‘Every summer the forests of Chernobyl catch fire’

As the Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course students of 2013 ventured into the second workshop at their homebase, IKV Pax Christi, a lot more became clear on their mission in Geneva. Though meetings with Dutch politicians and policy makers are centred around the Dutch responsibility to remove the U.S. nuclear weapons stationed at Volkel, the meetings in Geneva will hopefully have a more humanitarian flavor.

By Anita Hossain*

During the second workshop of the Crash Course, we discussed the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and accidents. As we hear graphic descriptions and explanations of the direct effects, we try to comprehend the full magnitude of a nuclear attack: the pressurewave that would shatter the windows in Paris if the bomb were to go off in Amsterdam, the fireball with its iconic mushroom cloud of 1 to 10 million °C, the accompanying heatwave that would instantly turn anyone in an area of just about 100 km2 into coal, and the radiation that would permanently mangle anyone lucky enough to survive the initial blast.

After discussing these issues in the context of Hiroshima, Krista van Velzen, campaigner of the IKV Pax Christi No Nukes team, tells a story she heard personally in Ukraine. Due to the residual radiation from the power plant disaster in 1989, the grounds of Chernobyl emit a radioactive cloud each year, causing the forests to catch fire once again. This is just a glimpse of the long range of consequences of nuclear explosions.

NPT members agreed in 2010 that any use of nuclear weapons would be disasterous for humanity. A new impulse to focus on these humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has been given by Oslo’s conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in March 2013. A staggering 127 countries showed up, revealing the potential for a discussion on nuclear weapons from a different angle. Summarising the conference, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs and host of the Oslo conference Mr. Espen Barth Eide observed: “This broad participation reflects the increasing global concern regarding the effects of nuclear weapons detonations, as well as the recognition that this is an issue of fundamental significance for us all.”

IKV Pax Christi strongly supports this initiative and would like others to do the same. The mission of the Crash Course students and the No Nukes team in Geneva is to extend this impuls and keep the momentum going. IKV Pax Christi provided us with three clear goals for our diplomatic meetings, our three asks: (1) We want everyone to mention Norway’s conference and express their appreciation for this initiative; (2) we want everyone to welcome Mexico’s initiative to host a follow-up conference; and (3) we want everyone to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic to humanity. Global recognition and public awareness of the effects of nuclear weapons detonations would push the issue higher on the agenda and pressure political leaders to take disarmament measures. Fully recognizing the humanitarian consequences leaves us with only one conclusion: Nuclear weapons are unacceptable.

* Anita Hossain is a Bachelor student Social Psychology at Utrecht University and is one of the Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course students of this year.