Nuclear Weapons A major problem concerning the world today is the disposal of nuclear weapons. With the Cold War, we have seen a massive build up of nuclear weapons, and no, that we are no longer in a state of global warfare, what is to be done with them? As a result of the build-up in nuclear weapons during the cold war the world is now facing major environmental problems trying to deactivate them, and in addition major debate are occurring on the policies of disarmament and deterrence as solutions to this global problem. Countries are becoming more aware of the fact that their citizens do not want to have to worry about a nuclear attack or environmental effects of nuclear weapons testing. The people of the world are calling for an end to this senseless destruction of the earth. The explosive power of a nuclear weapon comes from nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, or both in the case of the Hydrogen bomb. A typical small nuclear weapon has the explosive yields of tens of thousands of tons of the conventional explosive TNT. A large nuclear weapon can kill hundreds of thousands of people, and when carried on a ballistic missile, can travel intercontinental distances in less than half an hour.
The deployment of tens of thousands of these weapons, primarily by the United Sates and the Soviet Union, has threatened annihilation of millions of people with little or no warning. Strategic (long-range) nuclear weapons include land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and bombs and cruise missiles carried on long-range bombers. Tactical nuclear weapons are shorter-range weapons allocated for regional use or for use in support of battlefield operations. As a result of the Cold War, the build-up of nuclear weapons today has never been greater. The term “Cold War” refers to the strategic and political struggle that developed after World War II between the United States and its Wester European allies on one side, and the former USSR on the other. The Soviet leaders considered the objections of the United States to Soviet actions in Poland, Hungary, and Romania a betrayal of wartime understandings about spheres of influence in Europe. Therefore the Soviet Union was placed under a military and political barrier.
The stockpile of nuclear weapons that available today is the direct result of the arms race which was the highlight of the cold war. Nuclear arms at the time of the cold war were considered to be a way for countries to discourage other countries from attacking, mainly the United States and the USSR, which were the key players in the arms race of the 1950’s and 60’s. While the dissolution of the Soviet Union has r! educed the concern about nuclear war waged with strategic weapons between the Russia and the U.S., other issues have become more pressing. As far as is known, only eight countries now have nuclear weapons. “The five declared nuclear powers are : the United States, over 9,000 warheads deployed and some 11,000 in reserve or awaiting dismantling; Russia, over 10,000 warheads deployed and some 18,000 in reserve or awaiting dismantling; France, over 500 warheads; China, about 450 warheads; U.K., about 300 warheads.” “In addition to the key countries there are ‘threshold’ states which have not officially confirmed the possession of nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan,” all countries in which there is great possibilities of a civil war breaking out and the nuclear weapons being utilized.
The realization by the people of the massive amounts of nuclear weapons stockpiled and disastrous environmental hazards has caused much protest among the people. During the cold war thoughts of massive destruction and human suffering dominated people’s minds, but no one really knew how grave the situation would be after a nuclear bomb was dropped. Until recently, scientific research had not addressed the potential long-term climatic and environmental damage of a nuclear conflict. Scientific research suggests that a nuclear conflict could inject enough smoke and dust particles into the atmosphere to block out sunlight and cause severe drops in surface temperatures over a significant period of time. This, in turn could adversely affect plants, animals, and humans.
The term “nuclear winter” has been coined to describe these effects. The implications of the theory on a global scale is that non-involved nations, as well as the nations directly involved with the conflict, could be veulnerable to the climatic and environmental effects. Long-term climatic effects were thought by researchers to arise from dust placed in the stratosphere! by near-surface nuclear blasts. However the most significanteffect would be those resulting from ozone depletion, which would allow more unfiltered ultraciolet rays to reach the earth’s surface. Additional long-term adverse effects would be exposure to high levels of radioactive fallout, cancer and genetic diseases.
A large nuclear war would produce irreversible adverse effects on our environment and ecological system. In 1980 an environmental journal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences produced a series of studies on nuclear war, attempting to quantify the impact of smoke from burning forests and cities. Fires pushng smoke into the atmosphere could cause serious long-term effects and the amount of smoke likely to be generated by such fires would be enough to reduce the incoming solar energy at the earth’s surface for periods of several weeks or longer. It was thought that smoke combined with dust raised from near-suface explosions would form a dark cloud at least over most of the countries involved and the continent they are on. Serious biological and agricultural problem could also result in various ecosystems due to an abrupt and long lasting atmospheric change which is thought to happen after a nuclear war.
