Nu­clear security

TagLast edit: 31 Jan 2024 15:42 UTC by Will Howard

Nuclear security is the set of procedures, practices or other measures used to manage risks from nuclear weapons and other nuclear materials.

Nuclear war is potentially the primary near-term anthropogenic existential risk. Nuclear war would probably not cause human extinction through the direct damage of an exchange. Rather, researchers are concerned about the potential for a nuclear winter: firestorms caused by the explosions could release particulate matter into the stratosphere, causing significant global cooling which would last for several years. This cooling would disrupt global agriculture, which would likely kill many more people than the initial exchange.[1]

However, there is some disagreement about how climate systems would react to the particulate matter and how much soot would actually be created (modern cities are potentially less vulnerable to firestorms than those during the cold war). As a result, it is unclear whether nuclear war poses an existential risk or a non-existential global catastrophic risk.


80,000 Hours rates nuclear security a “second-highest priority area”: an unusually pressing global problem ranked slightly below their four highest priority areas.[2]


In The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, Toby Ord offers several policy and research recommendations for handling risks from nuclear weapons:[3]

Further reading

McIntyre, Peter (2016) Nuclear security, 80,000 Hours, April.

Open Philanthropy (2013) Nuclear security, Open Philanthropy, July 18.

Open Philanthropy (2015) Nuclear weapons policy, Open Philanthropy, September.

Baum, Seth D., Robert De Neufville & Anthony M. Barrett (2018) A model for the probability of nuclear war, working paper 18-1, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute.

Baum, Seth D. & Anthony M. Barrett (2018) A model for the impacts of nuclear war, working paper 18-2, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute.

Cirincione, Joseph (2008) The continuing threat of nuclear war, in Nick Bostrom & Milan M. Ćirković (eds.) Global Catastrophic Risks, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Open Philanthropy (2015) Nuclear weapons policy, Open Philanthropy, September.
A report exploring possible interventions to address risks from nuclear war.

Roser, Max (2022) Nuclear weapons: Why reducing the risk of nuclear war should be a key concern of our generation, Our World in Data, March 3.

Scouras, James (2021) On Assessing the Risk of Nuclear War, Laurel: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Related entries

armed conflict | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | civilizational collapse | Cuban Missile Crisis | existential risk | existential risk factor | Manhattan Project | nuclear disarmament movement | nuclear security | Nuclear Threat Initiative | nuclear winter | Russell-Einstein Manifesto | Trinity | weapons of mass destruction

  1. ^

    Robock, Alan (2010) Nuclear winter, WIREs Climate Change, vol. 1, pp. 418–427.

  2. ^
  3. ^

    Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, p. 278

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