Editorial: The role of the A-bombed nation, 73 years after A-bombings

A tiny dot in the vast universe. When extinction looms, no help will come from outer space. Such is our fate on Earth, the planet where we live. The late Carl Sagan, an American astronomer and a pioneer of space exploration, described Earth as the “pale blue dot” and warned of a new Ice Age wrought by nuclear war. It is only ourselves, the human species, who can ensure that “nuclear winter” remains a mere mirage.

“To the leaders of the countries across the world, I beseech you. If you love this planet, you will sign this treaty.” Setsuko Thurlow, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Canada, said at the United Nations when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in July of last year. She went on, “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral. Now they are also illegal.”

Change in conditions of Northeast Asia

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by 122 nations, or two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations. It is the first international law that expressly outlaws nuclear weapons, completely banning the use, development, production, and possession of these weapons as well as related activities. The weapon of mass destruction that targeted and killed so many innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has finally become illegal.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization which has been working with Ms. Thurlow, was awarded last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution toward establishing the treaty. There is no doubt that 2017 was a breakthrough year for the antinuclear movement in clearing this high hurdle. We, as a newspaper company based in the A-bombed city, are determined to help strengthen the momentum for nuclear abolition.

This year there have been major developments in the conditions in Northeast Asia, which have impacted Japan. Summit meetings between North Korea and South Korea were held in April and May, and the leaders of North Korea and the United States met and spoke in June. With this series of meetings, a step was taken toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Also under consideration is the idea of officially bringing the Korean War to an end. In this year’s Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui included these words: “…the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula will proceed through peaceable dialogue.”

North Korea had been pursuing a series of ballistic missile tests, scheming to cover not only Japan and South Korea but also the continental United States within range of a nuclear attack. Then, however, North Korea made an about-turn, changing its threatening posture to a possible relaxation of tensions in the region. Needless to say, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula in a verifiable manner is a significant challenge. In addition, there is the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea that still must be resolved. These problems should be addressed through dialogue and pressure applied by the countries concerned.

The Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University has proposed the concept of a “Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.” Currently, there are seven nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world, formed through treaties, that cover the entire Southern Hemisphere. If Northeast Asia also becomes a nuclear-weapon-free zone, this would add restraint to the United States, Russia, and China, the nuclear powers that are involved in the region. Japan would then no longer need to cling to the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Such a vision is by no means a pipe dream.

Moving nuclear disarmament forward

The United States and Russia held a face-to-face discussion this year and displayed a positive attitude toward engaging in arms reduction talks, which we commend. If this meeting helped improve relations between these two countries, which had deteriorated to the point of “a new Cold War,” it was worth having from the point of view of easing tensions. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) expires in 2021 and if the two nations fail to negotiate an extension of this treaty, the result could be an unstoppable arms race.

Nonetheless, the ulterior motives of the United States and Russia, in seeking the upper hand over one another as a nuclear superpower, are evident. They should recognize that the slowdown in their efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals is what prompted the adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty. These two nations must take the issue of nuclear arms reduction more seriously.

There is also a problem with the stance of the Japanese government. Despite the fact that nearly 300 municipal assemblies have approved proposals requesting that the national government sign and ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty, they have shown no signs of responding to this appeal. If Japan makes international calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons as “the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack,” it should step up and promptly ratify the treaty.

In February, the U.S. Trump administration released the latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the strategic guidelines for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Included in this document is the aim of developing smaller, low-yield nuclear arms that would be more “usable.” Although this NPR runs counter to “a world without nuclear weapons,” which was the policy advocated by the former Obama administration, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono remarked that he “highly appreciated” it. We would like to ask him what he thinks the role of the A-bombed nation should be.

Meanwhile, Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle, where plutonium is extracted from spent fuel to run the nation’s nuclear plants, has failed. Despite its status as the A-bombed nation, Japan holds approximately 47 tons of plutonium, both inside and outside the country. This fact is a grave contradiction.

It appears Japan has no choice but to end its failed pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle. If Japan continues to cling to this system, countries like South Korea may feel the desire to create their own nuclear fuel cycle. This would unnecessarily raise tensions in Northeast Asia over nuclear arms, thereby hampering the efforts of the international community to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Remains beneath the hypocenter to be displayed

On July 23, the Chugoku Shimbun carried the two-page feature article “A-bombed remains buried beneath Peace Memorial Park” in its morning edition. This article reported on the excavation site beneath the Main Building of the Peace Memorial Park and revealed a charred rice scoop, a pair of “toilet geta” (Japanese clogs worn in the bathroom), pieces of a tiled bathroom, and other items that had been buried approximately 70 centimeters under the ground.

The surveyed area includes only 15 to 20 homes that once stood at the excavation site, but evidence of the lives led by the people of that time can clearly be seen. Park officials plan to open the unearthed remains to the public in a corner of the Peace Memorial Park. In the United States, the remains of a nuclear facility that once spread plutonium downwind have been replaced with a wildlife reserve, erasing the memory of this damaging past. However, a similar turn of events is unlikely to occur in Hiroshima.

One woman who survived the atomic bombing has said, “Possessing nuclear weapons is a deplorable act.” We will continue to convey her sentiment to the world.

(Originally published on August 6, 2018)