The threat to public health globally of a conflict involving nuclear weapons is difficult to overstate. The Faculty of Public Health calls on the UK government to make clear its commitment to global nuclear disarmament and intensify negotiations with nuclear weapon states to reduce global nuclear stockpiles.
The population health impact of the deployment of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the aftermath of atom bombs detonated in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, however a true estimate of the death toll is impossible to calculate due to the sheer chaos and destruction of these events.1 If detonated, a nuclear weapon will vaporize everything within range and subsequently release high doses of radiation.2 Initial loss of life would be accompanied by devastation to vital infrastructure including hospitals, water, sanitation and communications.2 Serious psychological and social harm to populations including significant population displacement would be highly likely.3 Long-term health effects of the atom bombs deployed in Japan have been demonstrated and include increased rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.4 Additional long-term effects include the possibility of a “nuclear winter” affecting the global climate.5
The devastating results of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine have brought into sharp focus the potential for weapons to inflict immense suffering on populations. Preventing the detonation of nuclear weapons is therefore of enormous public health importance, and the UK government states it is “committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons”.6 However, the policy decision to increase the UK’s nuclear warhead stockpile limit from a goal of no more than 180 by 2025 to the current policy of no more than 260 warheads is at odds with this long-term vision.
Therefore, the Faculty of Public Health urges the UK Government to direct renewed energy towards the de-escalation of nuclear stockpiles globally to prevent a public health catastrophe.
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki Death Toll. http://www.aasc.ucla.edu/cab/200708230009.html.
- Boulton, F. & Dunn, T. Nuclear war and public health: preparedness, protection and the case for prevention. J Public Health (Oxf) 42, e316–e322 (2020).
- Ohtsuru, A. et al. Nuclear disasters and health: lessons learned, challenges, and proposals. The Lancet 386, 489–497 (2015).
- Kamiya, K. et al. Long-term effects of radiation exposure on health. The Lancet 386, 469–478 (2015).
- Turco, R. P., Toon, O. B., Ackerman, T. P., Pollack, J. B. & Sagan, C. Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions. Science 222, 1283–1292 (1983).
- Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. GOV.UK https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy.