Cardiologists can help to avert nuclear doomsday

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James Muller

Cardiologists can help to reduce the threat of nuclear war and move “the hands of the Doomsday Clock back from the midnight hour”, according to an opinion piece published in Circulation. James E Muller (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, USA) et al argue that cardiologists have made major contributions to reducing previous nuclear threats, and have a role to play in decreasing the current threat level.

Muller et al point out that in 2018 physicists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists forward to two minutes before midnight, bringing it the closest to predicted disaster since 1953, when Soviet Russia developed a hydrogen bomb. The authors highlight examples of US cardiologists building bridges with Russian counterparts during the Cold War to decrease tensions, and call upon young cardiologists and their more senior colleagues to meet the current challenge by alerting the public to the chances of an accidental nuclear war and by “educating about the cumulative probability aspect of the threat”. This, they say, can make “the unimaginable imaginable (and hence preventable)”.

They explain: “Although cardiac risk may be low in any given year, cardiologists act on the basis of cumulative risk over a decade or a lifetime. For the nuclear threat, which has a low annual risk, we must think in terms of the lifetime of humanity. A 1% annual risk of nuclear war, started by intention or by accident, rises to a 50% risk over a 70-year period.”

Describing the nuclear threat as “an artificial threat created by human ingenuity”, Muller et al say: “We must now harness the ingenuity that brought us 21st century medical science to reduce nuclear danger. With an energetic worldwide educational effort by health professionals on the nuclear threat, we can join our colleagues in moving the hands of the Doomsday Clock back from the midnight hour.”

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