Nuclear weapons

It's essential we all work together to ensure nuclear weapons are eliminated and never used again. Our ‘Target Nuclear Weapons’ campaign calls for a ban on these weapons.

Marking 70 years since the atomic bombings in Japan

In 2015, the world marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Japan. Seventy years ago, Red Cross staff worked in unimaginable conditions to relieve the suffering caused by atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hospitals had been reduced to rubble and ash, their medical supplies contaminated.

Based on these experiences, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded as early as September 1945 that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons were simply unacceptable. From a humanitarian perspective, nuclear weapons should be abolished. This is why we're calling on the international community to work towards a ban on nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons and humanitarian assistance

There is presently no effective way of delivering humanitarian assistance after a nuclear blast. The scale of destruction, the radiation and the enormous number of people affected would create serious challenges for aid organisations.

Following an explosion, an overwhelming number of people would need immediate treatment. However, in the affected area, most medical personnel would be dead or injured. The blast would destroy local medical centres and any surviving medical supplies would be quickly used up.

Many who survived the explosion would later die from radiation sickness. Survivors would also face an increased risk of developing cancers like leukaemia and thyroid cancer. These long-term effects are still being felt in Japan and the Pacific, where nuclear testing occurred between 1946 and 1962.

The radiation would also pose serious health risks to humanitarian aid providers. Special protection measures would need to be taken, complicating the response.

As things stand, there is no effective way of helping victims of a nuclear explosion. This is why we're calling on the international community to work toward a ban on nuclear weapons.

Related reading:

Effects of nuclear weapons on human health (PDF)
Nuclear weapons and the challenges for providing humanitarian assistance (PDF)

Nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law

There is no specific universal ban on the use of nuclear weapons. However, international humanitarian law (IHL) restricts how all weapons may be used in armed conflict. These rules state that attacks must not be directed at civilians. IHL also prohibits attacks which do not distinguish between military targets and civilians. It also requires protection of the natural environment.

The use of nuclear weapons would be incompatible with the basic principles of IHL. Nuclear weapons would likely harm combatants and civilians without distinction.

Detonating weapons will immediately cause large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries. The resulting fires, firestorms and radioactive fallout will increase the number of casualties even further. A nuclear blast will cause extensive damage to infrastructure. It could affect the global climate, food production and the health of future generations.

Related reading:

Nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law (PDF)

How can I help?

You can support the call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The folding of cranes has become a leading symbol of the impact of nuclear weapons and their devastating humanitarian consequences. Show your support by folding a paper crane today and upload a picture to social media: #hiroshima70 @NZRedCross

Tag your friends in the post to spread the word - the more photos, the greater the impact.

Palmerston North Girls' High School folded 11,000 cranes! Can your school beat that record?

Related reading:

Why we're folding cranes (PDF)
Step-by-step instructions for folding your paper crane (PDF)
Resources and ideas for students (PDF)