Posted by Nevine Yassa, Chair , Rotary District 7070 Peace & Conflict Resolution Committee

The Rotary Action Group for Peace Civil Society Observers attended the Tenth Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference at the United Nations in New York on August 1-26, 2022 . Here is an executive summary of their final report  ........



There is no greater existential threat to humanity and our planet than nuclear weapons.  The planetary destruction that will ensue if nuclear weapons were unleashed by intent, or by accident or miscalculation will have immediate consequences, none of which we are prepared to manage.  And yet, despite the high risk to civilization, some states parties continue to expand nuclear weapons, while others call for adherence to promises made in 1970.  In 2022, Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties gathered for their treaty proscribed tenth review conference.  In addition to the member states, the United Nations allows accredited civil society organizations to send observers to these meetings to educate themselves and others on the discussions and outcomes. 

 The RAGFP civil society observers consisted of Ann Frisch, Head of Delegation, (US), Asha Asokan (India), Maria Cristina Cifuentes (Colombia), Frances Jeffries (US), Chand Kolavennu (India), Helen Peacock (Canada), and Dennis Wong (US).  Rotarians Joanne Dufour, Jonathan Granoff, and Dr. Ira Helfand attended the NPT RevCon as delegates of other organizations. 

The RAGFP delegation attended open meetings of the NPT RevCon as well as United Nations and civil society side events, logging 100 days of civil society representation. They made new contacts and alliances, developed ideas and plans with delegates and observers, and were invited by other organizations to attend events. Lodging was provided at no cost by friends and family living in or near New York, as well as 30 days of hosting by US SERVAS.   Some at-cost accommodation was made available at Hosteling International.   A generous donor provided funding for some travel expenses.  

The sources for this report include statements from observers, excerpts from the documents of the NPT RevCon, civil society meetings and publications, and UN briefings. 

Nuclear weapons: the threat to planetary survival. 

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane, and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people in an hour. Even a small percentage of nuclear bombs detonated would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine affecting billions of people worldwide.  Evidence of the immediate and longer-term impacts of the use and testing of nuclear weapons has been the subject of scientific investigation ever since the horrific devastation and suffering witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.    

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it has been mere luck that has avoided a nuclear war. How long can we rely on luck to save our planet, humanity - our children, and future generations?  The current geo-political tensions, Ukraine Russia conflict, rise in tensions between nuclear states, and breakdown in communication between nuclear weapon states have increased the chance of nuclear weapons being used, in particular, due to the breakdown in dialogue between Russia and the West, the tension between India/Pakistan, India/China, US/China. Two thousand bombs by nuclear states were dropped to test these weapons in the ensuing years, targeting Indigenous and underserved peoples in the US, the South Pacific, and in Asia, damaging people and the environment for generations.  Some of the residue from highly radioactive nuclear weapons lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. 

RAGFP civil society observers at such meetings is not a beginning, but a milestone in the Rotarian efforts for nuclear disarmament.  In 1946, Paul Henri Spaak, Rotary Club of Brussels, was the first President of the UN General Assembly.   He presided over the First Committee charged with addressing the problem of nuclear weapons.  In 1948, the General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Rotarians were among the first drafters and advocates for these contributions to peace.    

Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars Tom Sauer, Izumi Nakamitsu, and Sharon Weiner], Rotary Peace Fellow Francesca Giovannini, Rotarians Ira Helfand, Ward Wilson, Jonathan Granoff, Steve Leeper, Hibakusha Jiro Kawatsuma , Al Jubitz, author Robert Stewart, David Newman and Academic and Foundation Director Rotary Peace Centre, (University of Queensland) Marianne Hanson,  are among leading researchers, architects, and global representatives of nuclear disarmament.  Their works give evidence to the planetary devastation that would ensue if nuclear weapons were unleashed by intent, or by accident or miscalculation.  They also offer hope and paths for survival.  These scholars point to the US and Russia’s dismantlement of 50,000 nuclear weapons in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as several international treaties, even when not ratified by some states parties, that have been effective in eliminating nuclear tests, chemical, biological, and cluster bomb manufacturing and use.  The treaties stigmatized these practices and made them unthinkable.  Rotarians now have an opportunity, indeed an imperative, to provide hope through applying Rotary’s mission, vision and motto, “Service above Self”.   

