Bringing nuclear risks back into the popular imagination

#GS1 #History #Science&Technology


‘Little Boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This was followed three days later by the dropping of ‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki. The two nuclear bombs vaporized around 150,000 people who were going about their morning business; 130,000 others succumbed to burns, radiation sickness, and other ailments that the collapsed health system could not treat.

Risk of nuclear bombs 

  • Among the risks of a nuclear use, the highest likelihood is that of inadvertent escalation due to miscalculation or misperceptions. It is less likely that adversaries will launch pre-meditated, deliberate nuclear attacks because each understands that a splendid first strike is impossible and that nuclear retaliation cannot be escaped.
  • Studies indicate that the use of even a fraction of the weapons held in medium-sized arsenals would cause a massive human tragedy and have long-term repercussions for food and water availability, agricultural output, climate change, migration, etc.

How can there be an unintended use of nuclear weapons?

  • Possibilities of unintended use are exacerbated by many factors: stressed inter-state relations, unchecked strategic modernization as arms control arrangements wither and nations hedge against each other; adoption of nuclear postures that peddle the benefits of ‘limited’ nuclear war; and emergent technologies creating new anxieties.
  • Advancing capabilities of cyberattacks on nuclear command and control, blurring lines between conventional and nuclear delivery, induction of hypersonic missiles capable of high speed and maneuverability, incorporation of artificial intelligence in nuclear decision making are new developments that threaten to create unknown risks.
  • As capabilities grow and inter-state trust diminishes, chances of stumbling into nuclear war are not insignificant.


  • General awareness of the horrors accompanying nuclear weapons needs to be revived since a high level of public apathy and political complacency have brought us to the threshold where the risks remain high but the desire to address them is low.
  • In fact, one does not see a shared desire for nuclear risk reduction among nuclear-armed states. Drunk on their faith in deterrence, there is a tendency to use strategies of nuclear brinkmanship and ambiguity that actually add to the risks.
  • There is also a display of confidence in being able to manage and control risks. However, umpteen war games have shown that it is impossible to calculatedly climb the escalation ladder. Any nuclear use between nuclear adversaries would cause a humanitarian disaster.

Way forward 

  • In order to get nations to understand this, it is necessary to expose leaders and societies to the full range of physical, economic, social, political, health, environmental, and psychological effects of nuclear weapons. This could be most effectively done through use of popular media.
  • Just as the fight against COVID-19 is being won through global high-intensity information dissemination about various facets of this highly contagious disease, a similar information campaign about the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is needed.
  • This will help on three counts: compel leaders to rationalize their weapon requirements; force nations to find ways of reducing nuclear risks; and gradually pave the path towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.


  • Recalling the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through events all year round on its 75th anniversary is an opportunity to bring nuclear risks back into popular imagination and into the political agenda. Creative media can help by tapping available modern means of mass communication to create stories with identifiable characters and situations that tug at the heart and instill larger respect for humanity.


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