Panel of experts discusses nuclear threats, potential ‘doomsday’

Kristen Tamsil/Staff

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A discussion on nuclear dangers was cosponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, or NTI, UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Policy Working Group, the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium and the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering on Feb. 27.

The discussion featured a panel that included former governor of California and NTI board member Jerry Brown, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Executive Director of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium Bethany Goldblum.

NTI is a nonprofit organization that works to prevent attacks from nuclear weapons and other global threats, according to its website.  

The discussion touched on topics including how imminent a nuclear exchange could be, as well as potential actions and policies to bring awareness to and address nuclear threats.

The event opened with a discussion of the Doomsday Clock, a device created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to convey the threat of a man-made catastrophe by reporting a prediction of how many “minutes” there are until “midnight,” or doomsday, according to its website. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists placed the clock at 100 seconds to midnight for this year.

“The clock position closer to midnight and the kind of urgency in the conversation presented with the Nuclear Threat Initiative really is reflective of the current climate,” Goldblum said.

Brown said no other issue is as “big” as nuclear danger, including climate change. He explained that the effects of a nuclear war would be immediate and completely catastrophic.

Moniz said during the discussion that the public should be aware of the possibility of a doomsday. He added that constituents should ask presidential candidates about their approach to nuclear dangers.

Brown also emphasized the need for communication between Russia and the United States.

“The U.S. and Russia need to communicate at many levels – presidential, diplomatic, military, intelligence, parliamentary, university,” Brown said. “There needs to be an upwelling of dialogue to overcome the silence and the gap between Russia and the United States.”

Each panelist discussed possible solutions to prevent nuclear dangers and a nuclear exchange. Goldblum spoke about several solutions that she has been working on and supporting, including portable monitors and monitoring tools that could be used to ensure that nations are abiding by nuclear arms agreements.

Moniz said during the discussion that there has not been sufficient work conducted on the threat of nuclear dangers, especially regarding negotiations between countries. He added that it will take a lot of work to properly address the issue and that young people in particular need to participate.

The panel also discussed the importance of education and engagement around the issue. Moniz encouraged attendees to educate others about potential nuclear threats.

The audience had opportunities throughout the event to participate in the discussion by answering questions in an online poll and engaging with the panelists.

One audience member was Takashi Tanemori, who said he was a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima bombing. Tanemori said experts may be sincere in their efforts but have never been to Hiroshima and therefore don’t “take the issue to heart.”

Tanemori detailed his experience with the bombing. Tanemori said he was within a mile of the explosion and the results of the bombing made him angry because his father died shortly after.

“I think the fact that people came, they listened, they participated, that is, I have to say, almost radical,” Brown said. “There is a conspiracy of silence to never talk about this issue and that silence was broken last night and the many elements of the nuclear danger were discussed.”

Gigi Nibbelink contributed to this report.

Contact Robson Swift at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.