Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

January 23, 2008

Nuclear proliferation — a wake-up call

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:21 pm

After the success of the international mobilization in the Libya hostage crisis, I’ve been informing myself, through discussions with many people, as to what are the most pressing issues, where change could be made, and influence and impact exercised, by similarly raising awareness among both the public and those well-placed to create change. With US elections this year, and the review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) coming up in 2010 — which in intergovernmental terms is tomorrow — I’ve no doubt as to what is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is nuclear proliferation, and it is a way more complex issue than just Iran or rogue states. And we have a window of opportunity to make progress on it now. The first step is becoming informed; it’s not an easy topic to grasp in all its complexity, but it is well worth it.

I’ve been happy that in this month of January 2008 alone, Nature has dedicated 2 editorials to the topic, and 3 news analyses — it is going to be a topic that you will hear much more about on this blog throughout this year.

Here are the links to the Nature articles from this month:
1. Resurgent nuclear threats
2. Nuclear war: the threat that never went away
3. Nuclear war: the safety paradox
4. Fuel’s paradise
5. Nuclear fuel: keeping it civil

Excerpt of one editorial:

The world faces great risks from nuclear weapons that need to be urgently addressed by political leaders and scientists worldwide. There is now a window of opportunity to do so.

If any reminder was needed of today’s nuclear threat, one need look no further than Pakistan, a country that possesses nuclear warheads, is riddled with Islamic extremism and stands on the brink of chaos. The world needs to ask itself the question posed in 2005 by Sam Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: on the day after a nuclear weapon goes off in one of our cities, what would we wish we had done to prevent it? That question challenges not only politicians but also those scientists who have the expertise and influence to help.

Non-proliferation is a broad and complex issue, but the main imperatives for progress are all too starkly clear: no new nuclear weapons or weapons material; no new nuclear-weapons states; no role for nuclear weapons in foreign policy; and no ‘loose nukes’ — in other words, lock down and secure all existing weapons and stockpiles of weapons-grade material.

The cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was last year taken up by Nunn and three other prominent US statesmen: George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former secretaries of state, and William Perry, a former secretary of defence. These unlikely political bedfellows, some of whom have previously been staunch advocates of nuclear might, have created a manifesto supporting the above four measures and more .

All four statesmen are now convinced that, in the context of current threats, the nuclear arsenals of the five official nuclear-weapons states have become more of a liability than an asset.

The manifesto is both welcome and significant, not least because it represents an America that the world has not seen for too long, and one that could potentially transform international non-proliferation efforts.

Scientists have several critical roles to play. One is simply to be heard, both within government and the forums, but also more publicly, as independent voices — a role whose value was well demonstrated during the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

With US elections this year, and negotiations getting under way for the 2010 review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, now is the time for scientists to make themselves heard.

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