Nuclear weapons are explosive devices that create a destructive force due to the fission or fusion reactions it creates upon detonation. There are several names for this technology, including atom bombs, nukes, a-bombs, and nuclear warheads, but it all works to describe the same technology.
There have only been two times when nuclear weapons were deployed in war. Both of the incidents were initiated by the United States against Japan near the end of World War II. On August 6, 1945, the Army Air Forces detonated a fission bomb that was nicknamed Little Boy over the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, the implosion-type Fat Man was detonated over the city of Nagasaki. These two incidents caused injuries that resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 civilians and military personnel, along with several Americans and Allied troops in the area.
Since these two wartime incidents, there have been over 2,000 detonations of nuclear weapons for demonstration and testing purposes. Despite this high number, only a few countries possess these weapons or are suspected of seeking them. South Africa is the only country on the planet to have independently developed this technology and then renounced and dismantled what they created.
List of the Advantages of Nuclear Weapons
1. It reinforces the idea of nationalism from a border-based perspective.
The reality of human existence is that people tend to go toward the areas of the planet where the most resources are available. This pattern of behavior dates all of the way back to the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. When governments take action to defend their borders, then they are creating a method of organization that allows for the effective distribution of needed items to their citizens and the world beyond.
Even though a borderless world seems like it could be an excellent idea, borders create an environment where cooperation between cultures becomes a requirement for survival. It forces us to develop an approach that seeks diplomacy first instead of launching missiles whenever someone does something that isn’t liked.
2. Nuclear weapons do serve as a deterrent to a global conflict.
One of the primary reasons why there hasn’t been another global war since the 1940s is because of the presence of nuclear weapons. Only a handful of countries possess or share this technology with others, and most nations that do have access to this technology have fewer than 100 weapons. The destructive capabilities in the hands of the military were put on full display over Japan at the end of World War II, and no one wants to go through something like that again. The threat of being over-powered or having mutually-assured destruction is enough to prevent the world’s superpowers from escalating a conflict to the point that a military confrontation becomes necessary.
3. This technology creates a bargaining chip for countries that need it.
Israel is believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons, but their government does not officially report this status. North Korea has independently developed this technology since then end of the Korean War, giving it a seat at the negotiation table to the point that President Donald Trump has visited with the leadership of the country on multiple occasions. The threat of devastation from this tech is so great that it forces other nations to listen to what the other has to say. Since there is a desire to avoid the outcomes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is not unusual for concessions to be made to those with the greatest power.
4. Nuclear weapons reduce the threat to a country’s military forces.
Today’s nuclear weapons have the ability to fly over 1,000 miles to strike a target with precision. Even the nations with “subpar” technology in this area, such as North Korea, can fly their missiles are enough to impact the sovereignty of another nation. The Skyfall project in Russia presents the idea of equipping a small nuclear reactor to a missile so that it can operate almost indefinitely. Because the deployment of these weapons can occur remotely, there is less of a threat of casualties or loss if an order comes through to launch. It’s not like the 1940s when bombers carried the weapons with an entire flight crew.
5. Governments can position nuclear weapons to a variety of launch locations.
Portable launch vehicles make it possible to locate nuclear weapons at almost any point on land. Government installations allow for underground storage and launch capabilities at numerous development sites across their country. Naval tech, including submarines, can support this firepower as well.
Nuclear weapons provide just as much flexibility as their conventional counterparts with this support technology. One can even drop them from a bomber as they did in the 1940s if that is preferred or issue a remote command. This versatility is a definite advantage when considering the overall scope of what this tech can do.
6. Nuclear weapons helped us to create new technologies in other sectors.
Even though the destructive power of nuclear weapons is well known, the concepts of fission and fusion have helped us to develop a variety of technologies over the year in several different industries. Approximately 10% of the electricity the world uses every year comes from nuclear reactors. Medical practices that use nuclear techniques can help to diagnose and treat diseases when conventional options may not be available or useful. We use nuclear engines on naval craft, and we are exploring this option for space travel as well.
Many people around the world are using the power of nuclear technology to read this content right now. The idea of using it as a weapon may be incomprehensible, but it at least allows us to do good things for the human race too.
7. The reliability of nuclear weapons is one of its greatest attributes.
Nuclear fission can operate for up to three years without disruption, which is why it is such a useful option for power generation. When we use the refinement processes with nuclear weapons, this advantage presents itself as well. You can install a missile on a delivery platform, and then have it ready to launch for years on standby mode with a minimum amount of maintenance. It is a technology that increases the readiness factor of a government and its protective capacity while still reducing the threat of war because of the principles of mutually assured destruction.
List of the Disadvantages of Nuclear Weapons
1. There will always be moral and ethical debates about the use of nuclear weapons.
We can point to the two cities in Japan that experienced a direct detonation to speak to this advantage. The mass loss of civilian life from nuclear weapons would go far beyond what any mass shooter in the United States would create.
We must also look at the more than 2,000 test explosions that researchers generated in their quest to develop this technology. The primary human-made contribution to the exposure of the world’s population to radiation has come from testing these weapons in the atmosphere from 145-1980. Each test resulted in the unrestrained release into the environment of radioactive materials that dispersed and deposited everywhere on the planet.
2. Nuclear weapon detonations are directly connected to cancer development.
Ionizing radiation is a scientifically-proven carcinogen in humans. It is directly linked to most forms of leukemia, thyroid cancer, and cancers in the breast and lungs. The time that can elapse between the exposure to the radiation and the development of a malignancy can be anywhere between 10-40 years. When we look at the degrees of exposure that scientists thought were tolerable in the 1950s, it is clear to see that they were unsafe – and that position is now backed by international recognition of what nuclear weapons can cause.
