At the multilateral conference negotiating a Global Nuclear Weapons Ban treaty, which started at the United Nations in New York on Monday this week, the diplomatically progressive EU-State, Sweden, called for a reference to the “gendered impact” of nuclear weapons to be incorporated in the preamble of the treaty.
In the words of Sweden’s Disarmament Ambassador, Eva Walder,”
“Furthermore, we would like to see that the treaty recognizes the gender aspects of nuclear issues. We would also like to see references to the ever present danger of use of nuclear weapons by mistake. And finally, there should be references to the enormous waste of resources resulting from the production and modernization of nuclear weapons.”
This concern was raised by the American campaigner and researcher, Mary Olsen*, in an invited presentation she made to a big planning conference , hosted by the fellow diplomatically progressive EU state, Austria, in Vienna, in December 2014.
The United Kingdom, a professed global champion of multilateral nuclear disarmament, has refused to send any diplomatic representation to either conference.. Over 120 other countries, including diplomatically progressive Ireland, have managed to do so.
Below is an edited version of this very important paper.
“The Cold War promised “mutual destruction” of civilian populations; most cities of 100,000
or more people in both the USA and Russia became targets. Vaporizing large numbers of
people is the strategy.
Even a “limited use” with today’s weapons, would result in unavoidable, enduring,
catastrophic damage to our ecologic, economic and public health.
It is my job to give a summary of the medical consequences of using these weapons
A nuclear explosion is composed of three types of energy:
Blast, Heat, and Radiation.
85% of the total energy is the blast and the heat.
Instantaneous radiation is about 5%, and long term persistent radioactivity is about 10%.
My government chose to use the first nuclear weapons on cities full of people.
Five years later, the US initiated a long‐term study of the atomic bomb survivors.
Those researchers assumed that humanitarian and medical aide might “skew the results” of
their study and so medical treatment was not offered to the victims.
The data on radiation that I, and many others, use came from these historical actions.
Most published studies do not acknowledge this. Speaking only as one women, I am deeply
sorry that any of this ever happened.
A nuclear shockwave is somewhat slower than conventional explosives.
Pressure waves form in living tissue;
The body’s lungs and other membranes rupture.
Internal bleeding and embolisms cause immediate death.
At Ground Zero the temperatures are as hot as the surface of the sun (3,800 degrees C)
The updraft from the heat creates winds up to 88 kilometer per hour, leveling everything in
The immediate updraft of the mushroom cloud carries particulate high in the atmosphere.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have published a number of
papers on the climate impacts of even an limited nuclear war. The most recent of which
projects a staggering 2 billion deaths likely from what is now called Nuclear Famine.
Radiation is invisible. However we can see the impact that radiation has on our cells and
the damage it can do. These chromosomes were broken by ionizing radiation. Some have
rejoined in a way that is not normal. These dicentric chromosomal aberrations can be used
to assess radiation exposure, but they also cause cells to malfunction.
Radiation impacts our cells.
When reproductive cells are harmed, deformations are one outcome.
We also suffer:
· Loss of fertility due to abnormal egg or sperm, spontaneous abortion and
· Possible heritable mutations;
· Avoidance of reproduction due to uncertainty.
When energy in the form of a gamma or X‐ray, or a moving particle hits the genetic
material inside a living cell, the damage may lead to an abnormal cell. Typically there is a
period of time (latency period) of years or even decades before the damaged cell divides. A
cancer results from out‐of‐control division of abnormal cells.
One of the challenges of the longer term impacts of exposure to ionizing radiation is
uncertainty. There is no way to predict which exposure will result in an abnormal cell. Our
bodies have repair mechanisms that fix a lot of damage, but these are not perfect. In
general, the more radiation the higher the risk of a malignancy, but there is no way to know
for sure. Even an exposure too small to measure could, sometimes result in death.
This makes radiation exposure a source of uncertainty in people’s lives as well.
It has been long understood that radiation is more harmful to children and most harmful to
the developing embryo and fetus.
Children’s bodies are small; so the same amount of radiation delivers a larger dose.
Since children are growing, the cells in their bodies are dividing more rapidly. The DNA in
cells is most likely to be damaged when in cell division.
The children who between the ages of birth and 5 years old in August 1945 and survived in
Hiroshima or in Nagasaki, were put together as a group called a “cohort.”
This, and other age cohorts were tracked in the long‐term survivor study.
The 0‐5 year cohort had the highest risk of getting cancer at some point in their lives.
Girls in this group were twice as likely to get cancer at some point than were boys.
For every two males in this group who suffered cancer at some point in their lives, four
females got cancer.
This disproportionate impact is derived from the data BEIR VII report. Dr. Arjun Makhijani
independently published a paper and began a campaign in 2006 to change radiation
standards to protect the most vulnerable called “Healthy from the Start.” The BEIR VII
report is silent on gender as a factor in cancer risk. People have a right to know about this.
Makhijani, 2005 started the Healthy from the Start Campaign to address disproportionate
impact of ionizing radiation on young females.
It is extremely important to understand that little girls are not a “sub‐population.”
She is not a subpopulation, she is part of the human lifecycle.
Among survivors who were adults at the time of the atomic bombing there is still a gender
difference. When exposed to acute radiation as adults, over their remaining lifetime
women suffer 50% more fatal cancer than will men in the same group.
For every 2 men in these cohorts who die of cancer, three women will die of cancer.
When we breathe, eat and drink radioactive contamination, the radioactivity is released as particles and energy inside our body:
The Local Dose to the immediate surrounding cells may be very high
Alpha particle emissions inside the body may damage cells and cell structures
1000 times more than an external gamma or X‐ray
Damage from internal exposures may be qualitatively different than a purely
An internal dose of radioactivity may be so local in impact that there is “no”
dose to the whole body; nonetheless, cancer may result.
For our Earth, time moves slow. For Earth, the time since the first nuclear weapon is very
very short – not even a blink.
The future is in our hands.
I want to thank this community for moving this discussion forward.
Mary Olson, senior radioactive waste specialist and former south east US co-ordinator for the Washington DC-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS ) in the United States on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons and Radiation Risks for Women and Girls (https://www.nirs.org/mary-olson-nirs-medical-consequences-using-nuclear-weapons-radiation-risks-women-girls/)
Olson, 2011. NIRS Briefing Paper: “Atomic Radiation is more harmful to women.” posted:
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War:
“From Hiroshima to Mutual Assured Destruction to Abolition 2000.” Lachlan Forrow, MD;Victor W. Sidel, MD; reprinted from the Journal of the American Medical Association,
August 5, 1998; Vol 280, No 5, pages 456—461.
European Leadership Network: 2014. Ambassador A. Kmentt.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GENDER AND GLOBAL GOALS
United Nations Disarmament Institute (UNIDIR)
‘Civil society statement on gender and disarmament”
UN General Assembly First Committee, New York, 16 October 2015’: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/resources/statements/10407-statement-on-gender-and-disarmament-to-the-un-general-assembly-first-committee
The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki :
Chapter 18 ‐ Characteristics of the Injuries to Persons
(“This report has been compiled by the Manhattan Engineer District of the United States
Army under the direction of Major General Leslie R. Groves.”) circa 1945
Ira Helfand, IPPNW, “Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion People at Risk: Global Impacts of Limited
Nuclear War on agriculture, food supplies and Human Nutrition,” second edition, 2013.
Steven Starr, Senior Research Scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility has compiled
many references on “Nuclear Darkness”