Scientists from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research said even if a small scale nuclear war broke out in one region of the world, the entire planet would be at risk, as the planet would experience falling temperatures, less precipitation and reduced sunlight, among other grave consequences.
“Even if the nuclear war happened in one part of the planet – India and Pakistan – the whole globe would be affected by the temperatures dropping, precipitating dropping, sunlight dropping and also the amount of harmful ultra-violet would increase, because of the ozone layer,” Mills said on the sidelines of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.He described a scenario where after an initial explosion cities would be engulfed by giant firestorms, like those seen during World War II – in Tokyo and Hiroshima.
“And this would produce a tremendous amount of smoke. We looked at a scenario in which India and Pakistan each used 50 of the smallest nuclear weapons, the size used on Hiroshima – on each other’s cities. Researchers estimated this would produce about 6.5 million tons of smoke, black smoke that would absorb a lot of sunlight,” the atmospheric scientist said, citing results of his research.
Heat from the sun would encourage smoke from the fires to rise up into the stratosphere, where the ozone layer is. Since weather features like rain do not occur this high up in the atmosphere, the smoke could not be simply washed away by rain, like it would lower down. Thus it could remain in the stratosphere for years, absorbing sunlight, preventing it from reaching the surface of the Earth. As a result, temperatures at the surface would drop and precipitation patterns would be affected. This in turn would have an impact on agriculture and ecosystems, leading to reductions in crop production, which in turn could give rise to a global famine.
Mills pointed out that as long as countries possess nuclear weapons, it is not a question if they will be used, but when.
“You know that governments change, and relations between countries can change; and as long as we possess the ability to annihilate each other and pose this catastrophic risk to the survival of our species and others on the planet, if we gave as long enough time, they would be used, eventually. Right now there is an increasing number of countries with nuclear weapons and that increases the risk of conflict between different nuclear armed states exponentially,” Mills told Sputnik urging to reverse that.
He stressed that nuclear powers are not doing enough to eliminate nuclear weapons. For instance, the new START treaty signed in 2010 between the United States and Russia, did not consider the climatic consequences of nuclear war. Mills pointed out the need to raise awareness about the risks of a nuclear winter, as in his view, greater awareness would put more pressure on governments to push for disarmament.“You really can’t ignore the impact on humanity of that kind of a war, and if someone were to say – well, we don’t care what happens to human beings after nuclear war, we have to question that kind of leadership whether it is coming from the military or diplomats,” Mills said adding that the well-being of society should be at the forefront of international leaders’ minds.
The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons is taking place on December 8-9 in Hofburg Palace in the Austrian capital. Its aim is to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. According to the conference’s organization committee, over 16,000 nuclear warheads still exist, many of which are on “high alert”.