At 89, former Secretary of Defense works with granddaughter to prevent nuclear doom

The following post is excerpted from an article by Jack Hannah and Kyung Lah for CNN

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(CNN) - Picture a nondescript packing crate labeled "agricultural equipment" being loaded onto a delivery truck, which drives along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., until it stops midway between the White House and the Capitol.

The nuclear bomb explodes with the power of 15 kilotons. There are more than 80,000 deaths, from the highest ranking members of government to the youngest schoolchildren. All major news outlets then report receiving an identical claim: that five more nuclear bombs are hidden in five major cities.

Such is the nightmare nuclear scenario that former US Defense Secretary William Perry says may seem remote, but the consequences, if realized, would be disastrous.

    "I do not like to be a prophet of doom," says Perry, 89, with the gentle grace of a decadeslong diplomat who has negotiated with countries both hostile and friendly to US interests. Then he bluntly gets to the point. "What we're talking about is no less than the end of civilization."

    Perry doesn't believe an intentional terrorist attack or all-out nuclear war is the greatest risk -- he fears a "blunder" that plunges the globe into a nuclear conflict.

    Perry says with a more aggressive Russia, and a brash and at times unpredictable President Donald Trump, "the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe is probably greater than it has ever been, greater than any time in the Cold War."

    CNN reached out to the White House for comment on Perry's statements. It did not respond.

    While he's long been out of government, Perry's uses his extensive policy chops and background to engage the public -- through speeches, presentations and online courses.

    He worries that tensions between the Koreas, and possibly Japan, could turn into a conventional conflict that could go nuclear. A bellicose and expansion-minded Russia could draw the United States into a situation that could escalate, Perry says. And the District of Columbia scenario shows how devastation can result from a crude bomb.

    "When my kids were getting under desks at their school and going through nuclear drills -- the danger today is actually greater. We're just not aware of it," says Perry.

    The former defense secretary is spending his twilight years sounding the alarm with his 29-year-old granddaughter. They're trying to awaken a new audience on social media with the William J. Perry Project, an advocacy group dedicated to helping end the nuclear threat.

    "We're really just out there trying to reach a generation that isn't engaged on this issue right now," says Lisa Perry, the digital communications director for the project. "It's something we learned in history class. There was no conversation about what's happening now."

    "The dangers will never go away as long as we have nuclear weapons," William Perry explains. "But we should take every action to lower the dangers and I think it can be done."

    Bill Perry looks on as his granddaughter Lisa Perry speaks to CNN about the challenges of raising awareness about the nuclear threat to a generation that grew up after the Cold War

    Bill Perry looks on as his granddaughter Lisa Perry speaks to CNN about the challenges of raising awareness about the nuclear threat to a generation that grew up after the Cold War

    Engaging the public through education

    Perry watches closely as his granddaughter pecks away at the keyboard. She's scanning through recent notifications he received on his official Twitter page.

    "You've been getting some attention for the 'No Nukes' campaign," Lisa tells her grandfather.

    Next, they check Perry's massive, open online course, "Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today," where Lisa says he has more than 3,800 enrollees.

    "That's good, but I'd like the number to be to be tens of thousands, not thousands," Perry says with a grin.

    The Perry team has also used Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" chats to help educate through social media. Lisa, who describes herself as a child of the Internet and encouraged her grandfather to partake, says they spent up to three hours answering questions during one session on the discussion website.

    Lisa Perry believes her generation would become as active in this issue as in global warming or other social justice issues, if they're merely made aware that a nuclear threat is not hypothetical, but real. "It should be something we talk about, that we get to decide on, because it affects all of us," she says,

    At 89, William Perry could have easily settled into retirement long ago and let younger generations deal with the nuclear threat. Instead, he chooses to carry on this mission: to engage.

    When asked why, he calmly points to a wall in his house where photos of his family neatly hang. He has five children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

    "I would like them to have a chance at a future, a future in which they can live in peace and not be faced with the specter of nuclear war," says Perry. "And we can translate that to other people's children and grandchildren as well."