Atomic bomb survivors look to G7 summit in Hiroshima as a ”sliver of hope” for nuclear disarmament

Hiroshima: This weekend’s Group of Seven leading industrial nations summit in Hiroshima provides a rare and possibly final chance for survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to push for nuclear disarmament before a global audience.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has roots in Hiroshima, chose the city in part to highlight their nuclear nonproliferation efforts, which have been shaken by Russia’s nuclear threats against Ukraine and rising aggression from nuclear-armed China and North Korea.

He greeted leaders from the G7 on Friday at the city’s Peace Memorial Park and escorted them to pay respects to those who died from the attack after seeing exhibits at a museum dedicated to them, and met with a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

On Sunday, Kishida will also do the same for leaders from guest nations.

Kishida has pledged to act as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but some critics say his disarmament goals are hollow.

Japan relies on the United States nuclear umbrella for protection and has been rapidly expanding its military.

Sueichi Kido, a 83-year-old “hibakusha” or survivor of the Nagasaki explosion, says he is skeptical about whether the prime minister can convince G7 leaders including nuclear states the US, the United Kingdom and France to make real disarmament progress.

“But because they are meeting in Hiroshima I do have a sliver of hope that they will have positive talks and make a tiny step toward nuclear disarmament,” Kido said.

The United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people.

It dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending World War II.

Kido hoped the leaders would spend more time than former US President Barack Obama in his rushed 2016 visit through the museum exhibits that include the mangled buildings and bodies in the aftermath of the attack.

Obama’s trip to Hiroshima was the first by a serving US leader.

“I earnestly want the leaders to have a firm understanding of what the atomic bombs did to human beings,” Kido said.

“Many people think of the mushroom clouds, but they often don’t know what happened to the people under them.”

Kishida has been criticised by survivors for his plans to double Japan’s defense budget in the next five years.

He is looking to fund a military buildup that will strengthen strike capabilities meant to deter China’s rising threat.

Japan wants to deepen three-way ties with the United States and South Korea to step up nuclear deterrence. But it also refuses to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, despite atomic bomb survivors’ repeated requests to do so.

Kishida says the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which took effect in 2021, is unworkable because it lacks nuclear state membership.

Instead, he said, Japan needs to take a realistic approach to bridging the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states in a challenging world.

As a child, Kishida heard about the horrors of the atomic bombing from his grandmother.

She was from Hiroshima and her stories left “an indelible mark,” inspiring him to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, said Noriyuki Shikata, Cabinet secretary for public affairs.

He said Kishida becoming a politician representing the people of Hiroshima has reinforced that determination.

“A path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more difficult,” Kishida told selected foreign media, including The Associated Press, in April.

“But that’s why we need to keep raising the flag of our ideal and regain a new momentum.”

An estimated 12,705 nuclear warheads are in inventory as of 2022, most of them held by the United States and Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

During the G7 summit, Kishida will seek support from nuclear states for his Hiroshima Action Plan, which calls for the continuation of the non-use of nuclear weapons, transparency and a nuclear stockpile reduction.

Kido, the Nagasaki survivor, was 5 when he saw a flash in the sky and was buffeted by the blast on the morning of August 9, 1945.

He had burns on his cheek, but was reunited with his family at a shelter. When he went outside the next day, charred bodies were everywhere and people were walking about and begging for water with their flesh dangling.

“Everything turned black,” he said. “The town was entirely wiped out.”

Kido is among a shrinking population who can tell firsthand stories about the bombings.

“We won’t be around much longer. Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be gone,” he said. “We all share a strong determination that we should never let anyone else become hibakusha and feel this pain.

And the surest way to do it is to make a world without nuclear weapons, to abolish atomic weapons, and not wage war, because nuclear weapons won’t be used if there is no war.”

Many survivors have lived for decades with lingering sadness, anger, fear and shame in Japan, where hibakusha and their children were discriminated against because people believed radiation sickness was infectious or hereditary.

After decades of silence, some survivors began to speak out with desperate hope that younger generations will carry on their unfinished work.

It took Kido more than 40 years to join the anti-nuclear weapons movement in Gifu, where he taught history at a local university and learned that there was no organization to help survivors in the prefecture.

Support from young people was the main driving force behind getting the nuclear weapons ban treaty that led to the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, said Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor and activist based in Canada.

“For many years, atomic bombing survivors have raised the torch of achieving peace by denuclearisation. We need younger and stronger hands who can succeed the torch and raise it even higher so its light can be seen from around the world,” said Thurlow, who was exposed to the atomic bombing only 1.8 kilometres (1.1 miles) from ground zero in Hiroshima. (AP)

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