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Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons

Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons,  The personal side of nuclear weapons European Leadership Network   Heather Williams |Senior Associate Fellow, 25 August 2021

” ………………………..Nowhere is this emphasis on diversity and inclusivity more noticeable than in the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons initiative. Indeed, this movement highlights the personal experience of a wide range of individuals whose lives were directly impacted by nuclear weapons. Thanks in large part to the humanitarian impacts conferences in 2013 and 2014, efforts by civil society organisations, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, these views are increasingly a part of nuclear policy discussions. As they should be.

I was first introduced to this movement in 2012 and had the privilege of attending the three humanitarian impacts conferences. The conferences included the testimony of survivors of the nuclear bombings and research on the environmental impact of nuclear testing, among other topics. For example, the Vienna conference in 2014 included the testimony of Sue Coleman-Haseldine, from the Koonibba Aboriginal Mission in Australia, that was impacted by nuclear testing in the region: ‘I remember older people talking about Nullabor dust storms. It was the fallout from the Maralinga tests. We weren’t on ground zero, but the dust didn’t stay in one place. It went wherever the winds took it. I noticed people dying of cancer, something that was new to us. There’s a cemetery at Woomera which we call the children’s cemetery. It’s filled with children who died around the time of the tests.’ The testimony of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with groups impacted by nuclear testing, ought to be required reading for anyone working on nuclear weapons issues.

The humanitarian impacts conferences led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and while the TPNW remains politically contentious, it should not detract from discussions on the historical human costs of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing. When the Treaty was concluded in 2017, nuclear scholars Benjamin Valentino and Scott Sagan pointed to it as a ‘missed opportunity’, because, ‘The energy, organization, and genuine passion that eventually resulted in the ban treaty were assets that might have been used to address dangerous realities about nuclear weapons that are too often ignored: the human costs of clean-up of waste sites and production facilities and the potential for nuclear winter or other environmental effects.’ Nonetheless, these conferences and the humanitarian movement have changed nuclear scholarship and discourse and brought to light an aspect of nuclear weapons policy that is often overlooked.

Since the first humanitarian impacts conference, ELN has provided an important platform for spreading these stories and messages, and putting them in the wider context of nuclear policy. This has included proponents of the TPNW as well as sceptics………………..


August 26, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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