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Disarm Kōrero #17 Public Health in a Nuclear War

March 4, 2024

Disarm Kōrero #17, held last month, revolved around the broad theme of the
public health effects of a nuclear war. We were lucky to be joined by University of
Otago’s Professor Nick Wilson and – all the way from the United States – Rutgers
University’s Dr. Lili Xia. Our speakers discussed the wide-ranging consequences of a
nuclear war on food production, fuel shortages, and trade.
First, Dr. Lili Xia presented her team’s research on how food production would be
affected by a nuclear war.

Through a series of detailed but readable graphs, she demonstrated that even
smaller scale nuclear wars would result in increased starvation around the world.
However, there would be scope for countries to mitigate this to an extent by
minimising food waste or diverting livestock feed for human consumption. In the
event of a nuclear war on a global scale, however, such measures would make little

Next, Prof. Nick Wilson discussed the need to both prevent a nuclear war and
prepare for the risk of one occurring. He explained that there is an underlying risk
that such a war could occur – a risk that has been increasing due to recent
developments in global politics.
His recommendations for preventing a nuclear war included strengthening
international agreements on arms control, bringing nuclear weapons off of ‘high alert’
statuses, and stopping the incorporation of artificial-intelligence into nuclear weapons

He then discussed the work of the Aotearoa New Zealand Catastrophe Project
(NZCat) and how a nuclear war would be the most disastrous catastrophic event out
of all. He recommended New Zealand create a “National Fuel Response Plan” to
account for a lack of trade and resulting fuel shortages following a nuclear war.
NZCat has devised a comprehensive list of recommendations and Prof. Wilson did
not have time to go into them all. (More information can be found through their
website and the report that they produced.)

Finally, the audience questions-and-comments section of the kōrero added further
depth to the session. Attendees were keen to pick the scientific brains of our guests
and inquired into the radioactive effects of nuclear weapons and where future
research was heading.
To hear a full discussion of the above points and even more of the content that was
covered, you can listen to the entirety of Disarm Kōrero #17 through the Vimeo link

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