The second major threat on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ list is nuclear. The Bulletin breaks it down into two pieces:
Nuclear modernization programs threaten to create a new arms race… [and] leadership failure on nuclear power.
Not only has the pace of disarmament slowed in both the US and Russia, all “nuclear weapons states” are currently pursuing large scale modernization of nuclear armaments, including the US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.
Keeping in mind that relations between the US and Russia and the US and North Korea have been strained and South Asia is far from stable, we find ourselves in a situation where, not only are there more warheads deployed, but the political climate seems more volatile and therefore potentially more predisposed to their use.
Although nuclear power can seem a sensible alternative to the carbon emissions associated with the use of fossil fuels, and thus a sensible way to help alleviate some of the problems associated with climate change (threat number 1 on the B.A.S. list), it carries with it a number of serious challenges, including “cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation risk.” And to date, we haven’t had such a great track record with any of it.
Nuclear power plants at Chalk River, Windscale Piles, Kyshtym, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima all had serious accidents.There have also been issues with waste management, at Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) in 2011 when the Las Conchas fire threatened both nearby waste storage and the lab itself, and again in 2014 when one drum from a batch of waste that was unsafe for shipping to their Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the Southern New Mexico desert was hastily treated and subsequently cracked open, leaking radiation into the air, putting the entire storage at risk of explosion, and stranding thousands of containers of nuclear waste at labs across the country.
Which brings us to the question at hand: Given the current threats, what, if anything, can we do to prepare for nuclear disaster?
Ready.gov has the usual prepping lists for what to do before a nuclear event.
- Build an emergency supply kit
- Make a Family Emergency plan
- Ask local officials if there are any blast or fallout shelters in your community
- Research alternative shelter options in the event that none exist locally, they are too distant, or as a backup in case you are unable to reach on in the event of an emergency
It also has information about what to do during and after, including the note that depending on the proximity and size of the blast or leak, survivors “in areas with highest radiation levels [may need] to shelter [in place] for up to a month.” What it doesn’t mention is what happens to animals, crops, local food supplies, water supplies or other important resources.
So even if we survive the blast and the immediate radiation threat to our health, our prospects could still be grim. Which means our best bet, as with climate change, is to do everything we can to cajole, beg, or otherwise inspire our governments–local, national, and global–to disarm all of our nuclear investments, both weapons and power.