The Myth of Nuclear Safety

In memory of the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda acknowledged that his government had failed by believing in “a myth of safety” about nuclear power. Before an even worse tragedy befalls us, we need to disabuse society of a similarly dangerous myth regarding the safety afforded by nuclear weapons. Political and military leaders, routinely talk of maintaining a safe, secure nuclear arsenal, as if just uttering those words makes it so. 

As one example, consider President Obama’s famous 2009 Prague speech in which he committed America “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He goes on to say, “I’m not naive. … As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.” (emphasis added)

How safe is it to threaten to destroy civilization in order to achieve much less important national objectives? If you agree that the myth of nuclear safety might apply to nuclear weapons as well as Fukushima, please sign my petition asking Congress to authorize a risk analysis of nuclear deterrence, and encourage friends to do the same. Let’s not make the same mistake twice, with even more horrific consequences.

Thank you.

Martin Hellman

For further reading: My blog post of last February explains how “safe” has a different meaning within the nuclear weapons industry from its usual connotation. For a more detailed argument in favor of Congress authorizing a risk analysis of nuclear deterrence, see my paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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