An exploration of informed risks and responses related to nuclear weapons with consideration of the global to local implications
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Context: Recent rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons has reignited concern from global to local levels. Consequently, conversation has gained traction as real and perceived tension between nuclear states has escalated. This study aims to explore the humanitarian and health risks associated with nuclear weapons. Methods: Qualitative data was gathered through eleven in-depth interviews of individuals versed on the topics related to nuclear weapon risk and response. Participants were identified using purposive and snowball sampling methods. Interviewees represented backgrounds in emergency response, public health, environmental science, health security, global and national security and policy, and peace advocacy. Results: Analysis yielded five key themes: awareness, risk and threat, impact and consequence, mitigation, and preparedness, as well as thirteen subthemes. Interviewees highlighted the recent, dramatic increase in political and public awareness related to nuclear weapons following the rise in tension. Interviewees further agreed that nuclear weapons pose a risk by their very existence and that the impact and consequence of a nuclear detonation would depend on the conditions of use. A nuclear incident is viewed as unlikely, though interviewees acknowledged there would be high consequences if one occurred. Respondents in this study expressed that the risks from nuclear weapons could be mitigated but not prevented, highlighting the importance of mitigation strategies such as diplomacy. Interviewees further discussed both global and local shifts in preparedness, noting a tension between the need for education and creation of panic. Conclusions: The sustained stockpiling of nuclear weapons continues to pose significant humanitarian and health risks across the globe as well as locally here in the Pacific Northwest. Public health professionals can educate the public on the risks related to nuclear weapons and advocate for nuclear disarmament. Additionally, there is a need for increased diplomacy globally, with respectful discussion amongst allied and adversarial nations.
- Global health