'It's Terrifying': Students Build Grassroots Momentum for Nuclear Disarmament

PHOTO Scott Ibaraki, Mandi Adair and Jenna Ricci stop by George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to spread their nuclear disarmament message.Huma Khan/ABC
Scott Ibaraki, Mandi Adair and Jenna Ricci stop by George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to spread their nuclear disarmament message.

Scott Ibaraki has been on the road for the last three weeks. Ibaraki, 22, has driven from Florida to Washington, D.C., in a dusty green van, accompanied by two colleagues for what he describes as an important mission: warning people about the dangers of a nuclear world.

It is so important to him that Ibaraki, at one college campus, used a Pikachu outfit and ran across the campus with a megaphone screaming at people to get excited about it. The threat of nuclear conflict did not go away with the end of the Cold War, Ibaraki said, and it's people like him who need to raise awareness about it.

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"It's our generation's responsibility to uptake this movement and make it actually happen," said Ibaraki, a recent graduate of University of California, Davis. "No one denies its importance."

As world leaders convene today in New York City for the start of the 2010 review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Ibaraki and other "roadies" are hoping to build a grassroots movement on the threats of nuclear weapons, and convince their generation to take up this issue.

Three-people teams like Ibaraki's have been traveling the country this month to raise awareness at college campuses, encouraging students to sign a petition to eliminate nuclear weapons globally and start support clubs on their campuses. The teams are sponsored by Global Zero, an organization that advocates for a nuclear-free world.

The students are fully aware of the challenges facing them.

For one, it's not an issue that currently ranks high on Americans' priority lists. Barely half of Americans see nuclear terrorism as a top-level threat. Just 12 percent of Americans in an April ABC News/Washington Post poll called the chance that terrorists could obtain nuclear weapons "the single biggest threat the world faces." About 45 percent called it a major world threat but not one of the biggest.

President Obama last month signed a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, and the administration changed its nuclear policy to one that limits the use of nuclear arms, but both moves faced criticism from Republicans for being too soft on U.S. enemies.

Second, and perhaps most importantly for these students, most of their generation was born after the Cold War and many don't even consider nuclear weapons to be a threat.

"I don't think it's something that college students talk about right now unless you're in the political science community," said Mandi Adair, 22, a Texas State University student who is part of the three-people "South Shore" team with Ibaraki. "I personally never thought twice about it. It's something you learned in history."

But once she did learn more about it, Adair said the thought of loose nuclear weapons scared her.

"It concerns everybody. It's something that could very easily happen within the next week, scarily enough," she said. "It's very real, and it affects the entire world. ... It could kill hundreds of thousands in a second, it's terrifying."

Students Take to the Streets Against Nuclear Weapons Danger

These students say they will not let those challenges deter them.

"This is real and important," Ibaraki said. "We've got to do it now."

Jenna Ricci, 22, part of Ibaraki's team, said nuclear weapons elimination is an issue her generation needs to take up, just like climate change.

There's "so much at stake," said Ricci, who will be a student at San Diego State University next year. "If one country was affected by a nuclear weapon that will affect the whole world."

In addition to the "South Shore" team, three other teams of students are traveling across the country to sound the alarm. They are playing the movie, "Countdown to Zero." Directed by Oscar-winning producer Lawrence Bender, the film puts the spotlight on the threat of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.

"We're trying to eliminate the nuclear threat, nuclear terrorism, them getting into the wrong hands, and the only real way to eliminate that is to eliminate nuclear weapons around the world," Ibaraki said. "It's absolutely scary. That's why I'm involved with this."

The students want to get the nuclear disarmament issue at the top of lawmakers' agendas, especially as November's mid-term elections approach.

At the least, they want Congress to ratify the treaty that Obama signed with Russian President Medvedev.

"I believe it is very serious and if by mistake something happens, then there's no taking it back and there's no changing it so you can't press rewind," Ricci said. "I think there will be a whole slew of a mess after that. It will become a domino effect."