Nuclear weapons, AUKUS and health

3d rendering, Nuclear explosion with large shockwave on green wide landscape, nuclear war or World War III,

Nuclear weapons have been used twice in warfare, targeting the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. More than 210,000 civilians died by the end of that year. Many more died and suffered long term injuries in the years following these blasts. Nuclear weapons available today can be many times more powerful than those used during WW2.1,2


The failure of major nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries will acquire nuclear weapons. Increasing world tensions, aggravated by climate change, also greatly add to the risk of nuclear conflict between countries.  Also, global power shifts, especially between USA, China and Russia have been concerning and make war more likely. Even a limited nuclear exchange would be catastrophic.1,3,4

Nine countries together possess about 13,000 weapons. About 2,000 are kept on hair trigger alert, so they can be fired within a few minutes notice, leaving open the opportunity for accidental mishaps or terrorist attacks.3,5

It takes around ten seconds for the fireball from a nuclear explosion to reach its maximum size. The thermal radiation vaporises everything close to ground zero. The extreme heat ignites fires everywhere close to ground zero and creates a giant firestorm. In this way, a single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city would kill millions of people from the initial blast and subsequent fires.

The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would cause major climate disruption with a decade long nuclear winter causing widespread famine. Infectious disease epidemics and conflicts over scarce resources would be rife.  Radiation would transcend borders and generations, permanently increasing the risk of cancer, chronic disease and genetic damage. Hospitals and healthcare centres would be destroyed and healthcare workers such as doctors, nurses and paramedics would be mostly killed or injured. 

Any meaningful humanitarian response to aid the immediate survivors would be impossible. Support from outside the impacted area would be extremely limited, due to radiation concerns.1,4,5,6

Civilisation and all that humankind has ever strived for, over our whole history of evolution could be destroyed forever, in the event of a major nuclear war.

There is no solution to the use of nuclear weapons. It is critical we act responsibly and prevent their use. Before being elected, the ALP committed to signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. They must act on this promise.7

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was founded in Australia by the Medical Association for Prevention of War in 2006.  ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”3,5

The AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines are projected to cost an estimated $368 billion. This horrendous amount is hard to justify, especially when there are so many other critical needs for Australia that will go wanting. It has been asserted the submarines would be used to both defend Australia and to deter China (our largest trading partner) from taking unfriendly actions against ourselves and our ally, the USA.

Acquiring nuclear-powered submarines incorporates us into US war and nuclear conflict planning. It clearly escalates tensions among nuclear- armed and regional states. Australia’s proposed submarine acquisition exploits a never before used loophole in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has resulted in a number of other countries expressing interest in doing the same, raising concerns about proliferation of nuclear weapons grade highly enriched uranium (HEU).8,9

Furthermore, the submarines will not be available for at least 15 years. Only two or three are likely to be available for use at any one time.  They would not provide an adequate defence given our very extensive surrounding waters.  Research from ANU finds that the stealth advantages of submersible sea power -such as submarines – are likely to be overcome by technological advancements by 2050.8,10,11

Maintenance and nuclear waste are also major concerns. Massive infrastructure facilities will have to be built, with specific training for workers for their ongoing maintenance. Any port will become a nuclear target in the case of war and potentially also a terrorist target.

Globally there is no solution to the problem of disposing of high-level nuclear waste.9

The amount of money involved is hard to comprehend. There is so much else we could do that would actually make Australians more secure. In an analysis by Australia Institute in 2020, just $9.5 Billion (not $368 billion) would buy 35 new schools and pay 1,750 teachers’ salaries for six years. In addition, four new hospitals could be built with 1,750 nurses’ salaries and 920 doctors’ salaries paid for six years. Indeed, a further six years of 515 police salaries and 40 new Fire and Rescue vehicles could also be provided. With the leftover money, over 34 km of highway could be upgraded and the Queensland North Coast rail line duplicated.12

In 2019-2020, Australia was a country where, on average, one in eight adults and one in six children were trapped in poverty. Can you imagine the impact that $368 billion would have on addressing major issues currently affecting Australians?

