A World Without Nuclear Weapons

The U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons bolsters the hope that the nine nuclear powers will grow into pragmatic, if not ethical, adult governments, writes H. Patricia Hynes.

A girl in Hiroshima prepares to float lanterns near the Peace Park on Aug. 6, 2011, marking the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing, which obliterated the Japanese city in World War II. (Tim Wright/ICAN, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By H. Patricia Hynes
Common Dreams

Jan. 22 marks the second anniversary of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a global lifeboat supported by 70 percent of the world’s countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2023 budget request for nuclear weapons’ upgrade is more than $21 billion and close to $8 billion for radioactive and chemical cleanup at nuclear weapon sites across the country. Stack this up against the same department’s 2023 budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy — $4 billion — and we see the future: weapons trump wind turbines; war worsens climate crisis.

Moreover, the government’s budget has no line items for the massive existential costs of nuclear weapons, three of which are described here:

  • the dread that world-ending nuclear bombs provoke in humans (unless we have become numb to… that culture of mass death”); 
  • the “forever” radioactive contamination that eludes cleanup to human and environmental safety standards, the estimated cost of just one site, Hanford, Washington, being $300 billion to $640 billion; and 
  • the theft and poisoning of Indigenous peoples’ lands and culture for mining uranium, generating bomb-grade plutonium, and conducting above-ground atomic bomb testing.

Hanford, Washington, was the site of the largest plutonium-production reactors in the world from 1944 to 1987 (including for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). The Hanford land, bordering the Columbia River, was effectively stolen from four Indigenous tribes and peasant farmers by the federal government and is now “arguably the most contaminated place on the planet,” according to Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days.

Nuclear reactors line the riverbank at the Hanford, Washington, site along the Columbia River in January 1960. (DoE, Public domain)

The Hanford plutonium-making site has killed and contaminated fish, waterfowl, and other biological life in the Columbia River and polluted 200 square miles of the aquifer beneath. It contains 177 leaky underground storage tanks holding 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemically hazardous waste — an atomic wasteland that may never be remediated.

The worst and very-real scenario for this site and its workers is a Chernobyl-like explosion from leaking hydrogen gas. 

Support CN’s  Winter Fund Drive!

While nuclear weapons governments and their bomb-making industries are criminally sleepwalking into what could mean the end of our planet’s life, many others — scientists, high-level military, citizens, and whole countries — are countering the weapons holders’ political idiocy with principled intelligence.

  • At their 40th reunion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, 70 of 110 physicists who worked on the atomic bomb signed a statement supporting nuclear disarmament. When have the brightest scientists of their day ever admitted that their most notable work was a colossal mistake? 
  • On Feb. 2, 1998, retired General George Butler, former commander of U.S. Strategic Air Command, addressed the National Press Club: “The likely consequences of nuclear weapons have no … justification. They hold in their sway not just the fate of nations but the very meaning of civilization.” Sixty other retired generals and admirals joined him in calling for nuclear weapons abolition.
  • Against immense pressure from nuclear-armed states, most aggressively the United States, 122 countries agreed in July 2017 to ban nuclear weapons. At the heart of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is an explicit ethical goal: to protect the world’s peoples from the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue were nuclear weapons employed. 

Nuclear test survivor from Kazakhstan addressing the first meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Vienna, June 21, 2022. (UNIS Vienna, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • By the end of 2022, 68 countries ratified the treaty and 23 more are in the process.
  • At least 30 more countries have promised to join the treaty.
  • Since 2007, ICAN, an international organization with partners in over 100 countries, has mobilized people throughout the world to convince their governments to support a ban on nuclear weapons. 
  • Mayors for Peace from over 8,000 global cities call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The new U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons bolsters the hope that the United States and the eight other nuclear giants will grow up into pragmatic, if not ethical, adult governments and eliminate forever their genocidal weapons. One nation did so: South Africa developed nuclear weapons capability and then voluntarily dismantled its entire program in 1989. 

The Road Less Taken

President John F. Kennedy at the American University commencement on June 10, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton – JFK Library, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

In 1963, President John Kennedy gave at American University’s commencement what has been deemed the most important speech by a U.S. president — a speech on peace with the Soviet Union. But “what about the Russians?” everyone asked. Kennedy responded: “What about us… Our attitude [toward peace] is as essential as theirs.”

According to historian Jim Douglass, “John Kennedy’s strategy of peace penetrated the Soviet government’s defenses far more effectively than any missile could have done.” Promoted across the Soviet Union, Kennedy’s speech and his behind-the-scenes diplomacy with Nikita Khrushchev led toward defusing Cold War tension and planted the seed of a world without nuclear weapons and war. This seed awaits germination. 

If the U.S. could once again replace its masculinist power with creative foreign policy and reach out to Russia and China with the purpose of dismantling nuclear weapons and ending war, life on Earth would have a heightened chance. 

