Health Professionals Respond to New Groundbreaking Study by Leading Researchers: “Emphasizes the Urgent Need to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Before They Eliminate Us” October 2, 2019


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Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, researchers Owen Brian Toon, Alan Robock, Charles Bardeen, Lili Xia, Hans Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, R.J. Peterson, Cheryl Harrison, Nicole Lovenduski and Richard Turco published the results of their new study, Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe,” in Science Advances. The study examines the possible repercussions of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan circa 2025. The study’s release is timely, with the two South Asian nations currently locked in a tense standoff over Kashmir.

Significantly, the study updates previous examinations of potential impacts of nuclear conflict between the two nations, concluding, “Perhaps for the first time in human history, the fatalities in a regional war could double the yearly natural global death rate.” The expected humanitarian impacts—including climate impacts—of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange have worsened, because of changes to the arsenals and increasing urban populations.

The Science Advances article not only details the regional and global consequences of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, but the study’s authors also warn that they expect their global outcomes modeling “to apply equally well—with relevant recalibration for weapon sizes and targets and related smoke emissions—to any nuclear conflict between nuclear-armed states that involves a corresponding total yield detonated essentially in urban areas.” The new scientific study is a reminder that any nuclear exchange between two countries is likely to have global catastrophic consequences for the earth’s climate and for human health.

Physicians for Social Responsibility released the following comment:

As health professionals who have researched and drawn global attention to the health impacts of nuclear weapons for over 50 years, Physicians for Social Responsibility strongly urges American decision-makers and world leaders alike to heed the findings and act to prevent nuclear conflict between nuclear-armed nations.

“The world can’t afford to ignore the disturbing findings of this new study, which emphasizes the urgent need to pursue verifiable international agreements to prevent nuclear conflict and to reduce and eliminate nuclear arsenals,” said Jeff Carter, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Nuclear weapons make us less, not more, safe, and as this study highlights, nuclear war poses one of the gravest threats to human health and survival. Given the current climate of withdrawal from vital international arms agreements, increased tensions that heighten the risk of nuclear conflict, and the escalation of a new nuclear arms race, there is no better time for the United States to assert leadership among its fellow nuclear-armed states by establishing an official policy never to use nuclear weapons first and prohibit funding for so-called ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons.”

“As this study demonstrates, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ nuclear war,” said Maureen McCue, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility Iowa Coordinator. “The study examines the global consequences of a modern-day nuclear conflict between two nations that collectively possess only a small fraction of the nuclear weapons fielded by the United States and Russia. Not to be overlooked, at this moment, the United States wants to deploy so-called ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons, which are touted as ‘more usable.’ The world cannot afford the impacts on public health, the environment and our climate that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. They must be eliminated before they eliminate us.”

“This frightening study underlines the urgency of eliminating nuclear weapons before something catastrophic happens,” said Ira Helfand, MD, a prominent emergency medicine physician and PSR board member who is a medical expert on health impacts associated with nuclear weapons.

“As this study makes clear, nuclear bombs are doomsday devices that can’t be used to ‘win’ a war,” said Martin Fleck, Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Director at Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The nuclear-armed countries must heed this warning, turn the corner, and seriously negotiate for total elimination of their arsenals.”

Studies published nearly a decade ago, including Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’s landmark study on nuclear famine, projected that 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs targeting urban industrial centers could kill 22 million people, while causing worldwide climate disruption and putting two billion people at risk of famine. This new study brings those analyses up-to-date to estimate what the aftermath of a nuclear war could look like today or in the near future.

Physicians for Social Responsibility is working with allied organizations to amplify grassroots support for U.S. policy and budget changes to reduce the risk of nuclear war. The United Against Nuclear War coalition, which includes Beyond the Bomb, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and other leading organizations, promotes legislation to change U.S. nuclear policy to No First Use, and to block funding for destabilizing new weapons including “low yield” warheads. An increasing number of U.S. cities and states have passed resolutions supporting these kinds of changes to U.S. nuclear policies, many based on a statement of principles promulgated by a coalition of activists called “Back from the Brink,” which helps to support resolution drives across the country.


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