Category Archives: Environment

The Atomic Question

The Atomic Question

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Atom Bomb

Seventy years ago two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For many it was one of the worst atrocities in modern history and although the world has never seen history repeat itself, the Atomic Question has remained one of the central political issues for nations worldwide.

Should we allow nations to have nuclear weapons?

Should we fear nations that seek to build a nuclear arsenal?

Should we avoid nuclear power as an energy alternative?

In the years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world entered an age of nuclear supremacy. The world’s leading powers built up vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons as the atomic bomb became the ultimate deterrent. It plunged the USA and the USSR into an arms race that lasted over forty years, engulfed the whole world and fueled the development of nuclear weapons programmes in nations from the United Kingdom to North Korea.

In the new age of nuclear warfare the Atomic Question has remained at the forefront of the political agenda, largely because of the moments when history has threatened to repeat itself. In 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis pushed the two Cold War superpowers to the brink of nuclear war. Since the 1999 Kargil War, Pakistan has hinted that nuclear weapons may be the only way to secure victory over their rivals India, a message that has been repeated on several occasions since and ever since North Korea obtained nuclear weapons it has threatened to use them on its enemies around the world. These moments have plunged the world into an intense fear of a potential nuclear attack and a great fear of the nations that possess them.

Should we fear these countries? Arguably, yes.

The majority of nuclear nations are stable countries; the USA, UK and France, but others are less stable and the possession of nuclear weapons has been seen as a major threat to international security and stability. North Korea is the obvious example, but the global fear of Iran or Iraq gaining nuclear weapons has created a political and diplomatic crisis worldwide and, in 2003, was one of the justifications for the Iraq War. We are a world that fears the threat of nuclear weapons and we fear that unstable nations may gain access to the world’s most dangerous weapon.

Yet, we continue to develop our nuclear weapons programmes globally. Why?

The Atomic Deterrent?

Fear is the main driver. Only South Africa has given up its nuclear capability and of the current nuclear states left, few look likely to give up this powerful deterrent. In the West we fear that rivals will retain their arsenals whilst we surrender ours. With recent political tension between the West and Russia, the future of a nuclear free world looks a distant prospect.

Although there are many people worldwide who would see the end of nuclear weapons happen sooner rather than later, the threat of attack from a foreign power means that the political will may not exist. Which leader wants to be seen as the person responsible for weakening the nation and putting it at threat from attack?

Ever since the height of the Cold War, the atomic question has become focused on the importance of the atomic deterrent as a feature of our national security policy.

The Atomic Solution?

However, the atomic question has not centred solely on weapons. Often the most controversial issue has been nuclear energy. Many people have seen nuclear power as the solution to the world’s energy crisis and they are probably right. Nuclear energy may well be the solution to our reliance on fossil fuels, but it comes with its own set of moral dilemmas. Is it safe? Is this a slippery slope towards nuclear weapons?

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world has seen the devastating consequences when nuclear power goes wrong. Chernobyl, 1986 and Fukushima, 2011 were the sites of two of the worst nuclear accidents the world has ever witnessed. Many died at the time, but it has been the legacy of the accidents that have had the long lasting consequences. Thousands more have been effected by the contamination, with cancers and other illnesses linked to the Chernobyl disaster, whilst the ecological impact of the accident has consequences that the world does not even realise at this point in time.

These accidents have come to characterise the atomic question in the 21st century and they raise very real fears about nuclear power, fears that must be confronted if we want to answer the atomic question.

The Atomic Question

The question we still have to deal with is, what role does the nuclear bomb or nuclear power have in our world today? What have we learnt in the last 70 years since America made the decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Unfortunately we are no closer to a clear answer. We have seen the devastation caused by nuclear weapons and we have seen what could happen if we lose control of our nuclear energy programme, but we can also see the necessity of nuclear weapons as part of our political and security policies and the importance of nuclear power in creating a sustainable future. With a lack of clarity regarding the nuclear issue it is unlikely that politicians will end the world’s reliance on nuclear energy or support a political future where they give up their nuclear capability if rivals do not the same. In short the atomic status quo will remain.

It is still one of the most complex issues faced by our society today and we may have to wait many more years until we have an answer to give, but whilst incidents such as Hiroshima, Chernobyl or even the recent Iranian nuclear deal, remain a feature of our political discourse then the atomic question will remain at the forefront of political discussion.

By Peter Banham

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