Patricia Hynes is a retired professor of environmental health from Boston University School of Public Health and current chair of the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. She has written and edited seven books, among them The Recurring Silent Spring.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Support CN’s  
Winter Fund Drive!

Donate securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:



14 comments for “A World Without Nuclear Weapons

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    January 7, 2023 at 11:27

    I wish I could share the optimism…As long as no repercussions are imposed, countries will continue to do as they please.

  2. Common Sense
    January 7, 2023 at 07:28

    An even more holistic approach-

    A reminder-

    It is a challenge to transition the giant industries including all the connected “jobs” from a destructive towards a constructive process/ progress.

    There is really a lot(!) to do to “repair”- looking at the human/ industrial made huge social and environmental damage in history and at present around the planet (including the oceans).

    Let’s shift (almost in the first place) the military budget (~ 2 trillion dollars per year) in a step by step international binding agreement within a 12 year time-frame to regenerating nature and social balance.

    The attached industries will follow consequently.

    Let our (military) guys and girls be good “forces”/ stewards for a healthy and as far as possible resilient planet, and a socially stable global society including all wonderful creatures sharing the world with us.

    By training the staff correspondingly and thoroughly.

    That would be really great & smart for national and global security!

    And lets make them finally undertake the long overdue clean up of all the highly dangerous, poisonous and tremendous mess, the military and their industries have been leaving or dumping about everywhere around the planet during and after past (world) wars.

    Including the deadly nuclear waste time bombs rotting somewhere.

    Dangerous work for decades.

    There is only one garden Eden we very likely are ever able to reach ^^

    The entire weapon industry (military- industrial complex) must become state owned and controlled for no monetary profit.

    Just maintained for the really necessary defence needs.

    Not more than that!

    And this can be probably done very well with just ~10% of the present budget/ cost in about every country.

    In the hands of a shareholders dictated industry they always will be looking for more profit every single day and year by year.

    And if there is no conflict/ crisis they will create one at its “best”. They even are in for multiple conflicts/ crisis if maximum profit is on the horizon.

    Again and again, always based on malicious propaganda, spread by “government” agencies, evil willing „think tanks“ and allied media.

    Accepting/ causing millions of civil deaths and natures destruction.

    There is a choice for what to use global yearly military spendings…
    … of now more than,. $ each year.

    We got to want it and insist on it!

  3. peter mcloughlin
    January 7, 2023 at 06:54

    History shows that the closer hostile nations come to the war they seek to avoid, the more convinced each becomes that it can win it. Every empire in history has eventually faced that fateful conflict. Today, that includes nuclear war. Convincing the nuclear powers of their face (and how to avoid it) is the mammoth challenge.

  4. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    January 6, 2023 at 22:28

    That seemingly altruistic final paragraph has been, perhaps inadvertantly, marred by the use of clear sexist language. The elimination of war is definitely a noble objective just like the long-standing passionate objective of wanting to eliminate poverty; since the latter has yet to be achieved and consistently undermined by the exploitative capitalists the former too can, nay should, justifiably be totally ignored; least it may end up further compounding the ceaseless exploitation of capitalists globally too. Only China and, debateably, Russia has managed to drastically reduce poverty in the true interest of helping humanity, as should have been the objective of all true civilization at least in the modern age. Unfortunately, in a world that has been allowed to degenerate into a post-modern age, so-called “civilizations” are competitively hatching series of pathogens to decimate humanity under a “climate-change” ruse. What a human tragedy, even the animal kingdom is fart in unison at our STUPIDITY !

  5. rgl
    January 6, 2023 at 12:26

    “A World Without Nuclear Weapons

    The U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons bolsters the hope that the nine nuclear powers will grow into pragmatic, if not ethical, adult governments, writes H. Patricia Hynes.”

    Ms. Hynes, with all respect, you are delusional. Look around at the quality of political leadership on this rock. War, war and more war is the defining force for a great many nations. As ordinary citizens, we cannot get along with each other – and y0u are hoping governments will behave in a more mature manner? There is no hope for our species. We are too invested in grabbing what the other guy has, by force – lethal if necessary. Listen to the discourse on Russia. People that I once thought were intelligent, are spewing the same nonsense that the corporate media spews as if were absolute fact. You have hope. Good for you. But it is a forlorn one.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 6, 2023 at 18:37

      I have to admit you make a great case exposing antagonistic-confrontational people for being “hateful shitheads”, that do not have the ability or desire to “just get along” but I’m not sure I agree with your totally dismissing of Ms. Hynes idea. We best get started somewhere untangling the mess that has been made.

      I’m inclined to think more along the lines of needing good leadership. The U.S. just don’t seem to be able to get it together in that department. Too much greed for power and treasure. Misplaced values, brother.

