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For those students who have never attended the NPT review conference, I would like to first give a snapshot of what the experience–or at least the first couple of days–is like. First, you queue…for hours. We waited outside in a line with visitors and other NGO representatives. Unfortunately there were only two people working at the registration on day 1, and this inside line inside was even worse – perhaps spending five minutes on each person, and well, with, say, 75 people in front of you…and you can do the math. The NGO representatives flit between the North Lawn building where a room was reserved specifically for them, and the general assembly. By contrast, the general assembly takes place in the main building, with balcony seating from which one can view the delegates and speakers below. Each morning at 8, and I’ve heard this is a tradition at the NPT review conferences, an abolition caucus meets and reviews and discusses the past day’s events, suggesting forming committees to address specific issues.
The UN General Assembly
In the past two days of the NPT review conference, there have been three major recurrent themes addressed by the NGOs and those in the general assembly (from my experience). The first, not surprisingly perhaps, is the idea of a nuclear weapons convention (NWC). Tim Wright of ICAN presented a model NWC in a workshop in the North Lawn building yesterday, and it was emphasized that such a model serves as a template or suggestion only, to prove that one can be written. Some arguments against such a NWC are that it may compete with the NPT, whereas it may be obvious to us in the disarmament community that the two are complementary. Some have claimed that the nuclear weapons industry is really the one competing with the NWC, however. Egypt, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mongolia, Tunisia, Kenya and Colombia have all come out in support of a NWC.
As an aside, in this session one responded to the idea that the nuclear weapons complex must be preserved to dismantle the weapons, an idea which has been promoted in the US. She responded that we don’t need a huge infrastructure to dismantle the weapons, and in fact, all that was needed was a large vat of molasses to gunk up the inner workings of each weapon.
Tim Wright of ICAN in Room A of the North Lawn building
The other theme I have come across is the promotion of nuclear energy. Ahmadinejad, Clinton, and others have come out in support of nuclear energy in recent days. In addition, so have representatives from South Africa, Kuwait, Slovenia, Tunisia and Mongolia, to name a few. Over and over, I have heard the phrase “the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” In fact, the permanent representative of Tunisia claimed that we need, not choose, nuclear energy because of financial constraints. It is apparently seen as an engine of development, leading to prosperity, but as addressed by the representative of Slovenia, it comes hand in hand with increased proliferation risks. However, as the ambassador from Kuwait quoted Einstein, “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking.” One might wonder what role nuclear energy industry plays in encouraging the pro-nuclear energy sentiments expressed by nearly everyone but the NGOs, who for obvious reasons oppose it.
The third theme, expressed strongly by different countries’ representatives is the inherent hypocrisy of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Dr. Yamazaki after his talk
On another note, IPPNW held a specifically relevant session entitled “Expert briefing on the medical and environmental consequences of nuclear war.” Amongst other presentations, Dr. James Yamazaki, the lead physician of the US Atomic Bomb Medical Team, spoke to the medical consequences of the atomic blasts from his studies and experience. The effects of nuclear war were covered: reduction of temperatures to the lowest levels in 1000 years, shortening of growing seasons at midlatitudes, a reduction of rainfall in topic zones, and the destruction of the ozone levels. Dr. Ira Helfand spoke about the famine that would result from even a limited nuclear war, and the effects of a 20 megaton bomb in NYC. He relayed that this model is unlikely today. More likely, 15 or 20 half ton bombs would be used in an attack, but the destruction would be spread out much more efficiently, causing an even greater catastrophe with less total tonnage. Professor O. B. Toom also addressed the reduction of global temperatures to ice age conditions and the reduction of global precipitation by 50%. Steven Starr followed up by, amongst other topics, addressing a NWC. During the ensuing discussing, Dr. Ira Helfand used the example of the recent oil spill as an example of failure of a “failsafe” system. He also talked about the potential on someone hacking into the system and creating an unauthorized launch. Finally, the topic of the economics of the weapons industry was raised.