When do Nuclear Weapons expire? That is a question that has been on the minds of many people for decades. The basic answer is “Yes.” It is difficult to build nuclear weapons and each step of the process can result in a nuke expiring. Typically, most nuclear weapons are built using Plutonium-239 (which is cheaper than Uranium-235). Each step in the nuclear weapon production process requires a “spark” – a source of neutrons – in order to produce a fission explosion. Nuclear materials must be pure because any pollutants or degradation can inhibit the nuclear reactions.
The United States and Russia have signed several bilateral agreements limiting their nuclear arsenals. The latest of these deals expire in 2021. While this reduction is welcome, it is not enough to make the world safer. The United States and Russia must maintain a balanced nuclear arsenal, or else risk conflict and a catastrophic meltdown. This will only lead to more conflict. In fact, it will be a mistake to let New START expire and let the Russians continue to build more powerful weapons.
One study shows that plutonium is surprisingly long-lived. Even after 30 years, some U.S. weapons still contain plutonium. Scientists worried that this vital element would decay and destroy the weapons. However, the study found that plutonium can continue to be a viable option for many years. In addition to this, it was found that plutonium can be kept in a pit for at least 85 years.
The NNSA has already begun developing a new nuclear warhead, the W87-1, which will require a new weapons-grade plutonium core. SciAm is urging the NNSA to reconsider their estimate of plutonium core life. This could save billions of dollars and prevent a plutonium rush. It is also an effective way to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons. If the U.S. wants to maintain its nuclear arsenal, it must ensure its weapons are as safe as possible.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons has created an extremely privileged world order. These weapons have created a radioactive line between the haves and have-nots and wealth and power. Nuclear weapon possessors and supporters are often the wealthiest countries in the world. Almost all nuclear weapons are found in the global north. These countries also support US nuclear weapons programmes. This is a dangerous situation. If the weapons were used to kill civilians, then this would be a disaster.
The nuclear-industrial complex actively works to maintain the status quo and continue their nuclear weapons investments. The cost of living, poverty, and war continue to increase, and nuclear weapons are an essential part of that system. The cost of living, climate change, and wars continue to increase. Do Nuclear Weapons expire? advocates must consider all of these factors and more to reach an end to nuclearism. If we don’t act now, the world will continue to suffer.
In addition to its economic and humanitarian impacts, nuclear weapons have devastating effects on the indigenous population of the US. The Dine/Navajo Nation, for example, saw its cancer rate more than double from 1970 to 1990, due to uranium mining. There are still abandoned uranium mines in the Dine/Navajo Nation. And it is not just the radiation that has caused cancer. It is also an environmental disaster.
Although there are ways to stop these weapons from launching into space, there is no definite end to the nuclear age. Currently, the United States leads the world in reducing the quantity of nuclear weapons. Its nuclear arsenal contained 3,822 warheads as of September 2017.
If TCOT were to take effect, 75 percent of nuclear weapons would be completely decommissioned by 25 years. Likewise, the US would have to redistribute its tritium stocks constantly. Even if the US was not the only nation to use nuclear weapons, it would be a rogue state that has no way of defending itself. Further, the USA would be unlikely to accept a deal involving a unilateral moratorium on these weapons.
A more comprehensive approach to antinuclear activism must embrace all types of social justice movements and be more inclusive. While antinuclear activism is largely focused on the nuclear issue, social justice efforts can help advance the cause of peace and a more just world order. The antinuclear movement must expand beyond the missile silos and focus on deconstruction and transformation of structures and institutions. If that isn’t enough, we must also focus on other pressing social justice issues.