August 1, 2019

74 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings, the Risk of Nuclear War is Increasing, Science Group Says

Statement by David Wright, Co-Director, Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (August 1, 2019)—Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program Co-Director David Wright today released the following statement commemorating the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. 

“Some 74 years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan, the risk of nuclear war is higher today than many people realize—and it is increasing. 

“Current U.S. policy permits the United States to use nuclear weapons first against a nuclear-armed opponent during a non-nuclear conflict—thereby starting a nuclear war—and the president alone has the authority to order a nuclear launch. 

“Making such a launch more of a possibility, the Trump administration recently built and would like to field a new ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapon with relatively small destructive power that it might consider to be more usable in a crisis than a larger warhead. 

“But that’s not the only scenario we’re worried about. The United States keeps hundreds of nuclear-armed missiles on ‘hair-trigger alert’ so they can be launched in a matter of minutes in response to a warning of an incoming nuclear attack. That creates a risk that the United States would launch a nuclear attack in response to a false warning, starting a nuclear war by mistake. This risk is not theoretical. A number of human and technical errors have occurred in the past, prompting U.S. military officials to initiate steps to launch a counterattack. 

“Recognizing these unacceptable—and unnecessary—risks, city councils, state legislatures, religious organizations and public interest groups across the country have adopted resolutions calling on the United States to change these dangerous policies. These groups include the California and Oregon legislatures; the New Jersey State Assembly; the U.S. Conference of Mayors; and 32 municipalities, including Baltimore, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. 

“The resolutions vary, but they generally call for the United States to make five policy changes:  adopt a policy that it will never use nuclear weapons first, change the policy that gives the president sole authority to order a nuclear attack, remove its nuclear-armed missiles from hair-trigger alert, scale back its plans to replace the entire nuclear arsenal with upgraded weapons, and pursue verifiable international treaties to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. 

“Along with climate change, nuclear war remains an existential threat facing the planet. By changing its own nuclear weapon policies, the United States can reduce the risk that nuclear weapons will ever be used again.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.