Nuclear Weapons Make Conflict in Ukraine More Dangerous

Statement by Tara Drozdenko, Director, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Feb 24, 2022

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The Russian government has launched an invasion of Ukraine, with Ukraine making clear it will resist. The United States has promised to enact new sanctions on Russia and pledged to defend North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and territory.

An escalated, prolonged conflict could harm thousands and displace millions.

Below is a statement by Dr. Tara Drozdenko, director of the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We strongly condemn the Russian government’s aggression against Ukraine. A conventional war in Ukraine will be devastating. It has already resulted in the loss of precious human life and could cause mass displacement and a surge of refugees.

“Any conflict is unpredictable, but the involvement of nuclear-armed states raises the stakes. The possibility it could escalate to nuclear war – through a misunderstanding, miscalculation or poor judgement – is real.

“Just last month, leaders of five nuclear weapons states, including the United States and Russia, called the avoidance of war between nuclear powers their ‘foremost responsibilities,’ and affirmed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

“Today, it bears repeating: Nuclear states bear a special responsibility to pursue diplomatic solutions.

“Veiled threats, nuclear saber-rattling and brinksmanship are, quite frankly, unacceptable and we condemn even the suggestion of nuclear weapons use in any conflict. We urge a return to diplomacy and an end to the violence against the people of Ukraine.”

Russian forces have taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Dr. Edwin Lyman, director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is monitoring threats to nuclear waste and reactors as they unfold.

“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine also has the potential to affect nuclear facilities and cause radiological contamination,” said Lyman. “Damaging those facilities, including those at Chernobyl, would not be in anybody’s interest since any radioactive releases would only further contaminate Ukraine, with a potential to impact Belarus and Russia itself.”