US and Russian doctors warn war in Ukraine risks global nuclear ‘catastrophe’

Image Credit: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons/CC BY 2.0

A renowned organization made up of American and Russian doctors warned on Tuesday night that a military conflict involving the two powers in Ukraine risks a nuclear “catastrophe” that could have horrific effects across Europe – and potentially the entire planet.

In a new statement, nuclear energy experts join members of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) – a coalition of medical groups that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its non-proliferation work – noting that if Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons, it maintains more than ten nuclear reactors it could be in the line of fire if the current situation escalates into all-out war.

“If even a single 100 kiloton nuclear weapon exploded above the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people.”

Linda Pentz Gunter, founder of advocacy group Beyond Nuclear, said a conflict in Ukraine could spell disaster comparable to, or even worse than, the devastating Chernobyl reactor crisis in 1986.

“No matter the genesis, the cause or who started what, the reality remains that there are 15 operating nuclear reactors in Ukraine which, if a conflict breaks out there, could be in jeopardy,” Gunter said. “If the reactors find themselves in the middle of a conflict or a war, they cannot simply be abandoned by the workforce. This makes the prospects of war in Ukraine all the more alarming and the imperative to avoid it all the more urgent.

In addition, doctors have expressed concern that the current crisis may ultimately escalate into the use of nuclear weapons. While the United States and Russia, which together control more than 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, have signed a joint statement Earlier this year, stating that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, the military doctrines of both nations allow the first use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict.

“If even a single 100 kiloton nuclear weapon were to explode over the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people and injure a million others, completely overwhelming the Russian capital’s disaster response capability,” he said. said Dr. Ira Helfand, Co-Chair of IPPNW. “A single 100 kiloton bomb detonated over the US capital would kill more than 170,000 people and injure nearly 400,000.”

“But an escalation of the nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia is unlikely to involve single warheads over their respective capitals,” Helfand added. “Rather, it’s more likely that there would be many weapons directed at many cities and many of those weapons would be well over 100 Kt.”

Over the weekend, Dr. Olga Mironova, a cardiologist in Moscow and president of the Russian branch of IPPNW, led an emergency discussion focusing on the health effects of a possible nuclear war involving the United States. States and Russia, which possess about 6,000 nuclear warheads each.

The dire warnings from doctors came as tensions between Russia and the West continued to grow following President Vladimir Putin’s decision on Monday to send troops in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine – a decision that the United States and European countries have met with a barrage of economic sanctions.

“Reactors present a daunting spectrum. If struck, the facilities could effectively become radiological mines.

Citing the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcement late Tuesday that he canceled his scheduled meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a potential blow to diplomatic negotiations that peace groups say are the only way to step back from the brink of war.

In recent weeks, observers have bemoaned how little attention political leaders and the press have given the possibility of nuclear conflict to the threat it poses. The concerns of peace supporters have been further aggravated by Russia recent staging nuclear drills, drills that included intercontinental ballistic missile launch drills.

“Of all the obvious dangers that accompany war, one of the most significant in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been woefully underestimated. Even if commanders tried hard to avoid hitting Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, it might not be enough to avert a disaster,” said nuclear weapons expert Bennett Ramberg. wrote in an editorial for Project union Last week.

“Reactors present a daunting spectrum. If struck, the facilities could effectively become radiological mines. And Russia itself would fall victim to the resulting wind-borne radioactive debris,” Ramberg observed. “If a reactor core melted, explosive gases or radioactive debris belched out of the containment structure. Once in the atmosphere, the effluent would settle for thousands of kilometres, dumping light to highly toxic radioactive elements on urban and rural landscapes. And the spent nuclear fuel could cause further damage if the storage pools were set on fire.

But Dr. Barry Levy, a leading expert on the health consequences of military conflict, stressed on Tuesday that even if a nuclear catastrophe is averted, “many deaths and illnesses could occur among non-combatant civilians from explosive weapons, population displacement and damage to hospitals and hospitals”. clinics, water treatment plants and the food supply system” in the case of conventional warfare.

“As a result, children and pregnant women would suffer from malnutrition, more infants were born prematurely, and more women died during childbirth,” Levy said. “More people would contract communicable diseases, including Covid-19. More elderly people, who make up more than a sixth of Ukraine’s population, are said to be developing complications from heart disease, lung disorders and diabetes. And many Ukrainians are said to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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