The Effects of nuclear weapons
The release of ionising radiation is a phenomenon unique to nuclear explosions and causes additional casualties alongside those caused by blast and thermal effects. There would be a number of deaths from radiation sickness, for which there is really no effective medical treatment.
Large amounts of earth, water and other debris in the area surrounding the explosion would be sucked up to form a "mushroom cloud" of radioactive debris. When this material returned to earth, as fallout, the effects could be spread even further, and might make the city (and an area of countryside stretching tens of kilometres downwind) uninhabitable for many weeks or even years.
"In the dim light of a hospital room, seven years old Jimmy was remembering the day on which he was told he had leukaemia. He remembered his mother's tears, his father's bewildered anger, the alien feeling of the hospital's environment. His mind replayed the nausea and the diarrhoea caused by radiation therapy and chemotherapy, his hair falling out and kids laughing at him... Jimmy died gently, utterly exhausted having lost so much blood. His tissue had broken down completely, and he was bleeding from every body opening . His bed looked like a battlefield."
"On August 9, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Nagasaki, Kasuko Yamashina was working at a distance of two kilometers from ground zero. He tried to get home after the dropping of the bomb, but the fire was too fierce for him to approach the district, so that night he had to sleep under a bridge alone. His house was located at a place situated about 350 metres from ground zero. As soon as the fire went down, he reached the house finding out that his parents were burned by the heat of 4,000 degrees and lay scorched black and carbonised. He couldn't find his brother and his sister, and all that he could see were burned bricks and dead bodies.
In 1984 the United Nations Human Rights Committe noted that "it's evident that the designing, testing, manifacture, possession and deployment of nuclear weapons are among the greatest threats to the right to life which confront mankind today" and concluded that "the production, testing, possession, deployment and use of nuclear weapon shold be prohibited and recognized as crimes against humanity."
The production of nuclear weapons has polluted vast amounts of soil and water at hundreds of nuclear weapons facilities all over the world. Many of the substances released, including plutonium, uranium, strontium, cesium, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and cyanide, are carcinogenic and/or mutagenic and remain hazardous for thousands, some for hundreds of thousands, of years. Contaminants from nuclear weapons production and testing have often travelled far down wind and down stream. Production facilities for nuclear weapons are heavily polluted, for example in the United States there are over 4500 contaminated Department of Energy sites.
The manufacture and testing of weapons involves the leakage of nuclear material. Of all the activities concerning nuclear weapons, testing has been the most destructive of the environment. Even placing tests underground does not avoid atmospheric pollution. Radioactivity released from atmospheric nuclear testing - including plutonium, strontium, cesium, carbon-14, and radioactive iodine - has been widely dispersed throughout the world. Underground tests have contaminated soil and groundwater. Many square miles in Russia, Belarus and the US have been rendered unusable by contamination of the soil. Also the Irish sea and the Arctic Ocean have been poisoned.
In Russia nuclear submarines, some still armed with nuclear warheads, are rusting away in the fjords of Murmansk. Elsewhere, rivers have been polluted and open reservoirs and lakes have been used to hold large quantities of liquid radioactive materials. In 1957, a waste storage tank at the Chelyabinsk nuclear weapons site in Russia exploded and a radioactive cloud dispersed over more than 200 square kilometres of an agricultural region containing numerous rivers and lakes. Nearly all the trees within the most radioactive zone were damaged or killed. Radioactive waste has been routinely dumped into Lake Karachay, recognized as the world's most radioactive body of water, also at Chelyabinsk.
The environmental damage resulting from nuclear technology is not limited to the two largest nuclear weapons states, the United states and Russia. All nuclear weapons and nuclear energy producing nations have caused some level of environmental contamination, both in their own countries and abroad - such as, nuclear testing in the South Pacific, Nevada, Kazakhstan, China, India and Pakistan; water and airborne discharges from reprocessing plants in the UK and France; and uranium mining in Namibia, Canada, former East Germany and Australia.
Moreover, the ongoing production of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power continues to create nuclear waste. The mining of uranium causes radioactive pollution of the atmosphere and also otherwise damages the environment. Further pollution occurs during the transport and processing of the uranium. Production of nuclear weapons involves the generation of large quantities of waste material and contamination of surrounding areas. Clean-up of contaminated sites, disposition of excess fissile material and dismantling of nuclear weapons also contaminates the environment. New technologies will need to be developed in order to retrieve radioactive materials which have been released into the environment either through accident or by design. Nuclear warfare would result in the wholesale destruction of the environment.
The burial of radioactive materials is presently being promoted as the solution to radioactive waste disposal. However, at present, there are no known disposal routes for long-lived radioactive materials. The burial of these materials must not be confused with their safe containment and isolation from the environment. Whether the storage containers, the store itself, or the surrounding rocks will offer enough protection to stop radioactivity from escaping in the long term is impossible to predict. One of the most likely mechanisms of pollution in connection with waste disposal in rock is the contamination of groundwater. Underground waters may come into contact with radioactive elements that have leached out from the waste and contaminate the drinking water of both local and distant communities.
To understand the effects of a nuclear war it is important to distinguish it from conventional war or a natural disaster. In particular, all the factors that would make it possible to cope with a normal emergency situation would be lacking: limited damage, a relatively small number of casualties, surviving political or social leadership, a desire to perform common emergency work rather than look after ones own family, large reservoirs of external, easily mobilized skilled workers, material resources, and organizational skills.
Economic destruction, loss of political leadership (especially at the local level), and the need to mobilize resources for relief and recovery would present extraordinary demands on weakened political institutions. In the interest of implementing survival programs, legal norms and practices would have to be suspended for prolonged periods in many areas. The character of political institutions and authority would almost certainly change, especially if hostilities or the threat of hostilities persisted. Both old and new political structures would be likely to suffer from greatly reduced credibility. Decentralization of political power and more authoritarian methods of political, social, and economic control would be probable responses to post-attack conditions.
However, even before any outbreak of nuclear war, the presence of nuclear weapons has an enormous potential to distort social and economic priorities. Each of the nuclear weapons states has spent billions of dollars on constructing, maintaining and protecting its nuclear weapons. It is not necessary to point out that this money could have been better spent on providing health care, education or other public services.
From a psychological point of view, limited nuclear war probably is the worst of all worlds.
The very short period required to carry out highly destructive nuclear attacks would intensify the emotional impact, particularly those reactions associated with denial of the true extent of the damage or fostering flight from damaged areas.
The entire post-war generation has lived under a cloud of fear - sometimes described as the 'shadow of the mushroom cloud', which pervades all thoughts about the human future. This fear, which has hung like a blanket of doom over the thoughts of children in particular, is an evil in itself and will last so long as nuclear weapons remain. The younger generation needs to grow up in a climate of hope, not one of despair that at some point in their life, there is a possibility of their life being snuffed out in an instant, or their health destroyed, along with all they cherish, in a war in which their country may not even take part.
A nuclear strategy requires a genocidal mentality. There are important parallels between nuclear strategies and the Nazi policies that led to the gas chambers. This 'genocidal mentality' consists of dissociative processes of the mind such as 'psychic numbing' and the 'language of non-feeling' and together with distancing, ideological ethics and a passion for problem-solving have the effects of allowing people to remain sane whilst carrying out insane policies.
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