A coalition of scientists and faith leaders has called on President Barack Obama to take “meaningful” steps to reduce the threat of “nuclear catastrophe” in light of his likely upcoming trip to Japan.

“Nuclear weapons remain a real and urgent threat to humanity and our planet. If there is even a limited nuclear exchange, millions — if not billions — of people could perish; large swaths of the planet could be contaminated; and the global economy could collapse,” a May 4 letter stated.

The statement was released by Bishop Oscar Cant√∫, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' committee on International Justice and Peace; Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

The group cited President Obama’s 2009 Prague address, during which he said the United States had a responsibility to lead the world in reducing nuclear arms.

Now is the time, they urged, for Obama “to take meaningful, practical nuclear risk-reduction steps” during his expected visit to Hiroshima for the G7 summit later this month.

“Heightened tensions between the United States and Russia, and the growing risk of nuclear use worldwide, are all the more reason for the president to take these meaningful steps to strengthen national and international security,” the letter said.

Instead of adding to the number of nuclear weapons in the world, the group suggested that Obama end his proposal to spend upwards of $1 trillion on modernizing the U.S.’s nuclear weapons arsenal over the next several years.

Such a proposal is “inconsistent with the vision the president outlined in the Prague speech” and could “lead to a dangerous and costly arms race,” they said.

“Spending money we don't have on weapons we don't need won't make us safer.”

Rather, they suggested that the U.S. reduce its nuclear weapons store by a third — a level that the Pentagon “agrees is adequate to maintain security.”

Russia and the U.S. should also take the hundreds of nuclear weapons they have ready for action off of “hair-trigger” status, a practice that “makes the risk of an accidental, mistaken or unauthorized launch unacceptably high.”

“Faith and science leaders understand human frailty,” they stated. “Over the last several decades, there have been numerous near misses when human or technical errors — combined with a short amount of time in which to respond — increased the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.”

In their view, carrying out these steps would help the U.S. fulfill its obligations to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by the National Security Council in September 2009.

“As faith and science leaders, we stand ready to support these steps toward a safer world. We call on all Americans to join us,” they said.

Throughout the world, nine countries — Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, China, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Russia — are known or suspected to have nuclear weapons, while 30 others have the technology to acquire them quickly, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

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