January 25, 2023
Physicists from almost 20 countries gathered in October 2023 at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, for a workshop organized and sponsored by SGS: The Increasing Danger of Nuclear Weapons: How Physicists can Help Reduce the Threat. A major goal of the workshop was to discuss how the global physics community can advocate for reducing the nuclear weapons threat worldwide and become more effective agents for policies to counter nuclear arms-racing and to advance arms control and disarmament.
The workshop was part of the international outreach work of the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction. The Coalition was co-founded at SGS by Zia Mian, Stewart Prager and Frank von Hippel in 2020. Its mission is to educate and mobilize the physics community to engage with nuclear weapon dangers. The Coalition now has more than 1100 members.
The three-day workshop at ICTP included lectures and discussion on new technical developments affecting nuclear weapons policy, including nuclear winter, missile defense, satellite monitoring, quantum sensors and verification. One session was devoted to the ethics of research by physicists on nuclear weapons, a topic important to early career scientists choosing their research paths. Other sessions focused on best practices to educate physicists on nuclear weapons issues, and the role of formal courses, workshops, and other forms of outreach.
Presentations described the bleak state of the global nuclear policy landscape, the challenging and often hostile nuclear advocacy context in nuclear weapon states, and the need for new approaches to engaging physicists on this issue. Mian, Prager, and von Hippel were co-directors of the workshop, chaired some its working sessions and made presentations, as did Igor Moric and Pavel Podvig, and SGS visiting researcher Moritz Kütt.
Many of the 50 participants found that the workshop reinforced their commitment to arms control and disarmament advocacy. An agreed next step is the formation of an international working group to facilitate and drive forward physicist engagement and advocacy within and across nations.
Along with SGS and the Physicists Coalition, the workshop was co-organized and co-sponsored by ICTP, the German Physical Society, the American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society, and Germany’s Research Association for Science, Disarmament and National Security.