Friday, Jan. 22, marks the historic day when the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force.

The purpose of the treaty is to outlaw the manufacture, testing, possession, stockpiling and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Because the United States has not signed or ratified the treaty, its legal prohibitions do not technically apply to us. But the treaty represents the will of 122 nations who expect us to keep the promise we made in 1970 to disarm “at an early date.”

Until now, the United States nuclear weapons buildup generally has been limited by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 1970.

U.S. leaders have long said we have an obligation to lead the way to nuclear abolition. It’s time to walk the talk and honor that commitment by signing the ban treaty and lifting the nuclear shadow that has loomed over the world since 1945.

We can celebrate the 76th anniversary of the end of World War II by joining with other nations and begin to reduce the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

New Mexico is one of the main centers of the nuclear weapons industry. Weapons production at Los Alamos has not raised the income level or improved the quality of life in the downwind and downstream communities. On the contrary, radioactive materials have contaminated many people in the pueblos and in historic New Mexican communities.

The damaged genetic code passes down from parents to children, threatening the well-being of families into the future. This is also true for the Tularosa Basin downwinders, who still — four generations later — experience unacceptably high cancer and mortality rates from the 1945 Trinity test. Meanwhile, radioactive, toxic and hazardous pollutants contaminate the waters and lands of the Rio Grande watershed.

The treaty addresses immediate quality-of-life issues in its Article 6, titled “Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation.” In paragraph one, it states that a party to the treaty will, with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction who have been affected by the use of or testing of nuclear weapons, provide suitable assistance without discrimination, such as medical care, rehabilitation and psychological, social and economic support.

In paragraph two, it states that parties to the treaty will take appropriate measures for environmental remediation of areas under its jurisdiction that have been contaminated by activities related to testing or use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

It is time for Congress to increase its investment in assistance for affected populations and remediation for affected areas of these communities. In remediation work there are good jobs for New Mexicans.

The United Nations treaty banning nukes may have only an indirect effect on the American weapons industry today, but in time, our country must join other nations to make our world safe for all living things. People across the country and around the globe will fly banners and ring bells Friday to celebrate the entry into force of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Here is a way to celebrate locally. Veterans for Peace holds a peaceful protest from noon to 1 p.m. every Friday at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. Members would be happy to see you there.

Basia Miller earned a bachelor's from Antioch College and her master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago. She taught at St. John's College-Santa Fe. She is a board member of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.

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