Anti-nuclear working group

Nuclear weapons: An introduction

Nuclear Weapons

 Download the brochure (.pdf, 3MB)

In July 1945 the United States conducted the world's first nuclear weapon test in New Mexico. On 6th and 9th August 1945 the United states used nuclear weapons against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war, but since the first use of nuclear weapons the production and testing of nuclear weapons has been carried out by other countries. There have been 2000 nuclear tests conducted worldwide, with serious health, social and environmental consequences.

It is not only the testing or use of nuclear weapons that have serious consequences. The production of nuclear weapons also causes serious physical, health, environmental, social and psychological consequences, at a local and global scale. The production of nuclear weapons forms part of the "nuclear chain", the name that is given to the processes of mining and enriching of uranium, and the reprocessing and storage of nuclear waste, as well as the use of nuclear materials in nuclear weapons and nuclear power. In every step of the nuclear chain, large amounts of waste are generated. Nuclear weapons are also linked to every step of the chain, through the diversion of nuclear technology from civilian to military purposes.

A few examples:

  • nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons ever developed. As well as releasing large amounts of energy and heat, they also release ionising radiation with an impact on human health
  • damage to the immune system
  • radioactive contamination of air, soil and water
  • individual and general isolation and other psychological effects such as "nuclear weapon survivors syndrome"
  • indigenous peoples around the world have felt the greatest impact f the nuclear chain through the impacts of uranium mining and nuclear testing.
  • rich lands use the threat of nuclear weapons to enforce economic globalisation

    The use or threat of nuclear weapons would also break a large number of international treaties and principles of international humanitarian law. On 8th July 1996, the International Court of Justice in The Hague stated: "The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law. This is because nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between civilian and military targets, they would affect neutral nations, and because they cause unnecessary suffering.

    The court could not state definitively that the use or threat of nuclear weapons would always be illegal (for example in self defence if the existence of the state was threatened), but it is clear that any use of nuclear weapons would have to be in accordance with international law, and the existing nuclear weapons could actually never be used in a way that didn't break international law.

    The current global stockpiles of nuclear weapons now include around 36,000 weapons, with a combined explosive power more than 2,600 times greater than all the explosives used in the Second World War. The weapons are in the posession of the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China (the official "Nuclear Weapon States", under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), as well as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea who are not part of the NPT regime. There are also a number of "States of Concern" that have signed the NPT, but give concern as to their intentions regarding the development of nuclear weapons.

     Download the brochure (.pdf, 3MB)

  • Friends of the Earth Flanders & Brussels (formerly For Mother Earth) is a member of Friends of the Earth International