Humantiarian issues surrounding Nuclear Weapons


“One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be- for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.” – President Barack Obama


A significant contemporary matter is the arguments for and against nuclear weapons. Current UN negotiations have undergone towards a treaty for the banning of nuclear weapons. There are 123 nations in favour of the ban, which are strongly opposed by 38 nations, 9 of those being nuclear states. There will be a full assembly vote, commencing in December 2016. This blog post will discuss the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, specifically their effects on human life and infrastructure.

The difference between standard bombing methods and nuclear bombing is that standard bombing has an instant impact, where as a nuclear bomb has significant lasting consequences in the decades following the blast. In our opinion, it is this which solely impacts on humanitarian consequences as its effects differentiate it from a normal bomb. Thousands of people die instantly following the detonation of the bomb, with thousands more dying over a prolonged period of time, primarily due to the amount of radiation which has been released in the air. The radiation released from an atom bomb is also responsible for hair loss, a decreased platelet count and radiation sickness amongst those who were in the targeted area and beyond. Long term illnesses include different types of cancers, such as thyroid cancer and leukaemia. These consequences were witnessed after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. As a result of the 7000 degrees epicentre of the blast, those who were within a three-mile radius experienced fatal burns. Additionally, temporary and also permanent blindness has been recorded due to the intense flash of light. Birth defects are also a known long term impact of exposure to radiation.

Equally important, are the challenges that arise following a nuclear attack in regards to emergency services and infrastructure. We need to consider the geographical location of an area should it be hit by an atom bomb. For example, a large built up city in a place such as the United States would experience mass devastation, in terms of life and disruption to services and collapsing infrastructure. This would prevent aid to be distributed on a mass scale. Disaster planning can be insufficient in the most developed countries, therefore in the event of a nuclear attack the challenges would be greater. If we consider the impact of a nuclear attack on less developed regions, such African countries, the impact in terms of infrastructure would be to a lesser extent, but it would be harder to receive aid due to the practical challenges posed by the already poor infrastructure. This has directly resulted to the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ). In addition, other less developed countries including Argentina and Brazil have negotiated their own NWFZ, highlighting that these countries are aware that in the event of a nuclear attack, they would be left in a dire situation.

In conclusion, the substantial power behind nuclear weapons, to an extent, is not fully considered or understood. The 1925 Geneva Protocol banned the use of poisonous gases as weapons of war, it is important to consider why nuclear weapons have not been outlawed of today whereas gases have, and with evidence of the profound impacts of nuclear weapons, surely these weapons should be outlawed by international law as well.

A quick click on this link will allow you to see how far a blast can reach from the epicentre from your chosen area.


Patrice Atherton and Emma Marshall- Mellor





African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (ANWFZ) Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty) – available at: [accessed 08/12/16 at 15:20]

Williams, P. Lewis, S. Aghlani – ‘The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative: The ‘Big Tent’ in Disarmament’ available at: [accessed 01/12/2016 at 15:50]

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its effect on people – available at: [accessed 07/12/2016 at 13:30]

Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons – available at [accessed 01/12/2016 at 15:45]




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