War period, are now advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons. These officials include Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry. In January 2010, Lawrence M. Krauss stated that "no issue carries more importance to the long-term health and security of humanity than the effort to reduce, and perhaps one day, rid the world of nuclear weapons".[1]

Contents

History

The Fat Man mushroom cloud resulting from the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki.

Even before the first nuclear weapons had been developed, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project were divided over the use of the weapon. Some—notably a number at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, represented in part by Leo Szilard—lobbied early on that the atomic bomb should only be built as a deterrent against Nazi Germany getting a bomb, and should not be used against populated cities. The Franck Report argued in June 1945 that instead of being used against a city, the first atomic bomb should be "demonstrated" to the Japanese on an uninhabited area.[2] This recommendation was not agreed with by the military commanders, the Los Alamos Target Committee (made up of other scientists), or the politicians who had input into the use of the weapon. Because the Manhattan Project was considered to be "top secret", there was no public discussion of the use of nuclear arms, and even within the U.S. government, knowledge of the bomb was extremely limited.

The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Exploding with a yield equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT, the blast and thermal wave of the bomb destroyed nearly 50,000 buildings and killed approximately 75,000 people.[3] Detonation of the "Fat Man" atomic bomb over Nagasaki occurred on 9 August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. J. Samuel Walker suggests that "the controversy over the use of the bomb seems certain to continue".[4]

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles grew,[5] and nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for testing and demonstration purposes. Countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons—and that acknowledge possessing such weapons—are (chronologically) the United States, the Soviet Union (succeeded as a nuclear power by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.[6]

Arguments

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. In the early 1980s, following a revival of the nuclear arms race, a popular nuclear disarmament movement emerged.[7] In October 1981 half a million people took to the streets in several cities in Italy, more than 250,000 people protested in Bonn, 250,000 demonstrated in London, and 100,000 marched in Brussels.[8] The largest anti-nuclear protest was held on June 12, 1982, when one million people demonstrated in New York City against nuclear weapons.[9][10][11] In October 1983, nearly 3 million people across western Europe protested nuclear missile deployments and demanded an end to the arms race.[12]

Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence. Deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of an aggressive action. Nuclear weapons are said to have induced "nuclear peace" during the Cold War, when both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. possessed mutual second-strike retaliation capability, eliminating the possibility of nuclear victory for either side.

Various American government officials, who were in office during the Cold War period, are now advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons. These officials include Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry.[13] They believe that the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence is obsolete, and that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.[13][14]

The risk of accidents, misjudgments or unauthorised launches, they argued, was growing more acute in a world of rivalries between relatively new nuclear states that lacked the security safeguards developed over many years by America and the Soviet Union. The emergence of pariah states, such as North Korea (possibly soon to be joined by Iran), armed with nuclear weapons was adding to the fear as was the declared ambition of terrorists to steal, buy or build a nuclear device. Only by a concerted effort to free the world of nuclear weapons could the terrifying trend be reversed.[14]

Some scientists estimate that a war between two countries that resulted in 100 Hiroshima-size atomic explosions would cause significant loss of life, in the tens of millions. There would also be much soot thrown up into the atmosphere which would blanket the earth, causing the disruption of food chains.[15][16]

Recent developments

In recent years there have been concerns about North Korea's nuclear tests and Iran's refusal to stop its program to enrich uranium, potentially to weapons grade. The world is now in a new and dangerous nuclear era, and the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing. Nuclear weapons deployed by terrorists would be the ultimate means of mass devastation. And non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons are "conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy and present difficult new security challenges".[13]

In January 2010, Lawrence M. Krauss stated that "no issue carries more importance to the long-term health and security of humanity than the effort to reduce, and perhaps one day, rid the world of nuclear weapons".[17]

