A "hair trigger" is a term that means nuclear missiles may be launched within 15 minutes — be it by land, air or sea. Thousands of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads are currently on hair-trigger alert and ready for launch, headed 10 times faster than a bomber toward their targets. Nonprofit global policy think tank, the RAND Corporation, has said that these weapons could destroy both countries in one hour.

Forty nine of these missiles are sitting nearby on the windswept plains of northeastern Colorado. There are 400 more scattered over Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana.

Each missile has one nuclear bomb, with a blast capacity equivalent to 12-18 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. The orders to launch would come from the president and go down through the chain of command to the crews ready to turn their keys.

In a recent story published in the New England Journal of Medicine, according to doctors Ira Helfand and Victor Sidel, we have focused on the possibility that terrorists or "rogue states," such as North Korea and Iran, will acquire nuclear weapons. Although these are important threats, they said it is critical that we understand that the greatest danger is posed by the arsenals of the countries that already have nuclear weapons. Currently there are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads remaining in the world today, 95 percent of which are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. Some 2,000 are on hair-trigger alert. They can be fired in 15 minutes and can destroy a target across the globe 30 minutes later.


The authors assert that these weapons pose an existential threat to humanity and cite a 2002 study by the Federation of American Scientists that cited if 300 Russian warheads hit United States targets, 75-100 million people would die from the blast and heat effects — all within the first half hour. In addition the public health system, the communications network, the electric grid, the banking system, the food distribution system would all be gone. In months after such an attack, the vast majority of Americans not killed initially would die from starvation, radiation sickness, epidemic disease, or exposure to the elements.

A corresponding U.S. attack would create the same devastation in Russia.

We need to abolish all nuclear weapons. Colorado is a good place to start, by getting weapons off hair-trigger alert. Visit RMPJC.org for more information.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.