      Places exist the world over where people to get along and it’s generally some outside force that upend the apple cart. Not so much so here in the land of the “Exceptional Americans” where they believe the MSM.

      I longest journey starts with the first step, a step toward no nukes is worth taking to the end of the journey.

      A commissioner of major league baseball, whose name escapes is to have said “Hope only screws up your judgement.’ Which might explain the lack of any semblance of either hope or good judgement in Congress.

      Something I believe is the result of congress forfeiting their mandate to govern out of fear of the security state after the murder of JFK.

      Ban The Bomb!

    • Valerie
      January 7, 2023 at 17:48

      I tend to agree with you rgl. Better a harsh reality than a false hope.

  6. WillD
    January 5, 2023 at 20:31

    Too many ‘ifs’, even one ‘if’ is wishful thinking. History is a good guide to present day and future behaviour – as is basic human psychology.

    As long as there are individuals who use their abilities to gain control over others, and then profit from it, there will be conflict, wars and…. hugely destructive weapons, like nuclear ones.

    We are not ‘civilised’ far from it, we are merely self-aware intelligent animals that excel in exploitation and destruction. We have no real concept of the collective good and what might threaten it, and until we do we’ll continue along this current path of destruction.

    • J Anthony
      January 6, 2023 at 10:52

      That’s it in a nutshell,isn’t it? It is difficult to nurture hope in the face of this reality, that despite all the potential and possibility, we are willingly led down the dark path of catastrophe, much of it self-inflicted.

    • rgl
      January 6, 2023 at 21:19

      Well said.

  7. Lois Gagnon
    January 5, 2023 at 17:08

    “What about us?” Indeed. We are constantly told to fear designated enemies from abroad as an excuse to maintain these world ending weapons. We are constantly told by Washington that the US should be the singular leader of the world, yet we are lead further and further from the cause of peace by those who make this claim. If Washington wants to be a leader, let it lead the world in bringing about the end of nuclear weapons.

    As readers of CN know only too well, that will only happen if the people bring Washington along, kicking and screaming to that goal. If you want to learn how to do that you can go to NuclearBan.us.

    Thanks to CN for publishing Pat Hynes. We are fortunate in my area to read her in the local paper on a regular basis.

  8. shmutzoid
    January 5, 2023 at 15:56

    As long as global capitalism remains the organizing principle in world/economic relations, there will be NO nuclear disarmament.

    When the US talks of ‘American Interests’ in justifying sanctions, war, or just plain fear-mongering against the latest ‘threat’, you know officials are NOT referring to the welfare of average citizens. ‘American Interests’ is code-speak for PRIVATE CORPORATE PROFIT.

    Far from any move toward disarmament, the recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) has shifted the parameters for use of nukes by the US. Not only is a ‘first strike’ option still on the table, but, now the threshold for use of nukes has been changed. ——-> The NPR states that nukes can be used if US economic interests are threatened, whether the targeted country has its own nukes or not!

    In CA, Gov. Newsome recently OKed the state to subsidize PGE&E tens of billions of dollars to maintain operations of Diablo Canyon.
    Not only has this source of nuclear power passed its ‘use by’ date, it is dangerously situated on/near one or two earthquake faults.

    In short, the odds of nuclear weapons being used and/or a Fukishima-like event happening are much greater than nuclear disarmament.

  9. Bob M
    January 5, 2023 at 15:14

    Nuclear weapons wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous if we didn’t have advanced conventional weapons. It’s advanced conventional weapons that get us into wars in the first place. Ban them and the nukes will never be used.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 5, 2023 at 22:54

      Bob M, never say never, you will snake bite yourself and the rest of us with you. Nukes work that way you know. Their strong point is the totality of the collateral damage induced.

      John Lennon, as controversial as he was had the same idea around 1971. . . . . . See his album “IMAGINE” released Sept 9, 1971. John was murdered December 8, 1980. The bullet came from a gun, a gun that Mark David Chapman used with his own hand and should never have had, given his mental condition.

      “Spoiler Alert” Bob, these high tech weapons, that are currently becoming robotic – AI driven, with some designs already deployed, will take the human factor out of the equation, other than the glorified “gamer” who runs the controls. You can’t make this stuff up, you don’t need to. The so called smartest guys in the room have already thought of it. But that by no means is any indication they have it right. Believe in the justice system such as you will.

      Just what a national police force, see Patriot Act driven unified command structure, calls for because it satisfies the need for Feds to stay sterile putting down popular uprisings in areas of dissent. Dissent that these days need not become violent in order to be quelled by authoritarian violence. SEE continued police brutality and police induced needless deaths.

      You really don’t seem to realize the U.S. may no longer need nukes. What a position of power to negotiate from, the one where you have the winning hole card.

      Thanks CN

Comments are closed.