UN Bans Nuclear Weapons, Goes Into Effect January 22

The UN achieved the needed countries for ratification of an international ban on nuclear weapons on Saturday. The treaty goes into effect in 90 days.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in 2017, will become the first international norm outlawing the development, testing, possession and use of nuclear weapons.

It is not clear how this will impact the existing nuclear countries but it may be enough pressure to cause countries to reduce weapons stockpiles. Even if the treaty can’t outright ban other countries from possessing nuclear weapons, it may be able to pressure corporations and large banks from investing in or selling the technology.

The US government attempted a last minute intimidation campaign against countries that ratified the treaty, earlier in the week.

The ratification of the treaty has also renewed calls by Pacific countries to reconcile the truth of decades of nuclear bomb testing in the region.

This international treaty may influence nuclear power programs globally. Many power programs are stand ins for weapons programs or provide services needed for nuclear weapons maintenance. In the US, after all of the weapons reactors were shut down at national lab sites, power reactors began being used to support the nuclear weapons program. Watts Bar nuclear power plant, owned by the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, has produced tritium for use in nuclear weapons triggers in the past. The federal register shows that they continue to do this weapons work with nuclear power plants, with a planned tritium production run at Watts Bar in fall of 2020.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build nuclear power plants has caused worldwide concern about the nuclear weapons implications of such a move. Various nuclear weapons and nuclear power states have been attempting to sell nuclear power plants to smaller non nuclear countries. Japan has had an export policy for at least the last 9 years including attempts to sell nuclear power plants to Vietnam. Russia has had a busy nuclear power export program. The US government has a program to sell yet to be proven small modular reactors to other countries. If nuclear weapons programs become undesirable for non nuclear countries due to the treaty, these nuclear power export schemes may also see a downturn.

Japan, the only country to be bombed with nuclear weapons as an act of war, has not signed on. Japanese political parties cited their involvement in the “nuclear umbrella” with the US, and the threat of North Korea as the reason for their reluctance.

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