Nuclear tests have devastating and damaging effects on life, human health and the environment. That is why the August 29 is the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, dedicated «to increase public awareness and knowledge of the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions and any other type of nuclear explosion and the need to end them as one of the means of achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons«.
According to the World Health Organization, the health effects of nuclear weapons are:
IV. HEALTH EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Effects of actual use
15. A single thermonuclear weapon can have a destructive capacity one million times higher than the largest conventional weapon. The detonation of a nuclear weapon produces an explosive wave, a thermal wave, instantaneous radiation, radioactive fallout and electromagnetic impulses. Using multiple powerful weapons at the same time could lead to environmental disruption and global climate change (2).
16. Much of the information on the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons comes from the two bombings that took place in 1945, the consequences of which have been and continue to be studied. In addition, other investigations based on analysis of nuclear tests, mathematical models of different assumptions, and other scientific information are in progress.
17. Immediate effects. Detonation produces three main sources of death and injury: explosion, heat wave, and instantaneous radiation. In addition, an immediate source of destruction is constituted by the electromagnetic impulses that lead to the deterioration of electronic devices, including the necessary ones.
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In health services. Initially, the release of radioactive substances and human exposure to them would play a secondary role in terms of health effects.
18. Other immediate effects include deaths and injuries caused by excess pressure, the destruction and collapse of buildings and other constructions, and heat and fire. Exposure to instantaneous radiation (gamma rays and neutrons) produces radiation syndrome accompanied by various disorders and possibly death. In relatively low doses it damages the bone marrow. In higher doses, lesions occur in the gastrointestinal tract and in very high doses in the brain (2).
19. The destruction and deterioration of health services would be a major obstacle to the treatment of victims. Among the dead and injured would be a high number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Hospitals and other health facilities would be destroyed or badly damaged. Electric power supplies, important for the operation of hospitals, would be interrupted, seriously hampering the treatment and care that could be provided (5).
20. Intermediate and long-term effects. These effects would vary between those resulting from the injuries caused by the explosion and the long-term effects of radiation exposure and health problems caused by the alteration and destruction of health services. Survivors of the acute effects of the nuclear blast would still have to cope with torpidly evolving wounds, extensive surging burns, skin infestations, gastrointestinal infections, and mental trauma.
21. It is recognized that suppression of the body's immune system is a consequence of overexposure to radiation. Ionizing radiation reduces the number of helper T lymphocytes and increases suppressor T lymphocytes, thereby increasing the vulnerability of victims to infections and cancers. Other effects of the explosion, such as burns, trauma and mental depression, can also influence the immune response (2).
22. The drastic reduction in usable health services due to the small number of health personnel available, health centers, supplies or ambulances in operation, as well as enormous logistical problems, would render assistance totally insufficient.
23. Instantaneous radiation in the course of the explosion and prolonged environmental contamination by radiation will lead to long-term effects such as cancer induction and genetic damage. Survivors of the nuclear explosion and populations in contaminated areas will be exposed to such effects. The risk of instantaneous radiation will vary depending on the dose received. For example, an exposure to 1 Gray of whole body irradiation will produce an estimated lifetime risk of mortality from all forms of cancer of between 4% and 11% of survivors (6).
24. Although studies carried out in Japan do not reveal any increase in genetic damage in the offspring of survivors, theoretical and experimental evidence suggests that such risks exist. They would not be limited to the immediate offspring of the exposed persons but would extend over many generations. Recent studies have shown that exposure to alpha plutonium particles produces chromosomal instability that can be passed on to progeny, thus causing cancer in future generations (7). Other studies indicate that the effects of internal exposure through inhalation or ingestion of radioactive products are much higher than previously thought (8).
25. Long-term psychological effects continue to be observed among the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. Behavioral and psychological disorders have been noted. After an initial tendency to deep apathy and disorientation, feelings of guilt tend to appear. In addition, survivors have a constant fear of cancer and the late effects of radiation, with the expectation that abnormalities will appear in their descendants (9)
As you can see, the consequences of these nuclear tests are extremely serious, but even that we are preparing ourselves as humanity to use this type of weapon.