Highlights of the NPT RevCon  

The goal of the NPT RevCon is for the states parties to produce a meaningful, consensus document that reviews implementation and compliance and establishes updated commitments, recommendations, and follow-up actions to advance the goals and objectives of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. 

During the opening session, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “We have been extraordinarily lucky so far.  But, luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict. Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation…   

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1970) is based on three pillars:   

  1. The nuclear weapons states (P5) Russia, US, France, China, and the UK pledged not to transfer nuclear weapons, nuclear explosives, or their control to other states, and non nuclear states parties to the treaty pledged not to receive them. 

  2. Elimination of nuclear weapons. Each of the states parties agrees to enter into negotiations in good faith on “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”    

  3. Right to nuclear materials. The non nuclear weapons states were granted “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”   


Concerns were raised about proliferation of highly enriched nuclear materials, with specific reference to Iran, where an agreement was in place and Iran was in compliance when the US withdrew, and the DPRK (North Korea), which is no longer a signatory to the treaty.   Of major concern for the proliferation of nuclear weapons is the US/UK selling naval nuclear reactors utilizing highly enriched uranium (HEU) to Australia, a non nuclear country. HEU is easy to convert into nuclear bombs.   Transfers between militaries of two nuclear nations to a military of a non nuclear nation is problematic due to the classified nature of military documents and the impossibility of verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).   An alternative would be for Australian submarines to use low enriched uranium (LEU) such as that used for “peaceful purposes” in nuclear reactors.  However, that requires regular refueling.  The nuclear powered submarines using HEU could go for 30 years without the need to refuel. Many believe that there is no need for Australia to have nuclear-powered long-range submarines at all, whether using HEU or LEU. These submarines would project a threat right up to China’s shores, and would be able to operate interchangeably with US forces in any potential conflict with China. Australia has been a strong defender of the NPT and switching from conventionally-powered vessels to nuclear-powered ones reflects a worrying trend. Dr. Marianne Hanson, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, and Rotary Peace Center Academic and Foundation Director writing with colleague Gem Romuld, in Troubled Waters: Nuclear Submarines, AUKUS and the NPT  notes that “If the proposal goes ahead, Australia will set a risky precedent: it would become the first non nuclear weapons state to be given this highly sensitive nuclear technology.  And because, under the existing agreement, the uranium to be used is likely to be weapons-grade, the plan increases the risks to nonproliferation even further.  Acquiring large quantities of HEU - one analyst suggests that there could be up to 20 nuclear weapons’ worth of HEU on each submarine on mobile platforms for several decades outside of usual IAEA safeguards and scrutiny jeopardizes non proliferation efforts and fissile material security.”   Australia has repeated that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons, but some recent (and isolated) proposals to re-think its non-nuclear status makes its neighbors uneasy. Australia is unlikely to divert HEU to weapons, but nonetheless AUKUS sets a risky precedent to the nonproliferation regime: there is no guarantee that other states which are given nuclear powered submarine capability will refrain from developing nuclear weapons. The argument for having highly enriched uranium in naval nuclear reactors in the Pacific Ocean, when there is great anxiety expressed in the NPT RevCon over Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor with its low enriched uranium, is a curious juxtaposition.   


Notwithstanding the broken promise of the elimination of nuclear weapons in the NPT, there was virtual unanimity that the goal of this conference was a world free of nuclear weapons by nuclear and non nuclear state parties alike. While the US and Russia dismantled some 50 thousand nuclear weapons in their possession during this period under President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, some 13,000 remain with US and Russia holding the majority of nuclear weapons. While most states parties referenced the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the “cornerstone” of nuclear disarmament, some states parties also claimed it has failed to dismantle the remaining nuclear weapons as promised by the P5, and further has greatly expanded their arsenals. Some states parties praised the “middle ground” approach.  Other states parties asked “what is the middle ground?” between 5 countries’ noncompliance and compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?  Why should the non nuclear states keep waiting for the P5 to carry out its promises to disarm? Maritza Chan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations, presented the demand from 145 states parties that the humanitarian impact be considered. A civil society side event brought together Lili Xia, Alan Robock and colleagues, whose recent report outlined the issue of extreme food insecurity resulting from nuclear weapons exchange whether intentional or not.

