The World ‘Failed to Address the Urgency of the Moment’ September 1, 2022
Summer Ends with Bad News, Good News, Worrisome News
Officials in Ukraine are handing out potassium iodide to residents living within range of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which sits precariously along the embattled southeast front of the Russian occupation. Fear continues to grow over possible damage — and radiation releases — to Europe’s largest nuclear facility.
As of today, there is some welcome news: Moscow has agreed to on-site inspection of the plant by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The bad nuclear news is related, but serendipitously. It just so happened that the war in Ukraine, initiated by a nuclear state, stalled at a nuclear power plant at the same time the UN was hosting the tenth review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and updates laid out in the Draft Report of the Main Committee.
The review failed without getting the votes needed for adoption after a month of trying.
‘A Complete Failure’
Ira Helfand, co-chair of PSR’s Nuclear Weapons Abolition Committee and co-president of PSR’s global federation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, is adamant in his disappointment, not so much in the outcome but the opportunity lost.
“Even if it had been adopted, the summary document would have represented a complete failure,” said Helfand. “It failed to call for a demilitarized zone around the [Zaporizhzhia] reactors, failed to call on NATO and Russia to promise not to use nuclear weapons over the conflict in Ukraine, and failed to in any way increase pressure on the nuclear armed states to meet their Article VI obligations to negotiate in good faith the elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
Moscow Blocks the Vote
The primary obstacle to securing unified agreement was, no surprise, Zaporizhzhia. As the Guardian newspaper noted, Russia blocked the final NPT vote over references in the draft to the war in Ukraine and the besieged plant, as stated in the following:
“The Conference expresses its grave concern for the military activities conducted near or at nuclear power plants and other facilities or locations subject to safeguards under Ukraine’s comprehensive safeguards agreement, in particular the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant, as well as the loss of control by the competent Ukrainian authorities over such locations as a result of those military activities, and their profound negative impact on safety, security, including physical protection of nuclear material, and safeguards.
“The Conference recognizes that the loss of control over nuclear facilities and other locations prevents the competent Ukrainian authorities and the IAEA from ensuring that safeguards activities can be implemented effectively and safely.”
In response to the above, the Russian delegation called the negotiations a “one-sided game,” then walked out of the conference.
A ‘Far-reaching War’ and a ‘Dangerous Game’: What Others Are Saying
“The bigger takeaway for me is just how far-reaching the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine has become. Even at some of the darkest moments of the cold war, cooperation in support of the NPT was often possible. But what we saw at the final plenary today does not bode well for the future of nuclear diplomacy, including on issues like arms control.” – Sarah Bidgood, the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies
“This is the very dangerous game the nuclear weapon states are playing by consistently failing to achieve anything in this treaty. At some point, non-nuclear weapon states are really going to start questioning whether or not this treaty is worth the effort, and if it’s relevant.” – Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
ICAN on its website also noted that “in a year when a nuclear-armed state invaded a non-nuclear armed state, a meeting of nearly all countries in the world failed to condemn Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the context of its invasion, and failed to take any steps that would advance nuclear disarmament. It has failed to address the urgency of the moment.”
“The failure … to reach agreement on coping with the existential danger of nuclear weapons and on the urgent need for their elimination is shameful but not unexpected. It highlights a polarized and dysfunctional world order where humanity is the victim.” – Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, on Twitter
The True Horrors of Nuclear War, Measured by Worldwide Famine
A radiation leak from the 6.7-gigawattZaporizhzhia plant, which produced one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the war began, would be tragic for the region and possibly much of Europe, depending on the severity and the winds.
But even a “limited” or “regional” nuclear war could mark the near-end of civilization, according to the sobering report published this past August 15, 2022, by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), titled Nuclear Famine.
Limited or regional “would be neither limited nor regional,” the authors write. “It would be a planetary-scale event. In fact, it would be far more dangerous than we understood even a few years ago. A war that detonated less than 1/20th of the world’s nuclear weapons would still crash the climate, the global food supply chains, and likely public order. Famines and unrest would kill hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions.”
Among the examples from IPPNW: Famine affecting one-third of Earth’s population from a regional war between India and Pakistan that used less than 3% of the global nuclear arsenal.
To learn more, listen to the IPPNW audio-cast on Twitter, recorded on the day Nuclear Famine was released, “Billions At-Risk of Starvation: Nuclear Famine Report Briefing.”
NOTE: The recording takes a few minutes to begin. Have patience.