Poverty and homelessness could be alleviated. Our public education systems could receive a much-needed upgrade so that teachers would be proud to go to work in them. Money could be invested into technologies to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. General health care could be greatly improved with hospital waiting lists shortened and staffing levels improved. More attention could be given to preventative health care. And the list goes on…13

Please join us in campaigning for a more peaceful and safer world – for ourselves and our future generations – and to preserve all the good that has been done in the past. Go to our website mapw.org.au today or contact the author: amanda.ruler@mapw.org.au

References
  1. Tilman A. Ruff. Nuclear Weapons and our Climate. [Internet]. Melbourne: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; 2019, [Cited 2023 Aug 24] Available from: https://icanw.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Nuclear-weapons-and-our-climate-Sept-2019.pdf
  2. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Which Countries have Nuclear Weapons? [Internet]. Melbourne: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; (Internet); 2023, [Cited 2023 Aug 23] Available from: https://www.icanw.org/nuclear_arsenals
  3. The Medical Association for Prevention of War. Education, advocacy and campaigning for nuclear weapons abolition are core to the work of MAPW; [Internet]. Melbourne: The Medical Association for Prevention of War; 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://www.mapw.org.au/campaigns/nuclear-weapons/
  4. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Why condemn threats to use nuclear weapons? Briefing paper. [Internet]. Melbourne: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://assets.nationbuilder.com/ican/pages/3083/attachments/original/1665598306/Why_delegitimisation_works_talking_points.pdf?1665598306
  5. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. (Homepage). [Internet]. Melbourne: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://icanw.org.au/
  6. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Nuclear Weapons, the Environment, and the Climate Crisis [Internet]. Melbourne, 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://assets.nationbuilder.com/ican/pages/3178/attachments/original/1677630121/Climate_Crisis_Policy_Paper-2.pdf?1677630121
  7. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Update on Labor joining the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. Briefing paper Summary; [Internet] Melbourne; International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons;2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 25] Available from: https://icanw.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Labor-policy-briefing-paper-summary-Sept-2022-final.pdf
  8. Palazzo, A. The Definitive Case Against Nuclear Subs; [Internet] The Saturday Paper; Melbourne, (2022) , [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2022/11/12/the-definitive-case-against-nuclear-subs
  9. Palazzo, A. The Opportunity Cost of AUKUS; [Internet] The Strategist; Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra; 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 25] Available from: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-opportunity-cost-of-aukus/
  10. Lee, P.K; Nason, A., and Mayo, S. The Social License for AUKUS has not yet been earned; [Internet] The Interpreter: The Lowy Institute, Sydney, 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 26] Available from: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/debate/aukus-risks-rewards
  11. Bradbury, R., Grisogono, A., Williams, E., and Vella, S. Progress in detection tech could render submarines useless by the 2050s. What does it mean for the AUKUS pact? [Internet] The Conversation, Flinders University and Australian National University; 2023 [Cited Aug 27 2023] Available from: https://theconversation.com/progress-in-detection-tech-could-render-submarines-useless-by-the-2050s-what-does-it-mean-for-the-aukus-pact-201187
  12. The Australia Institute; What Would You Choose? You have $9.5 B: Would you spend it on Mining Subsidies or all of these? [Internet] The Australia Institute, Canberra; 2020 [Cited 2023 Aug 24] Available from: https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/QLD-mining-subsidies-768×1074.jpg
  13. ACOSS and UNSW; Poverty in Australia 2023: Who is affected? [Internet] Australian Council of Social Service, University of NSW, Sydney; 2023 [Cited 2023 Aug 24] Available from: https://povertyandinequality.acoss.org.au/poverty-in-australia-2023-who-is-affected/

Author:
Dr Amanda J Ruler, RN, BA (Hons), MACN, Grad Dip Gerontological Nursing, PhD. SA Branch Co-Convenor and National Vice President Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW)

One Response

  1. Excellent article Amanda. The nuclear subs are a step towards an unwindable war, will impoverish and endanger Australians and have been pushed onto the Australian people without debate and without our consent.

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