3. There are direct costs attributed to a government’s nuclear weapons program.
The United States spends about $35 billion every year to build, upgrade, operate, and maintain the nuclear weapons stockpile it owns. Figures from Russia where there are a similar number of weapons are about equal. Even third-party estimates of the expense to maintain an entire portfolio of these explosive devices place the expense at $25 billion or higher. That means we could take the money that we spend on these destructive devices, switch it to food development, and cure global hunger overnight with that amount of money.
The figures in this disadvantage don’t include the potential medical costs of over 2.7 million people who may develop cancer over the years because of the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.
4. Nuclear weapons devastate the environment.
The United States tested a massive hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in 1954. It’s more than 65 years later, but this location in the Marshall Islands chain is still not livable. Some of the exiled families say that they are too fearful ever to go back. The U.S. government declared that it was safe to resettle some residents in the 1970s, but they were removed in 1978 after officials discovered that the foods grown on the island contained high levels of radiation. The Nuclear Claims Tribunal has awarded more than $2 billion in land damage and personal injury claims over the years, but it has stopped paying since its compensation fund is entirely exhausted.
There was a total of 67 tests conducted on the Marshall Islands, with the last one occurring in 1958. A 2012 report from the United Nations found that the conditions there are still not livable. This devastation means that the land around a test site or detonation event remains unusable unless there is a targeted and expensive cleanup effort that takes place.
5. The use of nuclear weapons creates a significant threat of terrorism.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative works to create a better world from Washington, D.C. by working to prevent terrorism with these harmful weapons. The number of countries that are storing the dangerous materials that could lead to atomic weaponization has decreased from 52 in 1992 to a little over 30 today. Terrorist organizations now have easier access to the materials and knowledge needed to build these weapons as well. Some have even declared their intent to seek the necessary materials to create mass destruction.
If we have nuclear weapons, then we will always have the threat of loss that terrorism could provide. In February 2003 in Tennessee, the final testing of a new saltless uranium processing method created a small explosion and fire. Several incidents that date to the 1940s involve missiles exploding, bombs being accidentally dropped, and similar incidents where it would be possible for a terrorist organization to get their hands on this material if they were to act quickly enough.
6. The development of nuclear weapons creates hazardous waste.
There are more than 14,000 metric tons of nuclear waste managed in the United States because of the presence of nuclear weapons. Washington State, at the Hanford Site, once at five plutonium processors and nine nuclear reactors operating simultaneously to produce over 60,000 weapons for the American arsenal. The hazardous waste from these activities is still in storage there in almost 200 tanks, where the threat of a leak can still create health problems for workers more than 50 years later.
The United States does not have a nuclear waste repository where the materials can be safely stored. That means that local storage takes place, requiring extensive management techniques that can create its own set of problems in the future.
7. Degraded delivery systems can cause a nuclear weapon to fail.
The storage time for a nuclear weapon may not cause it to degrade as much as conventional devices, but the delivery systems for them to not contain the same advantages. It is possible for the detonation to fail in a variety of ways because the supportive tech does not have the same lifespan benefits. The American stock of intercontinental ballistic missiles is expected to remain in service until at least the year 2032, while naval-based installations on submarines have an additional decade of protective support. Once those deadlines are reached, then the deterrent power of the tech will not have the same impact that it does today.
8. We create nuclear weapons from non-renewable resources.
We typically create nuclear weapons from uranium or plutonium, which are both radioactive elements that we harvest from the planet. A third option, called thorium, can come from the waste of nuclear reactors. If we were to transition all of the energy potentials from these destructive devices to provide an emissions-free result, there would still be the risk of a meltdown or reactor explosion that could adversely impact the planet in a variety of ways.
Since the half-life of the radiation produced by some of these technologies can be as much as 5,000 years, the problems that we create today are going to be an issue for future generations long after anyone who reads this content is forgotten.
9. It requires a specific skill set to develop or maintain nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons have the capability of remote use, but it requires a skilled workforce to pull the trigger on this advantage. Engineers and scientists are necessary to ensure the viability of this technology throughout its lifetime. Military personnel can be trained to launch, operate, or direct the explosives, but they are not typically responsible for the upkeep work that they require. If the people who know how to manage this tech were to disappear for any reason, in any country, then there would be a significant increase in risk for that region and the rest of the world.
10. We are still dealing with the after-effects of nuclear weapons testing.
The United States is responsible for over 50% of the total nuclear weapons tests that have taken place since the 1940s. This fact persists even though the American government last tested this technology in 1992. One example from this disadvantage comes from Project Rulison, which was an underground 40-kiloton nuclear test project that took place between the small towns of Rifle and Parachute in Colorado.
This project is unique because the goal was to study the impact of a nuclear weapon for the release of energy resources. The work found that it could liberate high levels of natural gas, but it also contaminated the fuel so that it was unsuitable for heating homes or cooking with it. A bugger zone is still in place around the site.
The issue with mutually-assured destruction is that it always leaves a lingering threat to the general population. If two superpowers decide to trade launches, such as Russia and the United States, then there would be global consequences to that decision. The life of a single human is more valuable than all of the nuclear weapons in stockpiles around the globe right now.
When we look at the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear weapons, the idea of a threat deterrent is not genuine peace. It is a race to create something bigger or more defensive in an arms battle that never seems to end. The use of significant conventional weapons without the threat of radiation exposure and the severe loss of civilian life could accomplish a similar goal.
Nuclear weapons are here to stay as a threat. We might not think about the idea of a missile falling from the sky every day, but history does teach us that we must continue to be vigilant about protecting ourselves and our families from the dangers these weapons create.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.