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Nuclear Weapons

Almost eighty years after their introduction, the risks posed by nuclear weapons are as high as ever - and new research reveals that the impacts are even worse than previously reckoned.

There are an estimated 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world, distributed unevenly among nine states. Some of them are hundreds of times more powerful than those which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The use of just a few hundred could leave Earth’s population decimated by a nuclear winter.

The risks of nuclear weapons range from nuclear terrorism, or a 'tactical nuclear' attack on a single city, which could kill millions of people, to global nuclear war, which could kill billions. Notably, the latter has almost happened many times by accident. The potential impacts of these risks are countless; many are still unexplored. A 1979 report estimated, based on initial blasts, radiation risks, power grid disruption and more, that 28-88% Americans and 22-50% Soviets would die. That was before nuclear winter was discovered.

In the 1980s, researchers saw that a nuclear war could cause vast amounts of smoke to spread around the globe, blocking out sunlight and transforming summers into winters, much as asteroids or supervolcanoes did in the past, causing mass extinctions. Today's more sophisticated climate models show that 1980s research underestimated this impact. In several core farming regions, climate models show temperatures will reduce by 20°C for several summers, and by about half ten years later. The world as we know it would crumble, due to starvation, hypothermia, and epidemics.

Even if just one superpower launched its full nuclear arsenal against the other without retaliation, nuclear winter would still ensure the attacking country’s self-destruction. This realisation helped motivate the ‘nuclear freeze’ movement following the Cold War, which saw a 75% reduction of global nuclear stockpiles. But despite the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s pledge to disarm, progress has dwindled. The nuclear freeze is thawing.

The design and production of new nuclear weapons are not only unnecessary for deterrence, but actually make accidental war more likely. As well as encouraging states to develop nuclear weapons, it gives terrorists better access to enrichment materials.

FLI thus opposes such development, as well as weapons testing. We also encourage steps to reduce the tremendous risk of nuclear winter: this includes de-escalation from tense war scenarios - when near-misses have disproportionately occurred - and smaller steps like the removal of weapons from 'hair-trigger' alert.

Looking to recent developments, we also stand firmly against efforts to incorporate Artificial Intelligence systems into nuclear weapons controls. Such an incorporation raises the possibility of catastrophic miscalculations and blunders by speeding up response times, and excluding the human intuition and hesitation which have many times helped avert World War III.

Mushroom cloud from the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki

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The Risk of Nuclear Weapons

Despite the end of the Cold War over two decades ago, humanity still has ~13,000 nuclear weapons. Some of these are hundreds of times more powerful than those that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they may be able to create a decade-long nuclear winter that could kill most people on Earth. Yet the superpowers plan to invest over a trillion dollars upgrading their nuclear arsenals...
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Trillion Dollar Nukes

Would you spend $1.2 trillion tax dollars on nuclear weapons? How much are nuclear weapons really worth? Is upgrading the […]
October 24, 2016
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The National Security Archives recently published a declassified list of U.S. nuclear targets from 1956, which spanned 1,100 locations across Eastern Europe, Russia, China, and North Korea. The map below shows all 1,100 nuclear targets from that list, and we’ve partnered with NukeMap to demonstrate how catastrophic a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia could be.
May 12, 2016

Accidental Nuclear War: a Timeline of Close Calls

The most devastating military threat arguably comes from a nuclear war started not intentionally but by accident or miscalculation. Accidental […]
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New Report Calls Out Banks that Make Nuclear Weapons Investments

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Open Letter Against Reckless Nuclear Escalation and Use

The abhorrent Ukraine war has the potential to escalate into an all-out NATO-Russia nuclear conflict that would be the greatest catastrophe in human history. More must be done to prevent such escalation.
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UN Ban on Nuclear Weapons Open Letter

Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought.
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