Catastrophic harm

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine.


Use, testing and production

Nuclear weapons have been used twice in warfare – on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. More than 210,000 innocent civilians died, while many more suffered acute injuries. Even if a nuclear weapon were never again exploded over a city, there are intolerable effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals that are experienced as an ongoing personal and community catastrophe by many people around the globe. This must inform and motivate efforts to eliminate these weapons.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings
The legacy of nuclear testing
Nuclear weapons production
Diversion of public resources


Immediate and wider effects

Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power and the threat they pose to the environment and human survival. They release vast amounts of energy in the form of blast, heat and radiation. No adequate humanitarian response is possible. In addition to causing tens of millions of immediate deaths, a regional nuclear war involving around 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that more than a billion people would be at risk of famine.

Blast, heat and radiation
Climate disruption and famine
Modelling the effects on cities
No humanitarian response


A humanitarian approach

ICAN believes that discussions about nuclear weapons must focus not on narrow concepts of national security, but on the effects of these weapons on human beings – our health, our societies and the environment on which we all depend for our lives and livelihoods. The processes that led to treaties banning landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008 demonstrated the importance of adopting a humanitarian based discourse. Today we must adopt a similar approach for nuclear weapons.

Outlawing inhumane weapons

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