On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki, Japan. The bombs destroyed both cities in a flash and killed approximately 250,000 people.

Today, Sunday, Aug. 9, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Lewiston Mayor Laurent Gilbert will hold a ceremony at the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge to remember the victims of those bombs and express hope for a world free from nuclear weapons.

Sadly, the monster unleashed more than 60 years ago this week still threatens us today. World War II launched the nuclear weapons era. The Cold War amplified it. But the end of both those wars did nothing to end the nuclear threat. Today there are 30,000 nuclear weapons in countries around the world. Some of these countries are politically unstable. Others lack the infrastructure to effectively protect their weapons from terrorists. And according to a recent Physicians for Social Responsibility study, even a limited regional nuclear war (like one between Pakistan and India) could disrupt our already fragile climate sufficiently enough to cause global famine.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. In fact, today marks a unique window of opportunity to curtail the nuclear threat and make America and the world safer. American leaders, such as President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, have recently called for steps to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal and work toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. The first step, already in motion, is agreeing to nuclear weapons reductions with Russia.

The second step will be enforcement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This treaty will end the explosive testing of nuclear weapons. The test ban treaty will be submitted to the U.S. Senate early next year for ratification. Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins should support the treaty to ensure that the spread of nuclear weapon technology is halted and the threat of nuclear terrorism is reduced.

One old argument against ratification of this treaty is that compliance cannot be verified, and so some nations could cheat. Not true. With a global network of more than 300 monitoring sites now online, it is nearly impossible for a nuclear weapons explosion to occur anywhere on Earth without detection.

The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test in nearly 20 years. We don’t need to. We have the most reliable nuclear weapons in the world and we have the technology to conduct tests that don’t require detonation. The test ban treaty will not affect our behavior, but it could very well cripple the efforts of other countries seeking to build new weapons or improve the reliability of old ones.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is the best tool we have to prevent nuclear terrorism, regional nuclear conflicts, or even the next Hiroshima or Nagasaki. As we mourn the world’s first nuclear bomb victims, we are comforted by the thought that when the nuclear test ban treaty goes into effect, they may very well be the last.

Daniel Oppenheim, M.D., is co-president of the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. 

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