October 9, 2009
Today's announcement that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to seek the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons will help bring needed attention to this critical issue. But, without greater public support for change, he will face immense obstacles. Thus, each of us has an equally important role in fostering public understanding of the risks inherent in business as usual. To help in that effort, I have developed several ways to communicate the risk that nuclear weapons pose:
Even under the optimistic assumption that nuclear deterrence can be expected to work for a thousand years before failing:
- a child born today would have roughly a 10% chance of not living out his or her natural life;
- the risk would be equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants;
- the risk would be equivalent to sky diving twice a week, but with the whole world in the harness;
- nuclear war would be the third most probable cause of death for a child born today.
If, instead, we expect nuclear deterrence to work for a hundred years before failing:
- a child born today would have less than a 50% chance of living out his or her natural life;
- the risk would be equivalent to having your home surrounded by tens of thousands of nuclear power plants;
- the risk would be equivalent to sky diving three times every day, but with the whole world in the harness;
- nuclear war would be the most probable cause of death for a child born today, exceeding even the risk heart disease several times over.
If each of us will take an active role in waking society from its slumber, we can reduce this horrendous level of risk. I hope you find these analogies helpful in doing that.
NOTE: In response to some people asking for details on the above analogies, I created a page with explanations.
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering
HOW YOU CAN HELP: To create greater public awareness of this critical issue, please forward this email to friends who might be interested and encourage them to sign up for future updates via the JOIN US box at http://nuclearrisk.org/. (It's to the left on this archived page.)
A number of people expressed interest in knowing where the numbers in this email came from, so I've developed a page to explain them.
We recently posted a short video (just 97 seconds) graphically portraying the risk. Check it out and leave a comment.
If you haven't yet read "Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons," it explains why we need to pay attention to issues before they have the potential to become full blown crises.
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