Monday, April 05, 2010

Nuclear Issues: Who is still keeping alive the risk of a nuclear world war?

By Fareed Mahdy
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

ISTANBUL (IDN) – Now that nuclear arsenals reduction is much in the news, the U.S. and Russia have agreed to downsize their stockpiles by 30 percent and all 22 Arab countries called for a nuke-free world, it's time to ask how many countries have decided to eliminate the threat of a devastating nuclear war and consequently managed to liberate themselves from the most atrocious weapons of mass destruction.

For now, six regions, one country, the outer space, and the seabed succeeded in doing so. These are the Antarctic, with the relevant treaty entering into force in 1961; Latin America and the Caribbean (1969); the South Pacific (1986); South East Asia (1997); Central Asia (2009) and Africa (2009).

The Outer Space is nuclear-free since 1967 and the Seabed since 1972. The Mongolia Nuclear Weapons Free Status in force since1997 completes the list of liberated regions and areas.

The six regions together host a total of 119 nuclear free countries and territories: 36 are spread across Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 find themselves in the South Pacific, 10 in South-East Asia, 5 in Central Asia, 57 in Africa. Then there is Mongolia.

If Arab states were to succeed in declaring the Middle East a nuclear free region, with 22 added, the number would jump to 141 countries and territories the world over. The figure does not include the 46 countries which have signed the Antarctica treaty, setting aside the Earth's southernmost continent underlying the South Pole, as a scientific preserve and banning all military activity.

All that adds up to some 75 per cent of the192 member states of the United Nations, plus outer space and seabed that belong to entire humankind.

In terms of population, it would suffice to say that only two regions out of the six – Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean – are home to around one third of the world population, with one billion and around 700 millions respectively.

Who is still keeping alive the risk of a nuclear world war?

These are three Western powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, and France), in addition to Russia and China – ironically the five major powers that are in charge of guaranteeing the security and guarding peace of the entire humanity as permanent members of the UN Security and Peace Council.

The U.S. and Russia alone possess around 96 percent of a total of 26,000 nuclear weapons spread all over the world, according to estimates by the Global Zero Initiative, through which over 100 world personalities are actively working for the abolition of atomic warheads from the face of the Earth.


One of these major nuclear powers – the U.S. – has extended its atomic power to other countries such as Germany and Japan, who do not have atomic weapons but are 'protected' by the so-called American “nuclear umbrella” – not to speak of others, such as Turkey, hosting atomic warheads in U.S. military bases on its territory.

Add to all the above that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) relies on the huge nuclear stockpiles of the U.S, UK and France for the defence of its member states against an eventual nuclear war.

In the face of emerging potential danger, some European countries, such as Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway, are reported to want the U.S. to get its nuclear arsenals out of Europe.

The list of 'nuclear countries” is completed by India with estimated 60 atomic heads, Pakistan with a similar number, and Israel which is reported to possess up to 200 strong nuclear ware and refuses to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

North Korea is also reported to have developed atomic weapons, and Western nuclear and 'nuclearised' powers, plus nuclear Israel, have been accusing Iran – with no physical, scientific, tangible evidence so far – of wanting to have its own atomic arms.


Scientific data regarding the immediate impact show that the blast effect of a nuclear warhead is created by the coupling of “immense” amounts of energy, spanning the electromagnetic spectrum, with the surroundings.

Locations such as submarine, surface, airburst, or exo-atmospheric determine how much energy is produced as blast and how much as radiation.

In general, denser mediums around the bomb – like water – absorb more energy, and create more powerful shockwaves.

The dominant effects of a nuclear weapon where people are to be affected (blast and thermal radiation) are identical physical damage mechanisms to conventional explosives. However the energy produced by a nuclear explosive is “millions of times” more powerful per gram and the temperatures reached are briefly in the tens of millions of degrees.

Energy from a nuclear explosive is initially released in several forms of penetrating radiation. When there is a surrounding material such as air, rock, or water, this radiation interacts with and rapidly heats it.

This causes vaporisation of surrounding material resulting in its rapid expansion. Kinetic energy created by this expansion contributes to the formation of a shockwave.

When a nuclear detonation occurs in air near sea level, much of the released energy interacts with the atmosphere and creates a shockwave, which expands spherically from the hypocenter.

Intense thermal radiation at the hypocenter forms a fireball and if the burst is low enough, it is often associated mushroom cloud. In a burst at high altitudes, where the air density is low, more energy is released as ionizing gamma radiation and x-rays than an atmosphere displacing shockwave.

Some of the inevitable effects are urban areas completely levelled; most civilian buildings destroyed, and railway cars thrown from tracks and crushed.

The heat and airborne debris created by a nuclear explosion can cause rain. After the Hiroshima explosion, these drops of water were recorded to have been about the size of a marble.


According to the prestigious Federation of America Scientists (FAS), nuclear detonations are “the most devastating of the weapons of mass destruction”.

A nuclear detonation creates a “severe environment including blast, thermal pulse, neutrons, x- and gamma-rays, radiation, electromagnetic pulse, and ionization of the upper atmosphere.”

The FAS continues to explain: “depending upon the environment in which the nuclear device is detonated, blast effects are manifested as ground shock, water shock, “blue-out,” cratering, and large amounts of dust and radioactive fallout.”

The energy of a nuclear explosion is transferred to the surrounding medium in three distinct forms: blast; thermal radiation; and nuclear radiation. The distribution of energy among these three forms will depend on the yield of the weapon, the location of the burst, and the characteristics of the environment.

About half of the patients would have wounds of their extremities. The thorax, abdomen, and head would be involved about equally.

Injuries of the thorax, neck, and the head would be responsible for a large percentage of deaths because these types of injuries have a high probability of immediate fatality.

Injuries caused by nuclear weapons are, in general, be of the low velocity type, and surprisingly severe injuries may be survived since extensive soft tissue cavitation would not be a factor. These injuries can occur with or without perforating wounds of the abdomen or the chest.


The above data is far from being a guess. Humanity has already experienced these consequences, which will be now multiplied due to the further sophistication of nuclear weapons.

In fact, during the final stages of World War II in 1945, the U.S. conducted two atomic bombings against Japan in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000-166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000-80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day.

The Hiroshima prefectural health department estimates that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60 percent died from flash or flame burns, 30 percent from falling debris and 10 percent from other causes.

During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness.

A plausible estimate of the total immediate and short term cause of death, 15-20 percent died from radiation sickness, 20-30 percent from flash burns, and 50–60 percent from other injuries, compounded by illness.

Since then, more have died from leukemia and solid cancers attributed to exposure to radiation released by the bombs.

In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.


Such atrocious consequences seem to be ignored, however.

In fact, the giant sales and profits of the huge weapon manufacturing industry and its powerful lobbying machine, has managed to bow down the will of elected parliamentarians and political rulers of eight states (the five security council permanent members plus India, Pakistan and Israel) to impose business and the military's atomic threat against the proven will of 141 countries that have committed themselves to escape the nuclear danger.

To give an idea of the decisive weight of the weapons business and its capability to turn down any attempt to liberate the globe from the threat of an atomic war, it would suffice to mention that the arms sales of 44 U.S. manufacturers amounted to 212.4 billion dollars in one single year- 2007, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The point is that the absolute majority of the countries of the world will never be safe from an eventual nuclear holocaust that is simply at the finger tips of a given president acting under business, military and – why not – also human pressure.

A single miscalculated decision, misleading information, the breakdown of a sole small mechanism, an unexpected or a manipulated interference in communication, would be enough to produce the most horrible – and perhaps an indefinite – impact on every living thing on the planet Earth.

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