A price too high: Rethinking nuclear weapons in light of their human cost via International Review of the Red Cross (IRRC)

A price too high: Rethinking nuclear weapons in light of their human cost

The e-briefing you are about to enter shows the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. These consequences have been known to the world since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Yet for many, a full appreciation of the effects of nuclear weapons in humanitarian terms has faded.

Paradoxically, we know more than ever before about the impact that even a limited nuclear war would have on people and the environment. We also know, thanks to studies conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations, that there is a lack of a humanitarian response capacity in most countries and at the international level if nuclear weapons were ever to be used again. In the e-briefing, you will view photographs and panoramics of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombings and read the testimony of victims who survived.


The Manhattan project: Making the atomic bomb

In the summer of 1939, six months after the discovery of the uranium fission and amid growing concerns of Nazi Germany working on developing an atomic bomb, a Hungarian-born physicist, Szilárd Leó , drafted a letter that was signed by Albert Einstein and sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposing the establishment of a research programme whose aim would be to develop the world’s first atomic bomb.


Ultimately, the scientific success of the Manhattan project led to a human disaster of unfathomable proportions. Less than a month after the Trinity test, on August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The explosion, which had the force of more than 15 kilotons (15,000 tons of TNT), completely devastated 11.4 square km of the heart of this city of 343,000 inhabitants. Of this number some 70,000 were killed immediately, and by the end of the year the death toll had surpassed 100,000.

Three days later on August 9, 1945, a second bomb nicknamed Fat Boy, was dropped on Nagasaki producing a blast equal to 21 kilotons or 21,000 tons of TNT. The terrain and smaller size of Nagasaki prevented greater destruction of life and property, but 39,000 persons were killed and 25,000 injured nonetheless; about 40 percent of the city’s structures were destroyed or seriously damaged.

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