The ramping up by both sides during the Cold War brought us close to disaster on several occasions. Only the courage of a few individuals and good luck saved us then, but will we be so fortunate again?
For the risks of nuclear conflict are fast coming to the fore once again in Ukraine and indeed elsewhere. The shelling of the largest nuclear plant in Europe’s frightening enough.
That could see a catastrophe which would make Chernobyl pale into insignificance, without even nuclear missiles being launched. But aside from that potential civil nuclear disaster, the spectre of nuclear war’s returning.
Two recent events put me in mind of those times and the risks which seem to have been forgotten.
Firstly, was the sad passing of Raymond Briggs. Best noted for his masterpiece “The Snowman”, his work “When the Wind Blows” was poignant and evocative, detailing in a rather droll fashion, and far more cutting than any Hollywood apocalypse movies, just what life would be like if such a catastrophe befell.
Secondly, and less tragic but much more frightening was the report of the return of American B52 bombers to UK shores. These leviathans of the sky are said to have departed their base in Dakota for RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.
Memories of the 1980s include the Greenham Common women protesting at air bases, albeit about the siting of cruise missiles rather than tactical bombers. But these planes are capable of carrying nuclear as well as conventional bombs and are joining B2 stealth bombers which have already crossed the Atlantic. Why are they here?
The danger now is not just through an accident or misplaced shell striking the nuclear plant but an all-out war.
Reports have suggested that Boris Johnson’s seeking to firm up support for Ukraine before he demits office. Calls for article five to be invoked, whereby Nato goes to war, are escalating, some citing potential incidents occurring at the nuclear power station.
Liz Truss equally has past form for undiplomatic remarks and seems to possess a desire to vaunt her inner Boudica.
These are dangerous times, yet the consequences remain catastrophic. A recent article in Nature described recently concluded simulations of modern nuclear conflicts. As with the 1980s, none are in any way benign and some truly apocalyptic. Even under the smallest war scenario “sunlight over global crop regions would initially fall by about ten per cent” and global temperatures would drop by one to two per cent.
Anyone thinking that might be a good thing to counteract the impact of man-made global warming should bear in mind that “global food production would decrease by seven per cent in the first five years after a small-scale, regional nuclear war”. That fall would be almost double the largest recorded drop in food production since records began in 1961. The impact would see more than 250 million starve. Worse scenarios see that figure increase to five billion.
It's not just the risks but the cost of war. Some 2.1 per cent of UK GDP’s now spent on defence, that’s £40 billion and there are calls for even greater spending. We’ve a cost-of-living crisis. It’s time to push for peace abroad and a better society at home.