The danger of a nuclear nightmare

by Fr. Shay Cullen

IAEA Mission to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine on Sept. 2, 2022, | Photo by IAEA via Wikimedia Commons

The development of nuclear technology to power electricity generation was hailed as a triumph of modern technology. We can never forget and not be on our guard from the history that they first used nuclear power in the atom bomb that wiped out two Asian cities in World War II. The horrific death of almost a million people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the world realize that nuclear war is one that no one can win. It gave rise to the MAD doctrine that a nuclear war would be a war of “Mutual Assured Destruction” that would result from an exchange of nuclear missiles with nuclear warheads. The bombing of Japan by the United States immediately brought about Japan’s capitulation and unconditional surrender.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is making a similar threat to Europe over Ukraine. What’s his game plan to threaten Europe to get Ukraine to surrender, lift sanctions and stop supplying arms to the Ukraine military?

Russian troops are occupying the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Europe, shelling the areas close to it, and blaming Ukraine. It’s absurd that Ukraine would destroy its own nuclear power plants and contaminate Europe. Russian shelling even knocked out the power line that fed electricity to the plant to maintain its cooling system. The backup generators kicked in just in time to prevent a dangerous situation. If the cooling fails in a nuclear power plant, it explodes. Nothing can stop it. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived at the plant last Thursday. It made a safety inspection, and it is hoped that this UN agency influences to bring about the demilitarization of the plant.

Another reason the Philippines should stay away from the crazy notion of building modular nuclear power plants is. Nuclear power plants are hazardous, and it takes 100 thousand years for the dangerous cancer-causing radiated waste material to decompose. Human error, conflict, and terrorist attacks are what cause disasters. Enemies could capture one plant and hold the nation to ransom. If they are Islamic extremists, they might do it as they did to the Twin Towers in the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary of which is coming close.

It is a reminder that humans can do the most horrific acts of destruction without respect for human life. That is the extremist thinking, or non-thinking, of Vladimir Putin. His forces cannot defeat Ukraine, so he has unleashed the most horrific shelling, bomb, and missile strikes at civilian targets all over Ukraine. He has no respect for human life and the human suffering it is causing. He is a leader with great power and no empathy. Such a human is very dangerous, and threatening to unleash nuclear radiation in desperation for him to win the war by shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant bit by bit until he achieves surrender is madness. He would be like a petulant child holding the dinner plates and smashing them one by one until he gets what he wants. It would be like what happened at Chernobyl; a cloud of deadly destructive radiation could blow across Europe.

When power stations fail, they can bring widespread death and destruction and nuclear radiation that has killed people and animals for decades. The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant that exploded when the cooling failed has left a vast area uninhabitable. The power plant in Japan also exploded due to a tsunami. All nuclear plants are susceptible to catastrophic damage from natural causes such as earthquakes, typhoons, and human terrorism. This reality should make the Filipino people reject the moves and proposals to build several modular nuclear power plants now that the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is inoperable, outdated, and beyond refurbishment. Disposing of nuclear waste is dangerous and very costly. The Philippine foreign debt is in trillions of pesos already, and can hardly afford to pay the annual interest payments provided by law no less. More debt will sink the Philippines.

The threat of a limited nuclear strike by Russia in Ukraine is indisputable. There is significantly increased tension between Russia and the five nuclear nations US, China, Russia, the UK, and France. The UN’s five permanent members of the Security Council said clearly in 2021 that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” and yet they are all upgrading their nuclear weapons stockpiles, which reached a total of 13,000 worldwide. That is down from about 236,000 during the Cold War. Thanks to a treaty, all agreed to reduce the number. The Federation of American Scientists estimates the UK alone has 190 nuclear warheads, of which 120 are ready to fire at any time. Imagine they are ready for MAD, primed to unleash a nuclear war.

“Most people live in ignorance of the terrible dangers that the powerful and intellectual humans have wrought in the world. We don’t know what nuclear radiation can do to life on earth, and it can eliminate it. A nuclear war would cause a nuclear winter, the resulting black clouds would block the sun for months or years, and all life would die. That’s just how bad it is.”

That treaty was due for renewal at last month’s UN meeting in New York at the UN Security Council. Still, after years of negotiation, Russia blocked the final document of the critical and urgent treaty because it mentioned the danger of the Russian troops occupying and shelling areas around the Ukraine Zaporizhzhya Power Plant. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she was “deeply disappointed” at the lack of agreement. “Russia obstructed progress by refusing to compromise on a proposed text accepted by all other states,” she said.

Not only does Putin threaten Europe by shelling around the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, as we write, but he has spoken of a possible nuclear strike “if provoked.” In response to this, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke out. “Following Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior,” he said.

According to the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin insisted that Russia remained faithful to the treaty’s “letter and spirit” and that there could be “no winners” in a nuclear war. Guterres said at the 10th review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an international treaty since 1970 designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons: “Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict,” Guterres added. He challenged all nations to wake up and “put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons.” “Eliminating nuclear weapons is the only guarantee they will never be used,” he said.

Most people live in ignorance of the terrible dangers that the powerful and intellectual humans have wrought in the world. We don’t know what nuclear radiation can do to life on earth, and it can eliminate it. A nuclear war would cause a nuclear winter, the resulting black clouds would block the sun for months or years, and all life would die. That’s just how bad it is.

We must work for sanity, peace, rational dialogue, and reach a consensus of nations to live with mutual respect for all life, especially human life on planet Earth, not Mutual Assured Destruction.

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