It's Time for Scientists and Technologists to Act over Nuclear Weapons

Press release, 6 August 2005
 

To coincide with the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility (AESR) call on scientists and technologists to cease working on projects which contribute to the creation, development, improvement or manufacture of further nuclear weapons. We also call on the scientific and technical community to demand the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and, as a first step towards this, demand that the nuclear powers honour their obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

This call comes at an especially important time. The UK is currently expanding its laboratories at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, with a government decision on whether to commission a replacement for its existing Trident nuclear weapons due soon. Scientific exchanges between UK and US nuclear weapons laboratories have markedly increased. The USA is trying to develop new ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea deploy nuclear weapons outside the NPT. India and the USA are preparing to exchange civil nuclear technology for the first time, despite India’s continued refusal to sign the NPT. Iran is preparing to re-start its uranium enrichment plant. All these activities undermine the commitments made by countries under the NPT, and are likely to increase the threat that the continued deployment of nuclear weapons poses. Indeed, the insistence by the existing nuclear weapons nations such as the UK that they need to retain their nuclear weapons undermines our ability to convince other countries that they should not have such weapons.

Given the horrific nature of these weapons of mass destruction – the Hiroshima bomb alone killed at least 145,000 people, and most nuclear weapons deployed today are many times more destructive – it is extraordinary that efforts still continue to further develop these weapons. Indeed, it is incredible that at least 20,000 nuclear weapons are still deployed across the world today, enough to destroy global civilisation many times over (through a combination of explosive power, radioactivity and disruption to environmental systems). Furthermore, some of these weapons are deployed on high alert – ready to launch at a few minutes’ notice – and hence open to the possibility of accidental launch.

The latest conference of the NPT in May broke up without agreement, demonstrating that the politicians cannot or will not act. Hence, SGR and AESR believe that scientists and technologists should show the way.

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of SGR, said: "We should be trying to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction – especially nuclear weapons as they are by far the most devastating of these. Yet many governments, including that in the UK, are not only unwilling to take steps towards disarmament, they are looking to development new nuclear weapons. If the politicians will not act for peace, then the scientists and technologists should."

Notes:

1.      Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is a UK organisation of approximately 600 scientists and technologists promoting ethical science and technology - based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. For more information see http://www.sgr.org.uk/

2.      Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility (AESR) is a UK organisation of approximately 250 engineers and architects which works closely with SGR and has similar concerns.

3.      The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945.

4.      This call echoes one made last month by Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat – the only scientist to resign from the Manhattan Project (which created the first atomic bomb) because of ethical concerns. Rotblat J. (2005). Message to the inheritors of the Manhattan Project. 12 July, 2005. http://www.atomicmirror.org/

5.      The cost of the current expansion programme at the AWE is planned to be about £2 billion. Details can be found in AWE’s Annual Reports, at http://www.awe.co.uk/ For detail of scientific exchanges between nuclear weapons laboratories, low yield nuclear weapons and other background, see: Langley C. (2005). Soldiers in the Laboratory: military involvement in science and technology – and some alternatives. Scientists for Global Responsibility. (p60-61).

6.      While the UK government’s official position is that no decision has yet been taken on whether to commission a replacement for Trident, their activities to date on this issue indicate that their sympathies lie with replacement. Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, has argued it is both against the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />UK’s national interests and against our international obligations to replace Trident (Worse than irrelevant, The Guardian, 29 July, 2005; http://www.guardian.co.uk/ ). For the latest information on the government’s deliberations on Trident, see: http://www.basicint.org/nuclear/beyondtrident/index.htm

7.      For more information about the US-India discussions, see: Ramesh R. (2005). America to aid India's nuclear power project. The Guardian, 20 July. http://www.guardian.co.uk/

8.      For more information about Iran’s activities, see: BBC news online (2005). Iran nuclear process 'under way'. 2 August. http://news.bbc.co.uk/

9.      Figures for casualties due to the Hiroshima bomb are given in: Krieger D. (2003). Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Blackaby Papers, No. 4. Abolition 2000 UK, London. http://www.abolition2000uk.org/

10.  Details of the world’s nuclear arsenals can be found in: Smith D. (2003). The Atlas of War and Peace. Earthscan, London. (p26-27). A similar estimate is given in: Norris R., Kristensen H. (2002). Global nuclear stockpiles, 1945-2002. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. November/December; vol. 58, no. 06. (p103-104). http://www.thebulletin.org/  For an assessment of the huge destructive effects of a nuclear weapons exchange, see: Turco, R.P., Toon, A.B., Ackerman, T.P., Pollack, J.B., Sagan, C. (1990). Climate and Smoke: An Appraisal of Nuclear Winter. Science, volume 247. (p167-168)

11.  Detailed discussion of the alert status of nuclear weapons can be found in: Phillips A., Starr S. (2004). Eliminate launch on warning. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Washington DC. http://www.wagingpeace.org/

12.  For official documents on the NPT and its 2005 conference, see: http://disarmament2.un.org/wmd/npt/index.html  For NGO commentary on the outcome, see http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org