Frank P. Grad**
There is a risk that environmental or ecological concerns about nuclear weapons use may be trivialized and treated as a kind of sick joke. Does anyone really care whether the Abrams tank violates automotive emissions standards? Does anyone really care whether the snail darter or the peregrine falcon survives another nuclear attack? Viewed in this narrow fashion, environmental concerns are minor indeed. The environmental consequences I have in mind are of a greater, not to say central nature in the consideration of the consequences of a nuclear attack, because the environmental consequences are so closely connected with the immediate destruction and injury of human beings and with the future of the life of man on our planet. Moreover, the ecological consequences of nuclear weapons use compel us to face up to difficult legal and moral issues.
The sequence of events following the use of twenty kiloton nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been described in some detail. 1 The vast number of persons killed and maimed has been documented, as has the extent of the physical destruction, and the destruction of the capacity of governments and other institutions to respond appropriately. Yet the use of nuclear weapons at Nagasaki and Hiroshima (directed at a non-combatant civilian population as other nuclear weapons are likely to be in the future) was a “limited” use of small bombs by current measures. One megaton bombs are now regarded as mere tactical weapons. Nonetheless, even such a “limited” nuclear attack produces long-range and substantial ecological consequences—in terms of impact on human genetics, plant and animal life, and in terms of the impact on increases in background radiation.
Our good and serviceable planet is capable of withstanding even some severe ecological insults, and the scars on the landscape from such insults
* This essay is based on remarks delivered at the Conference on Nuclear Weapons and Law held at Nova University Center for the Study of Law on February 5, 1983.
** Chamberlain Professor of Legislation, Columbia University Law School.