Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People At Risk?

By Ira Helfand

One of the most indefensible components of the federal budget is the continuing expenditure of tens of billions of dollars a year to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons. In fiscal year 2014, American taxpayers will contribute in excess of $19 billion to maintain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal. That turns out to be roughly $2 million each hour of every day.

Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have released a new report that shows that even a very limited nuclear war, involving less than 0.5 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal would cause global climate disruption and crop failures and trigger a worldwide famine that could kill up to 2 billion people.

The scenario in our study assumed a war between India and Pakistan involving a total of 100 Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons, about half of their current nuclear arsenals.  But a single U.S. Trident submarine can carry 96 warheads, each 10 to 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bombs.  That means that each Trident sub can cause nuclear famine many times over. We have 14 of them, and a fleet of land based bombers and strategic bombers that can carry gravity bombs and cruise missiles. The Russians have the same overkill capacity and all told there are 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world.

It is an urgent matter of U.S. national security to secure a verifiable, enforceable treaty to eliminate these weapons which pose an existential threat to the United States and indeed to all humanity. It is inexcusable to continue to squander billions of maintaining and “improving” these weapons.

There is a growing international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons.  The U.S. should join this movement and provided leadership to it. In February there will be a conference of more than 100 nations in Mexico to discuss the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.  The U.S. boycotted the last such meeting in Oslo this past March.  This time the U.S. should attend and embrace the call for nuclear abolition so that we can achieve President Obama’s stated goal of the security of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Read a full report at:

Ira Helfand, MD is co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.  He is Past President of IPPNW's US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility.