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Taking an opportunity to speak in Tehran

June 13, 2011

Second International Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
Tehran June 12-13
Arranged by the Institute for International and Policy Studies

Participation: Representatives of a number (20?) Islamic states and Non-aligned states, Russia, Venezuela a s o. Not China, no EU country.
NGOs: Pugwash, BASIC, Danish Institute for International Studies a s o.
In all maybe 100 persons plus journalists in the morning, somewhat decreasing during the day

First Day

The format was smaller than last year., and less prestigious. Last year the President and the Supreme Leader spoke, this year the Minister of Foreign Affairs was highest ranking. Still there were at least 20 TV-cameras and even more reporters. These gradually left during the morning. I was interviewed by three TV-channels and a number of radio stations and a couple of news agencies, fewer than last year. Many questions were about Iran’s right to nuclear energy and the injustice that Israel was not criticized for having nuclear weapons or for bombing Syria, US not censored for not reporting to IAEA about the alleged Syrian reactor a s o.

The most common questions were about the planned meeting on A Middle East Zone free from weapons of mass destruction. That was also a recurring theme in the sessions. I do not understand why, as I do not believe that  the conference is going to take place.

The most difficult question was as usual: Why do the superpowers want to keep their nuclear weapons?

A better, more open, less aggressive atmosphere compared to last year. Not so many speeches by diplomats, more by experts. There was little really new of course, but some good presentations on the CTBTO, on problems in nuclear disarmament etc.

To my surprise I was asked if I wanted to say a few words, although I was supposed to speak the next day. I first said no, then changed: My chance to be heard by everybody. A half dozen persons in a similar situation also agreed.

This is what I remember myself saying:

I am Gunnar Westberg, a medical doctor from Sweden, and I am a member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, founded thirty years ago. This organization of doctors wants to inform people of the medical consequences of nuclear war. We believe that if people can really understand, take to their heart, what a nuclear war is, that a global nuclear war can mean the end of humanity, the peoples would demand from their governments that nuclear weapons are abolished.

We were quite successful during the eighties and this lead to the Nobel Peace Award in 1985. When the Cold War ended many persons thought that the risk of a nuclear war was over. There was more concern about proliferation than about the enormous nuclear arsenals in Russia and the USA. IPPNW  points out that the president of either country even today can press the button and terminate mankind. There are more people under the president who also can do this, and a nuclear war can be started by mistake, or by evil intent. Mankind can be destroyed by mistake.

( Then a few sentences about a limited nuclear war and its climate consequences. Thus it is not enough to reduce the number of nukes, abolish!)

I should also say a few words about nuclear power.  My organization wants to phase out nuclear energy generation. Fukushima gives a reason to point out a rarely discussed danger with nuclear reactors, namely the danger they constitute in war or because of terrorism. It is not necessary to destroy the reactor core with a bomb. It is sufficient to destroy the electrical supply, with its backup. That will cause a meltdown. And electricity very often fails in a war.

If there had been nuclear reactors in the area of Iran where Iraqi forces entered the country in that terrible war, many of these reactors would probably have lost their electrical supply, or maybe their crew. There would have been meltdowns. Today there would be areas where no one could walk or live because of the radioactivity. Remember that the nuclear waste stored at a nuclear reactor often contains many times more radioactivity than the reactor core.

Maybe we must conclude that nuclear reactors should only be built in a country where you expect peace and absence of terrorism for fifty years? New Zealand?

Later I could fortunately add that many affiliates of IPPNW are not working against nuclear power generation, e g in Russia, Sweden, Japan and, very importantly, in Iran. Physicians for Social Responsibility Iran, the affiliate of IPPNW, has not taken a stand regarding nuclear power.

Ambassador Hyder from Pakistan in his presentation, after mine, was surprised that IPPNW, an admirable organization,  now was against nuclear  power generation. He said to me afterwards that “IPPNW is respected for its work for a world free of nuclear weapons. If you begin to attack nuclear energy, you will lose respect and lose focus.”

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