Let's rid the world of nuclear weapons

August 06, 2002|By Gwen Dubois and Cindy Parker

FROM THE nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, to our current "war," the enemy has changed from the Japanese to the Russians to Muslim terrorists, but the solution always seems to involve nuclear weapons.

As long as there are terrorists and unstable or foolish leaders, there can be no safety in these weapons.

As physicians, we are concerned about the health and safety of our patients, our communities and all the residents of this world. The sacrifice to public health is too great, the scale of civilian suffering and deaths too large, and the environmental contamination too long-lasting to ever justify using a nuclear weapon again.

Our ultimate goal should be the abolition of these bombs.

Fifty-seven years ago, in Hiroshima, a city of about 240,000 people, an estimated 40,000 people died instantly in the attack. By the end of 1945, after months of suffering, an estimated 100,000 more had died from blast injuries, burn injuries and radiation-induced sickness. A total of 140,000 innocent civilians died as a result of one bomb.

While America hastened the end of World War II, it also ushered in another equally dangerous era, the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, there were 18,000 megatons of nuclear weapons in the world, mostly belonging to the United States and the Soviet Union, the equivalent of 1 million Hiroshimas - enough to kill everyone on Earth.

The latest war against terrorists has become the justification for developing new uses for nuclear weapons, and new targets.

The Bush administration has announced its "Nuclear Posture Review," including plans to use "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons pre-emptively against non-nuclear nations presumed to be developing chemical or biological weapons.

Some of these bunker-busters will be nearly as large as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and, because they would be "ground bursts," they would have a relatively larger lethal radius of radioactivity. A ground burst explodes into the ground, digs a crater, and renders large amounts of soil radioactive. It draws soil up into the fireball, returning it to the earth as local fallout. This contaminated soil would remain so for many thousands of years.

In short, the Bush administration's plan to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons crosses a threshold that has kept these weapons out of ordinary conflicts.

Moreover, the administration has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it can pursue the $100 billion national missile defense system that has been plagued with failures and that 50 Nobel laureate scientists have said will not work. Meanwhile, the administration does not support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and is preparing to resume testing at the Nevada Test Site.

Albert Einstein warned us, "The splitting of the atom has changed everything, save our mode of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."

As physicians entrusted with the care of our patients and the public's health, we believe it is time for a new way of thinking.

The United States should:

Uphold the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972, and strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Set aside additional money to buy and destroy as many unsecured nuclear weapons as possible from countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Negotiate an international treaty to ban the production of "fissile material" needed for new nuclear weapons.

Negotiate with Russia to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

Sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and never again test nuclear bombs.

Pledge no first use of nuclear weapons, and join the worldwide movement to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons.

We must all work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons so that we can uphold the promise inscribed on the memorial at Hiroshima's Peace Park: "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil."

Dr. Gwen Dubois is a Baltimore internist and national board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Cindy Parker is with the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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