The Dangers of Nuclear Tests: A Comprehensive Look

The use and testing of nuclear weapons has been a controversial topic for decades. From the outset, it was recognized that exposure to a sufficient dose of radiation could cause damage to internal organs, as well as to the skin and eyes. According to the 2000 Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to the United Nations General Assembly, radiation can damage living cells, kill some and modify others. Destruction of a sufficient number of cells will inflict noticeable damage to organs, which can result in death.

If the altered cells are not repaired, the resulting modification will be transmitted to other cells and, ultimately, can cause cancer. Modified cells that transmit hereditary information to the offspring of the exposed individual can cause hereditary disorders. In terms of human health exposure, specialized studies have shown that thyroid cancer (usually papillary thyroid cancer) is the most important consequence of nuclear testing, mainly due to radionuclide 131I (UNSCEAR 200). Vegetation can also become contaminated when rain settles directly on the outer surfaces of plants and is absorbed through the roots. In addition, people may be exposed when eating meat and milk from animals that graze on contaminated vegetation. The first nuclear test was carried out by the United States in July 1945, followed by the Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960 and China in 1964. Nuclear weapons have been tested in Algeria, Australia, China, French Polynesia, India, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United States and Uzbekistan.

During the negotiation of this historic agreement, nuclear test survivors shared their stories with governments. The preamble to the ban treaty also recognizes the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on women and girls, including as a result of their increased vulnerability to the effects of ionizing radiation. The strong global taboo that exists today against the use and testing of nuclear weapons is largely the result of decades of popular resistance to man's deadliest creation. There is a particular need for continued and expanded efforts to investigate and understand the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons testing. Investigating the various immediate and long-term effects of the use and testing of nuclear weapons is important in itself because it informs us of the unique characteristics of these weapons. Iodine-131 (I-131), which exposes the thyroid gland for approximately 2 months after each nuclear test, was the most important harmful radioactive material (isotope) in global precipitation.

Objective probability estimates are based on experience and exclude new and unprecedented paths to nuclear catastrophe. Few survivors of nuclear tests anywhere in the world have been compensated for their suffering. From a humanitarian perspective, any measure to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons being used is worthy of satisfaction. In a major 1987 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) summarized existing research on the effects of nuclear detonations on health and health services. Evidence of harm caused by the use and testing of nuclear weapons takes on renewed importance in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is increasing.