The Impact of Nuclear War on the Environment

The Impact of Nuclear War on the Environment

 The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” - Carl Sagan

The greatest minds have thought about it. Some have considered the atom bomb a Djinn that got out the lamp and cannot be put back in. One thing is for certain: there will be no winners.

It all began in a laboratory in Berlin, where a group of nuclear physicists discovered nuclear fission, back in 1938 in Nazi Germany. From there on, the war took its turn and the weaponization of such discovery was first achieved by the United States, resulting in the bombing of two Japanese cities and ending the second world war in the process.

Survivor of world's first nuclear attack recounts Hiroshima bombing 75 years later

Based on recent geopolitical events, the threat of nuclear war is regaining its shape. Throughout the years, the arms race led to the development of these weapons and, with it, even greater catastrophic consequences for the environment.

At the beginning of this type of war, the damage to the impact zone is beyond imaginable. Some of the examples we’ve seen in the first chapter (“The Impact of War on the Environment”), most unfortunately, are a mere fraction of the impact nuclear warfare has. When nations engage in a nuclear conflict, there is no easy way to put it. The bomb wipes out and contaminates everything in its range, leaving kilometers of destruction along with high levels of radiation.

As if that were not enough, after this phase, the Nuclear Fallout begins with irradiated material, in the form of dust, being carried by wind currents to every corner of the planet. This spread instantly contaminates water supplies. All surface water, forests, reserves, sediments, and soils (everything, quite frankly), within kilometers, would be extremely affected by falling fission products. The world would face a major humanitarian crisis, but it would not end there.  

All these terrible side effects set the stage for the terrible consequences of Nuclear Winter. The presence of dust in the atmosphere would then drop temperatures worldwide! To the point where they are reaching down to - 30º C in Africa. This type of unimaginable damage to the environment would leave millions of ecosystems, plants, and animals without the ability to adapt to the below-freezing temperatures and changed precipitation. The impact on agriculture would be unprecedented, leaving most of the world’s population without food supplies. Such a powerful event is hard to imagine and describe, so we’ll leave it to one of our best scientists in the field if you’re interested in learning more:

I've studied nuclear war for 35 years -- you should be worried. | Brian Toon | TEDxMileHigh

At this point in time, there are about 13,890 nuclear warheads in the world. Being aware of these circumstances, it becomes of utmost importance to understand the dangers and consequences of the decisions being made by a few people, that can most certainly affect millions of others that might even be unaware of this threat.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a fine example of progress. It completely outlaws nuclear weaponry, aiming to turn the current nuclear taboo into international law. This treaty has now been signed by 86 countries and ratified by 53. However, none of the states that possess nuclear weapons have signed on. 

As this remains a continuous battle for common sense, our commitment must stay strong in order to protect the environment for all of us and for future generations to come. It’s up to everyone to spread the message and for our generation to grab the opportunities to help avoid climate change challenges, especially the ones created by mankind!