Like many Millennial and Gen X New Zealanders of my generation, my knowledge of New Zealand’s nuclear history has been told through my parents’ stories. My mum protested after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in the 1980s and my dad traveled throughout the Middle East when the Soviet Union was the dangerous part of the world to travel to. But aside from studying these events and time periods in high school history, I have little firsthand knowledge and understanding of the impact nuclear weapons have had on our society. Despite the Soviet Union collapsing only a few years before I was born, I really have no idea what it was like to live in a society which feared nuclear war.
We don’t really appreciate how lucky we are to live in an isolated country where exposure to nuclear weapons is unlikely. We don’t live in fear, although being nuclear-free is a big part of our identity. Our generation is actually largely apathetic towards nuclear issues as we feel the war has already been won. It’s hard to imagine the destruction which these types of weapons have caused the planet or to imagine that we could still potentially experience it again in our lifetimes.
The Cold War is over, the arms race is over. Despite this, there is still a risk that nuclear weapons will continue to pose a threat to the world. They are difficult to disarm in a way which ensures their very existence is a continuing threat. In the wrong hands, one nuclear weapon has the potential to destroy the world as we know it, hence the need for disarmament and neutralization of nuclear weapons. As much as they may form part of a state’s identity and sense of pride, they pose grave danger to the rest of the world.
While nuclear energy can also form a crucial aspect of a state’s energy reserves, it can too pose a grave danger if left unchecked. Nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrated the deadly and destructive power of nuclear energy, even when they are not weaponized. The nuclear forces of today are hundreds of times more powerful than the weaponized bombs of World War II, and could destroy our planet with a mere press of a button.
By Eliza Thurlow