Congress has mandated a new assessment from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on “the potential environmental effects of nuclear war” to be completed within 18 months. This study requirement, which was included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), follows a less ambitious requirement on related issues that was tucked into the fiscal year 2020 version of the defense bill.
The new study mandate from Congress calls for “an evaluation of the non-fallout atmospheric effects of plausible scenarios for nuclear war, ranging from low-quantity regional exchanges to large-scale exchanges between major powers.” The study is to assess current models of nuclear explosions with respect to fires, atmospheric transport of gases from nuclear war-related explosions, and the consequences of soot and other debris on weather, agriculture, and long-term ecosystem viability.
The law requires that the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence provide the study group with information relating to relevant nuclear war scenarios and that the final report be submitted in an unclassified form with an optional classified annex.
The new report would be among the most significant of its kind by the National Academies since its 640-page examination The Medical Implications of Nuclear War, published in 1986.
In response to a separate study mandate in the 2020 NDAA, the National Academies has begun to convene an ad hoc committee of experts on a report on nuclear war risks.
The task of this study group is to “identify risks associated with nuclear terrorism and nuclear war” and “examine the assumptions about nuclear risks that underlie the national security strategy of the United States.” The committee will issue an unclassified interim report and a final report, which may include findings and recommendations supported by classified information.—DARYL G. KIMBALL