Ecosystems consist of the communtiy of plants, animals , and microorganisms that exist in the area and the physical environment of that community. They depend on the light ! energy of the sun, which is converted through photosynthesis in green plants into chemical energy that is used by all organisms. The disruption of photosynthesis by the reduction of sunlight or temperature drops couuld have have consequences that ultimately go throught the food chain to humans. Compounding these effects is that after a nuclear war the available food supplies could be destroyed or contaminated, located in areas that cannot be reached, or rapidly depleted. Also, natural ecosystems may not be able to recover in this environment to resupply the food chain. This would result in the vulnerability of nations that are far removed from the target areas and including the attacking nation.
Radioactive Pollution Nuclear weapon tests, even those held underground, have released radioactivity. It was the presence of radioactive Strontium-90 in children’s teeth that led to worldwide pressure to end atmospheric testing, and pressure continues to end underground testing. Some of the most contaminated areas on earth, and most expensive to clean up, are the places where nuclear bombs were made. Radioactive material and other poisons have entered underground water supplies, rivers and the ground itself. A world-wide wave of protest by governments and citizens, the biggest of its kind in the 1990’s had occurred to make the French government reconsider its policies and put and end to testing.
The pollution at nuclear test sites, military nuclear reactors and warhead assembly plant also threatens the communities and natural environment around them. For eample at Kyshtym in the former Soviet Union, so much waste was dumped into Lake Karachay, it contains two and one-half times the amount of radioactive isotopes released at Chernobyl (the worst nuclear power plant accident in history). The lakebed is now covered with a thick layer of concrete to contain the radiation. Safe ways to clean up and dispose of millions of tons of radioactive waste produced by uranium mining, weapons production, and now, the dismantling of nuclear warheads, remain elusive. Chemical weapons dumped at sea — in the Baltic Sea, off Alaska, Russia and elsewhere — have contaminated the world’s oceans.! Dozens of reactors from submarines, and some nuclear bombs, sit at the bottom of the sea. Nuclear materials from warheads remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years.
Technologies must be found to store them and render them harmless. At one time or another, the long-standing concept of deterrence has included maintaining nuclear arsenals in order: (1) to prevent use of nuclear weapons by others; (2) to prevent use of chemical or biological weapons by others; (3) to prevent or cope with large scale conventional attack; and (4) to enforce political compliance with the policies of the nuclear weapon states. Many experts today consider that nuclear weapons are in practice unusable and that the only justification for having them is to deter possible attack on them by other states with nuclear weapons. What is needed to avoid the daunting possibility of continuing large nuclear arsenals is a process of practical steps — focussed on obligatory dismantlement of nuclear warheads which are cut in arms control agreements and transfer of their fissile material to internationally-monitored storage — that leads to genuinely irreversible nuclear disarmament by all states with nuclear weapons.These such steps should el! iminate the possibility of large-scale surprise attack or threats to use nuclear weapons. In return, non-nuclear weapon states should agree to the measures needed to improve the non-proliferation system to become dependably effective in preventing possession of hidden nuclear weapons. If the nuclear weapon states working together can reduce on an enduring basis the global level of organized armed violence to low levels through more effective conflict prevention and peacekeeping, the argument for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons will be no longer.
There are a great number of techniques that the people of the earth can use in attempting to destroy chemical weapons. It is finding a technique that will hurt the environment the least and effectively destroy the nuclear and chemical weapons, which is the hard part. Possible methods of destroying nuclear weapons include destruction at high temperatures ( incineration, plasma torch, molten metal), medium temperatures (prolysis, supercritical and wet air oxidation ,hydrogenation) and low temperature (metal oxide catalysis, silver oxidative electrolysis, dry HCI). It is crucial that any military plutonium recovered from American and Russian warheads be stored and disposed of as waste. The preferred way of disposing of plutonium is to re-mix plutonium with the high-level wast from which it was origionally extracted and then “vitrify” the mixture into highly radioactive glass logs for eventual disposal.
START treaties, even if both are ratified and implemented, are not disarmament treaties, but arms control treaties which withdraw nuclear weapons from operationa deployment. Some of these weapons are dismantled, but the majority are being placed in reserve and could be used at some later time to expand deployed arsenals.France, the U.K. and China continue to modernize their nuclear forces. China has recently conducted two nuclear tests a year and is reportedly planning four more tests. France plans eight tests by the spring of 1996.
Of the threshold states, Israel seems to have stopped increasing the size of its arsenal, but that arsenal is already as large as that of the U.K. The relationship between India and Pakistan continues tense and unstable; both countries are developing increased capability in longer-range missile sthat can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. More and more countries are resorting to peace-talks in this new age and not resorting to their stockpile of nuclear arsenal, and that should be a relief to many people, but it is not. The global population is still highly aware of the detrimental effects disposal of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing can have on the environment. The global population must be ready to support either deterrence or disarmament, and the constantly changing dield of technology that will help us destroy and get rid of these weapons of war and lead lives more filled with peace.