Nuclear attack: a scenario aid agencies aren't prepared for

© Reuters

© Reuters

United States President, Barack Obama, joined other world leaders in The Hague on Monday for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, which aims to prevent nuclear terrorism around the world.

The first NSS took place here in Washington DC in 2010 at President Obama's initiative, following a speech he gave in 2009 during which he described the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons as "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War" and called on States to work together to prevent their spread.

"One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague – could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be – for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival," he told the crowd in Prague five years ago.

Just last month, at a conference in Mexico on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, ICRC Vice President, Christine Beerli, issued as similar, ominous warning: "In Hiroshima in August 1945, the Japanese Red Cross and the ICRC came face to face with the grim reality of nuclear weapons. The destructive power of these weapons has only grown since then," she said, adding that military and security disarmament strategies "must be shaped by a full grasp of the short, medium, and long-term consequences of their use."

But what would those consequences be and how would aid agencies, like the ICRC, respond to the kind of vast, urban devastation described by President Obama in Prague? In this video produced by ICRC Geneva, Weapons Contamination Expert, Johnny Nehme, paints a chilling picture of a scenario we simply cannot prepare for.

Learn more:

ICRC's web section on nuclear weapons

Who will assist the victims? A statement by ICRC President, Peter Maurer

No way to deliver assistance - an interview with Gregor Malich, the ICRC's expert on the operational response to nuclear disasters 


In August 1945, the Japanese Red Cross and the ICRC came face to face with the grim reality of nuclear weapons. But as Johnny Nehme, the ICRC's weapons contamination expert explains, their destructive power has grown massively since Hiroshima - and the risk of escalation is much more real today. On the eve of the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, taking place in Nayarit, Mexico, Nehme sets out the difficulties of mounting a relief operation in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear explosion, especially given what we now know about the risks of radiation exposure, and looks at some of the long-term consequences.