Nuclear Disarmament & Public Health

The Health and Humanitarian Case for Nuclear Disarmament

Physicians and health professionals are leaders in advocating for public health solutions to growing nuclear weapons dangers in our world today. Any use of nuclear weapons would have devastating health, humanitarian and environmental consequences.

Prevention is the Only Cure

Physicians and health professionals warn that a meaningful medical response to any use of nuclear weapons would be impossible. We can’t prepare for nuclear war, we must prevent it.

A nuclear attack on any city would destroy hospitals and clinics, kill the vast majority of health professionals, wipe out medical supplies, and paralyze communication and transportation systems.

International health federations, including the World Medical Association, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Council of Nurses, International Federation of Medical Students' Associations, and World Federation of Public Health Associations, have officially endorsed the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty on the basis that a meaningful medical response to any use of nuclear weapons would be impossible.

Nuclear Attack: Destruction of Medical Infrastructure. Hiroshima 1945 - Nurses: 88% dead; Hospitals: 80% destroyed; Doctors: 90% dead.

Regional Nuclear War, Global Health Impacts

Nuclear war is ecocidal.

Scientific studies demonstrate that a regional nuclear war would have planetary impacts on the climate, agriculture and global health. IPPNW's report, Nuclear Famine, outlines these dangers.

The latest report from climate scientists Lili Xia, Alan Robock and their colleagues confirms our worst fears about the health consequences of nuclear weapons. Most notably, after the initial effects from blast, burns and radiation, the world would face climate impacts causing unprecedented starvation.

The smallest-scale of the report's nuclear war scenarios — involving only a tiny percentage of the world’s arsenals – would decrease global caloric consumption by seven percent, on average. If the United States and Russia had a nuclear war, the climate impacts on agriculture and other food production would be so severe that caloric consumption would drop 90 percent, on average, across the entire planet. Five billion people are estimated to perish from starvation in this scenario.

Read IPPNW's Nuclear Famine Report here.

Beyond the Blast

Nuclear weapons inflict devastating health harms to civilians even before a bomb is dropped.

Nuclear weapons activities, including their use, production, testing, and waste storage, release ionizing radiation. In addition to the wartime citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, workers, veterans, and civilians living near nuclear weapons sites have been exposed to radiation and suffer acute and long-term illnesses. These illnesses are often lethal and have inter-generational health effects.

Illnesses from radiation exposure from nuclear weapons activities include:

  • Leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Stomach, colon, lung, breast, and thyroid cancers
  • Cataracts
  • Birth defects
  • Infertility
  • Chromosomal aberrations
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Infections
Martha Brice

Photo: Martha Brice

Nuclear Famine: Even a “limited” nuclear war would cause abrupt climate disruption and global starvation

August 2022

This report from IPPNW summarizes the new nuclear famine report in Nature Food from a public health perspective, by Matt Bivens, MD, a member of PSR National Board and Greater Boston PSR Board.

Frequently Asked Questions

Nuclear Weapons 101

By the Numbers

1,800

nuclear weapons are on high alert

Nuclear Warheads

9,400 nuclear weapons are active in military arsenals. 4,000 nuclear weapons are considered “operationally available.”

9

nuclear-armed countries

Nuclear States

The United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea all possess nuclear weapons.

Photo: Clare Conboy/ICAN

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