Can Citizen Journalism and New Media Salvage Disarmament From a Nuclear Weapons Accident?

Nuclear cloud Craig Myrans Flickr

The possibility of a nuclear weapons accident looms like a cloud, such as this mushroom-shaped one, over all of us. (Photo: Craig Myran / Flickr Commons)


How would the world react to the accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon? (Presumed accidental, that is: proving it wasn’t intentional would take some time.) At Reinventors, futurist contemplate Five Scenarios of Giving up on Nuclear Weapons. Scenario 1: Use/Near-Use is “The Jammu Disaster.”

Jamais Cascio writes:

This scenario uses the very real possibility of an apparent nuclear weapons accident as a catalyst to eliminate nuclear weapons. The disaster, in and of itself, would likely not be a sufficient provocation for such a substantial shift in policies around the world. The actual driver here is the overwhelming documentation of the event, from personal videos to cheap drones to data from the wearable health monitors on the victims.

He imagines the aftermath of Jammu-Kashmir’s capital Jammu, devastation by a nuclear weapon in the 10-20 kiloton range.

All of this could have been just another humanitarian nightmare, eventually pushed into the bin of forgotten catastrophes, were it not for the uniquely 21st century twist: the utterly complete documentation of the blast and its results, collected by omnipresent surveillance systems as well as tens of thousands of individuals using wearables, 3D printed micro-drones, cube satellites (either in orbit already or rushed to launch), and even phones. Wearable fitness and health monitors either marked the shape of the explosion through their sudden failure, or (further out from the blast) charted the declining life signs of trapped and injured survivors. In the minutes, days, and weeks following the blast every square meter of the region, from the western Hindu Kush to the streets of Sialkot, was photographed or recorded in some way, not only by states and international officials, but by citizens trying to make sense of the senseless.

The imagined outcome:

Even more surprising, perhaps, is the end result of that documentation and impossible-to-ignore visibility: active measures by every nuclear armed nation to disassemble their nuclear weapons, as demanded by millions of people in the streets worldwide and even by political leaders feeling something unusual: shame.

Humanity: Brought low by technology; saved by technology.