Best of 2021: Emerging experts on nuclear risks and climate change

By Dawn Stover | December 31, 2021

Artist's concept shows future ICBM blasting into skyArtist's concept of the next generation of US land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, initially known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and now dubbed Sentinel. Credit: Northrop Grumman

While politicians continue to bicker over President Biden’s proposed spending for social and climate programs, Congress passed a $768 billion defense spending package with rare and overwhelming bipartisan support on December 15. That was about $24 billion more than the president had requested.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act includes nearly $28 billion for nuclear weapons activities. Of that total, $2.6 billion will go to the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles being developed for the Air Force by Northrop Grumman.

Some lawmakers tried to put the missile-replacement program on hold. Opponents say the program is not only unnecessary—because air- and submarine-launched weapons make land-based missiles redundant—but also the most dangerous leg of the nuclear “triad.” The use-it-or-lose-it nature of land-based missiles increases the risk that they might be launched in response to a false alarm.

Experts have raised these criticisms before, but Noah Mayhew, a research associate at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, went a step further. When he called intercontinental ballistic missiles “ridiculous” in a Bulletin piece selected as this year’s Leonard M. Rieser Award winner, he was speaking for a younger, cash-strapped generation baffled by their government’s spending choices.

That piece is one of several 2021 standouts in the “Voices of Tomorrow” section of the Bulletin. Other emerging experts wrote about the legality of “low-yield” nuclear weapons, reparations for radiation exposure from nuclear weapons testing, the case for a Blue New Deal that recognizes the ocean as a key part of any climate strategy, and how to carve out a career at the intersection of art and nuclear policy.

To enhance national security, the Biden administration will have to trim an exorbitant defense wish list

Here’s a sampling of fresh voices from the past year in the Bulletin:

A millennial’s view: ICBMs are ridiculous

By Noah C. Mayhew

In this critique of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a young nuclear policy analyst urges US lawmakers to invest in his generation by prioritizing higher education, health care, climate action, and nuclear governance over spending on a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Do tactical nukes break international law?

By Jaroslav Krasny

In this thoughtful analysis, a rising expert on the long-term health impacts of weapons of mass destruction argues that even the limited use of low-yield nuclear weapons would violate the customary law of armed conflict and inflict unnecessary injury.

Youth advocate: News reports on climate change often neglect an essential component—the ocean

By Mark Haver

When two “thousand-year” floods inundated his hometown within a two-year period, the author got involved in efforts to raise awareness of how climate change is degrading the ocean and affecting coastal communities. He explains why his group of early-career ocean professionals, the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, believes the Green New Deal—which only mentions oceans once—must be broadened to include blue as well as green.

Nuclear power won’t fix Iraq’s energy crisis

By Nils Holst

In this essay, the author analyzes oil-rich Iraq’s plan to spend $40 billion on eight nuclear reactors for civilian energy production. Mired in an energy crisis, with $4 billion in unpaid utility bills owed to Iran, Iraq would do better to invest in infrastructure projects and renewable energy than in nuclear power, the author argues.

Video: Why you should be more worried about kelp

French report grapples with nuclear fallout from Algerian War

By Austin R. Cooper

This author, who is writing his dissertation on the international controversy over France’s former nuclear weapons testing program in the Algerian Sahara, takes readers on a quick tour of the history leading up to the Stora Report filed earlier this year—a French effort aimed at reconciliation with Algeria. He commends the report for acknowledging nuclear fallout but finds it lacking in practical steps France should take to make it easier for Algerians affected by fallout to receive compensation.

Why choose a career in art over nuclear policy? The money

By Molly Hurley

A young author working in nuclear policy wonders whether it might be more lucrative to instead pursue a career as an artist—which may not require as much investment in higher education, has more funding support, and seems to matter more to most people than nuclear weapons do. Her essay, accompanied by some of her artwork, explores the possibility of combining the visual arts with nuclear policy.

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