ORONO — When I was 7 years old, I was very scared of nuclear weapons. In school we were taught to “duck and cover,” lying face down under our desks and covering the back of our heads with our hands in case of attack. We were given plans to build a bomb shelter in the basement of our home.

Our generation grew up with this fear. Unfortunately, the risk of a nuclear war is not gone. Citing the international community’s failure “to come effectively to grips with … nuclear weapons and climate change” – as well as the election to the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump, “who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts” – the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists earlier this year moved the hands of their Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes and 30 seconds before midnight. It’s the closest to nuclear war that we have been since 1953.

The United Nations in 2016 voted to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. These negotiations are happening now: They started June 5 and will conclude July 7. The 130 countries that support this treaty are working on it right now at the U.N.

The right not to be killed by a nuclear weapon is a human right. As a health professional, I believe that nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to human health that we face. That is why I am a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Our goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

The United States has an opportunity to lead at the United Nations. We signed the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968, along with 189 other countries. This treaty has slowed the spread of nuclear weapons, but there are still nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The United States has 6,780, Russia has 7,000 and the rest of the world has 1,120 nuclear weapons.

Right now, the U.S. has begun building a new generation of nuclear weapons at an estimated cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. had wisely been reducing its nuclear arms stockpile, efforts that had cut the number of weapons by 85 percent. We do not need to add new nuclear weapons.


Chemical weapons were outlawed in 1997 by 192 countries, representing 98 percent of the world’s population. Since then, 93 percent of the world’s chemical weapons have been destroyed. This shows that outlawing a weapon leads to more progress than a nonproliferation treaty.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons acknowledges that skeptics call this approach naïve, noting that the U.S. and other nuclear weapons nations all refuse to participate. The rationale for pushing forward with the nuclear weapons ban treaty is as follows: Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited in a universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic impacts on human health. Biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have all been explicitly and completely banned under international law. Nuclear weapons must be as well.

Over 3,700 scientists have signed an open letter supporting the nuclear weapons ban talks. They reference then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The fewer nuclear weapons we have on Earth, the less likely we are to be killed by one. The U.S. already has enough nuclear weapons.

The future of our children and grandchildren depends on our actions today. If the human race can ban chemical and biological weapons, then we can ban nuclear weapons as well. First we need to reduce nuclear weapons, then eliminate them and have inspections to prevent building them in the future.

Those who agree with me that the U.S. should participate in the U.N. negotiations to ban nuclear weapons should call or write Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. Our senators can support the ban and vote to reduce spending on nuclear weapons in the future. Urge them also to support Senate Bill 200 (the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017) to prevent President Trump from starting a nuclear war without congressional authorization.

Let us never again have to tell our children they must hide in fear from the mass murder that is nuclear war.


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