Right to nuclear materials for peaceful purpose    

In the initial statements, most states parties expressed their support for the “inalienable right” to have nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, affirming their support for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency that has responsibility for verification with regard to security and adherence to standards of nuclear facilities.  Some states parties called for stronger regulations.  Other concerns posed by states parties were transportation of nuclear materials especially with regard to small island nations.  Others pointed to the need to protect workers in uranium plants.  Referencing Ukraine, attacks on nuclear plants jeopardizes nuclear security, with Iran supporting that concern.   Some states parties referenced the potential for nuclear materials for peaceful purposes as having a beneficial contribution to the climate, and helpful for small countries for economic benefits; other countries challenged the beneficial effect as too little and too late.  Export controls on nuclear materials were applauded by some, with some claims that they were being used for political purposes.  References to Fukushima were both welcomed by some and others rejected the inclusion, with some praising the IAEA for its efforts at remediation there. The Holy See summarized its concern: that the “peaceful” uses of nuclear technologies … requires addressing the social, environmental, and health impacts of technologies. … and that states parties should take steps to remediate environments negatively affected by nuclear accidents and uranium mining, assist communities suffering from such effects, and agree on long-term storage solutions for high-level radioactive waste. The final draft document included the call to “facilitate transfers of nuclear technology and international cooperation among States parties in conformity with articles I, II, III and IV of the Treaty, and to eliminate in this regard any undue constraints inconsistent with the Treaty.”

Observations of RAGFP observers to the NPT RevCon 

The statements below represent each individual’s own views, opinions, and assessments.  

Dr. Ann Frisch, Rotarian, Chair RAGFP Nuclear Weapons Education Subcommittee

The NPT RevCon ended without what states parties said they hoped for: a consensus report.  There was, in my opinion, one possible consensus report: a basic restatement of the treaty with acceptance of current proliferation of nuclear materials and acceptance of the failure of the P5 to eliminate nuclear weapons, and in fact, expand them.  There is a fundamental reason for the failure to push for an agreement to get rid of nuclear weapons through this treaty: it is structurally flawed.   The treaty allows five nuclear states parties to have nuclear weapons until they get rid of them, though the treaty requires “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.  Non nuclear states want their “inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production (of nuclear reactors) and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.   The mutual gifting under this treaty seems to be making it a “win-win”:  P5 keeps its nuclear weapons and its blatant expansion and proliferation, non nuclear states get to keep their nuclear power programs.    Why not just say it?  It’s a perfect deal. Except that it isn’t if you’re the planet and all those who dwell therein.  Both have devastating consequences as we have seen in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor under fire with its radioactive materials inconveniently located in a war zone, rising seas impacting the radioactive storage at the Marshall Islands, Fukushima contractors announcing they will dump radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean, and the UK/US sale of nuclear reactors to non nuclear Australia with 20 nuclear weapons worth of highly radioactive materials on each submarine.  The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while requiring states parties to get rid of all their complicity on nuclear weapons, does not prohibit radioactive materials if used for “peaceful purposes”.  Those states want their nuclear reactors too.  The elimination of nuclear weapons and nuclear power reactors will bring us closer to mutually assured survival.  But as nuclear reactors linger, there will be danger at every active plant, every abandoned reactor, and every waste storage whether central or dispersed.  Many of their component chemicals highly toxic for a million years ready to threaten drinking water, playgrounds, and communities forever.  Even the dismantlement of nuclear weapons will require storage of radioactive materials. The catastrophe is already underway.  

Recommendations of RAGFP civil society observers are to:  

  • convene an advisory team of key civil society organizations, Rotarians, and lead staff from the UN office of disarmament affairs to discuss how we might work together to ensure the total elimination of nuclear weapons and mutually assured survival;

  • encourage Rotary to appoint a Rotary UN representative to engage in UN disarmament meetings;

  • recognize within the Rotary community the importance of this issue and propose various ways of addressing this, including presentations at clubs, district events, and Rotary International Conventions;

  • create a TPNW working group to work with other civil society groups and the TPNW member states and to prepare to be civil society observers for the Second Meeting of States Parties November 27 - December 1, 2023, in New York City hosted by Mexico; and to assist Rotarians seeking to help their countries join the TPNW;

  • publicize the Rotary’s divestment from nuclear weapons. Assist Rotarians and others to support divestment from nuclear weapons producers and investment in positive peace through their pension funds, publicly traded investments, and by personally moving toward planetary sustainable investments; and  

  • create a Rotarian fund for nuclear weapons elimination education and action.

For additional information on the Rotary Action Group for Peace, please go to: