Dispatches from Nagasaki No.8

RECNA develops visual materials to increase public awareness about nuclear warheads

How many nuclear warheads are there in the world? At what pace are these numbers decreasing?

In order to respond to public interest in questions such as these, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition of Nagasaki University (RECNA) formed the Nuclear Warhead Data Monitoring Team (headed by Director Hiromichi Umebayashi) soon after being established. Since that time the team has worked to estimate as accurate information as possible on the numbers and types of nuclear warheads possessed by each of the nuclear-armed nations and the kinds of nuclear delivery vehicles employed. In August of 2013 the first findings were posted on RECNA’s homepage under the title Worldwide Nuclear Warheads at a Glance. These postings have subsequently been updated in accordance with current developments.

Nuclear-armed nations do not release specific information on the numbers and types of nuclear weapons they possess, as this is considered a matter of military secrecy. Consequently, various research organizations and specialists have attempted to estimate the actual numbers of nuclear weapons possessed by each of these nations. As a result of these efforts, some highly reliable figures have been released to this date. RECNA’s current project makes use of this previous research and continuously updates it to reflect recent information and developments in the state of nuclear arms reduction talks. Attempts are then made to present this data to the public in a way that is easy to reference. Furthermore, in keeping with the current state of nuclear arms development and the present realities of nuclear weapons policy among nuclear-armed nations, the team has stopped classifying these weapons as either strategic or tactical, as was frequently done in the past. Instead, the team has given precedence to the conditions necessary for deployment, such as whether the warheads are readied for immediate military use or whether they are removed from missiles and stored separately. The team has also divided the warheads by delivery type and whether they are to be fired from land-based systems, airplanes or submarines. Classifying warheads this way not only allows for a better command of the actual circumstances of the present situation regarding nuclear arms, but should also make it easier for ordinary citizens to understand the existing realities of nuclear weapons even if they don’t have a specialist’s knowledge.

By releasing this poster on nuclear warheads, RECNA has sought to not only provide accurate figures, but also, as stated at the opening of this column, to respond to the interest expressed by the general public. Thus, the numbers and types of nuclear weapons possessed by each nuclear-armed nation, along with their deployment status, are all depicted on a one poster that can be understood at a single glance. The 17,300 warheads that existed in the world at the time of release were depicted on the poster in a winding form packed with 3,460 icons (each of which represents five warheads) that vary in color and shape according to the type of weapon. Above this image a message written in large letters reads, “SO MANY EXIST, READY TO BE USED.”

Current plans call for the poster to be updated once a year, making it possible for people to instinctively grasp any changes in the nuclear weapon situation. Initially, 600 of these posters were printed in full “A” size and another 1,300 were made in half-size versions. We have also created English and Korean versions in addition to the original Japanese poster and all of these may be viewed or downloaded from the RECNA homepage free of charge.

RECNA says that these posters could have great value as teaching materials for studies on peace or disarmament issues. Already they have been distributed to elementary schools, junior high schools, community halls and educational centers across Nagasaki City. RECNA has also produced teachers’ manuals and is working with the board of education to see that the posters are beneficial to the classes they are used in.

Links for the posters are listed below.

Japanese version
English version
Korean version

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