The 2022 nuclear year in review: A global nuclear order in shambles – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Russia, losing on the ground, contemplated the use of nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine—recklessly threatening the nuclear taboo, a 77-year tradition of non-use. Also in Ukraine, nuclear reactors and nuclear facilities became targets of military attacks. Elsewhere, North Korea test-launched more ballistic missiles than it ever had in a single year and even seems to be preparing for a nuclear test. Iran resumed construction of its underground nuclear complex, disconnected IAEA surveillance cameras, and accelerated its uranium enrichment program, leaving it only months away from possibly testing a nuclear explosive or deploying a crude nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, if it wishes to do so. In response, Saudi Arabia took further steps toward enriching uranium, also refusing IAEA inspections that would ensure the Kingdom does not conduct covert nuclear weapons-related activities.

Despite all these concerns, efforts of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament failed to achieve any meaningful result this year. Participants in the first meeting of states parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as the ban treaty, could not agree on calling out Russia’s nuclear threats and rhetoric in its war against Ukraine. The long-awaited review conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended without an agreement after Russia refused to sign off on an outcome document that referred to the control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The international community, so far, seems incapable of finding ways to better protect nuclear facilities from attacks, even as the odds of a nuclear accident in Ukraine increase as the war drags on.

2022 will certainly appear in textbooks as the year when the global nuclear order was unprecedentedly shaken, if not irreparably destroyed.

The 2022 nuclear year in review: A global nuclear order in shambles – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists