By Dr. Yakubu Wudil and Umar F. Ahmad
Nuclear energy goes beyond the widespread assumption that it is only a tool of mass destruction. It involves the use of radioactive elements to produce electricity. It is one of the cleaner sources of energy currently harnessed by developed countries. The energy generated by nuclear power plants is sufficient for both domestic and industrial applications.
A major environmental concern related to nuclear power is the creation of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, used reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. No doubt, these materials can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States.
More than 128 countries, UN agencies, international organizations, and civil societies have gathered in three different conferences between 2013 and 2014 to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Twenty-four countries issued statements at the first conference in Oslo, in 2013. However, the P5 (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) decided not to attend the conference, citing concern that the Oslo Conference will divert discussion away from practical steps to create conditions for further nuclear weapons reduction.
In spite of their absence, the meeting recorded a huge success, as evidence presented on the immediate impact of nuclear detonation made it clear that no adequate humanitarian response would be possible. Furthermore, it paved the way for other two meetings that discussed the global and long-term consequences of a nuclear detonation and explored the humanitarian and environmental impacts of the detonation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and written in the final document of the First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. The P5 and the other four states that have them (India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea) will not agree with this declaratory ban as the UK made it clear in the country’s statement at the Vienna Conference, 2014, “…this approach fails to take account of, and therefore jeopardizes, the stability and security which nuclear weapons can help to ensure.” The question is what can we draw from this conclusion? Are these countries willing to pursue a world without nuclear weapons?
Following the devastation and humanitarian consequences witnessed in Japan, numerous nations and advocacy groups called for an immediate ban on nuclear weapons. However, the force unleashed by fission, or the splitting of atoms, is so great that countries that have them see the atomic bomb as the ultimate weapon. Furthermore, some Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) state that the retention of nuclear arsenals by other countries is the sole reason why they still rely on nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are created for a variety of reasons, not just security. Prestige is a powerful motivator; they are still regarded as a technological honor badge after nearly 75 years. It’s no coincidence that the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council were among the first to develop nuclear weapons.
Another question that needs to be addressed is whether we can ever be confident that all nuclear capabilities will be gone. We know that the presence of a treaty has not stopped governments from using chemical weapons. The humanitarian consequences of not following a nuclear treaty could be much more detrimental. In January 2021, the Treaty on the prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force. The basic obligation of the treaty is to prohibit State Parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. However, all nine nuclear weapon states remained opposed to the treaty even though have shared the opinion that entry into the treaty is the sovereign right of individual states. The US further described the TPNW as a tool that “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous.” This is just an assertion of their position regarding the ban on nuclear weapons.
It is not all doom and gloom. The New START Treaty signed by the Russian Federation and the US limits both sides’ nuclear missiles and bombers to 700 and caps their deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550. If the two world’s most powerful nations can come this long to achieve this, it proves that the nine NWS can also agree on a timetable for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. To boost confidence in arms reduction and disarmament, the world needs to harness 21st-century information technology. Remote sensing, precision guidance, machine learning, neutron imaging for nuclear warhead verification, and additive manufacturing need to be fully understood in relation to nuclear weapons proliferation.
Finally, rather than allowing nuclear weapon states veto power over the most crucial security issues, countries need to construct a more equal decision-making framework in the United Nations. Only then, nuclear weapons will start to lose their appeal.
Mr. Umar Ahmad is a nuclear physicist working with the Centre for Renewable Energy Research, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria (email@example.com) and Dr. Yakubu Wudil is with the Renewable Energy Research Center, KFUPM, Saudi Arabia. (firstname.lastname@example.org).