Taking Nuclear Weapons Off Alert

  • Date: Jan 01 1999
  • Policy Number: 9931

Key Words: Nuclear War Weapons Wastes, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Waste

The American Public Health Association,

Recalling that the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association has adopted policy statements calling for a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an end to the continued development of nuclear weapons, and for the abolition of nuclear weapons;1,2 and

Noting that the public health community has long understood its inability to respond to the overwhelming casualties to be expected in the event of nuclear war; and

Noting that some 30,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world's arsenals, more than 5,000 of which, including the US and Russian arsenals, remain on hair-trigger alert; and

Recognizing that the unreliability of Russia's aging computer systems (dramatically demonstrated by problems of the Mir space station) and the apparent failure of the Russian military to address the Y2K problem as it affects these computers, makes control of Russian missiles increasingly problematic;3,4 and

Understanding that the current political turmoil in Russia further increases the danger of accidental or unauthorized launch; and

Noting that a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998 reported that even a limited accidental firing of such weapons could kill 6,838,000 people promptly and lead to an all out nuclear war;5 and

Recognizing that leading United States and international military experts such as former Director of Control Intelligence, Admiral Stansfield Turner (ret); former Commander of all United States strategic nuclear forces, General George Lee Butler (ret); and former chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Sam Nunn, have for years been calling for urgent steps to take these weapons off hair-trigger alert;6 therefore

  1. Calls upon the President to urgently conclude an agreement with the President of Russia and other leaders of nuclear powers to take all nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert as the next step towards the total abolition of these weapons; and
  2. Requests that the President meet with a delegation from the APHA at his earliest convenience to discuss the grave danger to public health posed by maintaining nuclear missiles on alert status and the steps which must be taken to end this threat.


  1. APHA Policy Statement 8715: End to Nuclear Weapons Testing and the Strategic Defense Initiative. APHA Policy Statements; 1948-present, cumulative. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; current volume.
  2. APHA Policy Statement 9605: Cessation of Nuclear Testing and Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. APHA Policy Statements; 1948-present, cumulative. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; current volume.
  3. US Aims to Avert Y2K-Induced War. USA Today. November 3, 1998
  4. Gordon MR, US Warns of A-Alert of Computers Mislead Year, New York Times. February 22, 1999.
  5. Forrow L, et al. Accidental nuclear war: A post-cold war assessment. N Engl J Med. 1998;338(18):1328-1329.
  6. Ibid.

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