Research Fellow, Nuclear Weapons Policy, International Security Department
Research Director, International Security
Sasan AghlaniFormer Consultant, International Security Department, Chatham House

The long and continuing history of nuclear weapons testing has much to teach researchers, humanitarian organizations, international bodies and governments about how best to address the effects of nuclear weapons use and develop appropriate policies for prevention.

Aboriginal elder Eileen Kampakuta Brown, joint winner of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for her struggle to stop construction of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia. Photo: Getty Images.Aboriginal elder Eileen Kampakuta Brown, joint winner of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for her struggle to stop construction of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • Entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) would be an important step for implementation of the commitments of all parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The run-up to the 2020 NPT review conference over the next three years will be a critical time for the NPT and CTBT, and for other measures aimed at halting nuclear proliferation and bringing about global nuclear disarmament. 2020 will be the 50th anniversary of the NPT and the 25th anniversary of its indefinite extension. Frustration that progress on nuclear disarmament has been so slow despite states’ commitments is threatening to destabilize the international nuclear order.
  • Nuclear weapons tests have had severe impacts on public health and the environment, also affecting cultural heritage, food security, water security, indigenous peoples and local communities, and creating long-term problems such as land confiscation and population displacement.
  • Scenario-based research covering different regions of the world (Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific region and South Asia) based on the experiences of nuclear testing reveals varying levels of preparedness for responding to a nuclear detonation, whether deliberate or accidental, due to a varying awareness of the challenges a detonation would create. The research also shows an uneven understanding of states’ responsibilities for ensuring the safety and security of their populations in the event of a nuclear explosion.
  • There are some similarities between Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific region and South Asia – and between countries within these regions – in terms of who is responsible for assisting populations following nuclear weapons explosions, nuclear tests or nuclear accidents.
  • However, sharp differences also exist between states, and between regions, in terms of institutional awareness, roles and expectations in civil society. The humanitarian community and civil society organizations in developing countries, for instance, have greater confidence in the ability of military forces to respond to a nuclear catastrophe than do their counterparts in European countries.
  • The long and continuing history of nuclear weapons testing has much to teach researchers, humanitarian organizations, international bodies and governments about how best to address the effects of nuclear weapons use and develop appropriate policies for prevention – whether through incremental steps or by complete prohibition.