Nuclear Weapons: Harmful to Your Health


Ed O’Rourke

Dateline: Medellin, Colombia

February 23 2010

Why should anyone in Colombia be concerned about nuclear weapons?  After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, there have been no nuclear weapons in Latin America.  With poverty, physical security, FARC, the El Niño drought and global warning, it seems that the national government already has plenty to do.

There are good reasons for the Colombian Foreign Ministry to urge nuclear weapons abolition: 1) accidental war, 2) nuclear winter, 3) terrorism, and 4) poverty elimination.

Accidental War

Seldom spoken in the defense establishment is the probability for accidental war. Referring to nuclear weapons, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara observed that the nuclear powers have been lucky rather than smart. On September 26, 1983, the world came close to a nuclear exchange when the Soviet Air Defense identified one, then later four more missiles headed to the Soviet Union. Lieutenant coronel Stanislav Petrov reasoned that this was a false alarm.  If the US were launching an attack, there would be hundreds or thousands of missiles, not five.  Furthermore, the launch detection system was new, and in Petrov’sview, not entirely trustworthy.  According to some accounts, he did not notify his superiors because the standard procedure in these cases was an immediate nuclear counter-attack.   Later, an investigation showed that a rare sunlight alignment on high clouds and the Molniya satellites orbits caused the false alarms.

Not a single intelligence agency had any idea how close the world had come to nuclear war.  It was only in the 1990s when Coronel General Yury Votintsev, a one time Soviet Air Defense Missile Defense Unit commander, published his memoirs that the world learned about the incident.

 Nuclear Winter

Some scientists project that in a nuclear war between the United States and Russia that a nuclear winter would result in pushing temperatures below freezing during the summer in major agricultural areas reducing the world food supply, causing a terrible death to billions.


With some 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world, terrorists have a ready supply of less secure sites and corrupt officials to help their search for an atom bomb.

Poverty Reduction

At the World Peace Conference in Bogota, October 1-4, 2009, several speakers observed that reducing the world military by 10% and transferring the 10% savings into social investments would provide the necessary funding for education, health and environmental projects that would wipe out poverty.

A Nuclear Free World

On January 4, 2007 and again on January 15, 2008, George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn wrote articles in the Wall Street Journal asking for a nuclear free world.  They also offered practical measures to this lofty goal including intermediate steps to improve the world’s security until then.  The January 15, 2008 article refers to president Ronald Reagan’s desire and his efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.  These men are neither hippies nor Quakers.  Mr. Shultz was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. Mr. Perry was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. Mr. Nunn is former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Now it is time for President Uribe and other world leaders to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.  The sooner, the better.

Formerly a Houston resident, Ed O’Rourke is a certified public accountant, now living in Medellin, Colombia.