See also

References

  1. ^ Lawrence M. Krauss. The Doomsday Clock Still Ticks, Scientific American, January 2010, p. 26.
  2. ^ Schollmeyer, Josh (January/February 2005). "Minority Report". "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/c44g1634464675j7/?p=b09a34e5df624f6ba81f091a260ea38f&pi=9. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  3. ^ Emsley, John (2001). "Uranium". Nature's Building Blocks: An A to Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 478. ISBN 0-19-850340-7. http://books.google.com/books?id=j-Xu07p3cKwC&printsec=frontcover. 
  4. ^ Walker, J. Samuel (April 2005). "Recent Literature on Truman's Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground". Diplomatic History 29 (2): 334. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2005.00476.x. 
  5. ^ Mary Palevsky, Robert Futrell, and Andrew Kirk. Recollections of Nevada's Nuclear Past UNLV FUSION, 2005, p. 20.
  6. ^ "Federation of American Scientists: Status of World Nuclear Forces". Fas.org. http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/nuclearweapons/nukestatus.html. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  7. ^ Lawrence S. Wittner. Disarmament movement lessons from yesteryear Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 July 2009.
  8. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 147.
  9. ^ Jonathan Schell. The Spirit of June 12 The Nation, July 2, 2007.
  10. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 145.
  11. ^ 1982 - a million people march in New York City
  12. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  13. ^ a b c George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. A World Free of Nuclear Weapons Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, page A15.
  14. ^ a b "Nuclear endgame: The growing appeal of zero". The Economist. June 16, 2011. http://www.economist.com/node/18836134. 
  15. ^ Philip Yam. Nuclear Exchange, Scientific American, June 2010, p. 24.
  16. ^ Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon. Local Nuclear War, Global Suffering, Scientific American, January 2010, p. 74-81.
  17. ^ Lawrence M. Krauss. The Doomsday Clock Still Ticks, Scientific American, January 2010, p. 26.

Further reading

  • M. Clarke and M. Mowlam (Eds) (1982). Debate on Disarmament, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Cooke, Stephanie (2009). In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Black Inc.
  • Falk, Jim (1982). Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press.
  • Murphy, Arthur W. (1976). The Nuclear Power Controversy, Prentice-Hall.
  • Walker, J. Samuel (2004). Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, University of California Press.
  • Williams, Phil (Ed.) (1984). The Nuclear Debate: Issues and Politics, Routledge & Keagan Paul, London.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S. (2009). Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, Stanford University Press.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nuclear power debate — For nuclear energy policies by nation, see Nuclear energy policy. For public protests about nuclear power, see Anti nuclear movement. Three of the reactors at Fukushima I overheated, causing meltdowns that eventually led to hydrogen explosions,… …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear weapons in popular culture — A nuclear fireball lights up the night in a United States nuclear test. Since their public debut in August 1945, nuclear weapons and their potential effects have been a recurring motif in popular culture,[1] to the extent that the decades of the …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear weapons delivery — Contents 1 Main delivery mechanisms 1.1 Gravity bomb 1.2 Ballistic missile …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear weapons and the United States — United States Nuclear program start date 21 October 1939 First nuclear weapon test 16 July 1945 …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom — United Kingdom Nuclear program start date 10 April 1940 First nuclear weapon test 2 October 1952 First fusion weapon test …   Wikipedia

  • List of states with nuclear weapons — Map of nuclear weapons countries of the world.   NPT nuclear weapon States (China, France, Russia, UK, USA) …   Wikipedia

  • History of nuclear weapons — The history of nuclear weapons chronicles the development of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are devices that possess enormous destructive potential derived from nuclear fission or nuclear fusion reactions. Starting with the scientific… …   Wikipedia

  • Japanese nuclear weapons program — Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission in December 1938. Physicists around the world immediately noticed that chain reactions could be produced and notified their governments of the possibility of developing nuclear weapons. The… …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear warfare — Nuclear War redirects here. For other uses, see Nuclear War (disambiguation). Warfare Military history Eras Prehistoric Ancie …   Wikipedia

  • Nuclear reprocessing — technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel.[1] Reprocessing serves multiple purposes, whose relative importance has changed over time. Originally reprocessing was used solely to… …   Wikipedia