With coronavirus outbreak, A-bomb survivors fear losing opportunity to call for nuclear abolition at upcoming NPT Review Conference

(by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer)

Amid the spread of the novel coronavirus and the U.S. government’s move to strengthen restrictions on the entry of overseas visitors, A-bomb survivors have begun to worry about their plan to participate in the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), starting in late April. U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated the country is considering whether Japan should be a possible target of expanded travel restrictions, without defining whether the restrictions would apply to entry into or departure from the United States. A-bomb survivors are concerned they may lose the opportunity to directly call for elimination of nuclear weapons to each nation’s representatives at the conference, which takes place in this 50th anniversary year of the NPT’s entry into effect.

The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), located in Tokyo, will send to the United States a delegation of about 50 people, including roughly 30 A-bomb survivors, during April 25–May 3, in conjunction with the holding of the NPT Review Conference. The gathering has great significance in that it will test whether brakes can be applied to a new arms race, which includes the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons. The delegates from the group plan to hold an A-bomb exhibit and engage in activities to share survivors’ A-bomb experiences at the UN headquarters in New York City, as well as submit to the United Nations signatures collected through the Hibakusha Appeal, a campaign calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

This will be the fourth time for the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations to send a delegation to the review conference, which is held every five years. In total, about 140 people have been sent to the gatherings so far. Amid a situation marked by the aging of A-bomb survivors, Sueichi Kido, 80, the organization’s secretary-general, said, “This will likely be our last chance to send such a large delegation. We definitely want to communicate our stance at the meeting site, but we now are concerned about entry restrictions and flight cancellations.” The group plans to be in close contact with travel agencies while preparing for the trip.

The United States has already banned entry of foreign nationals who traveled to China or Iran within 14 days prior to arrival in the country. The U.S. Department of State has warned American citizens to cancel any travel plans to certain areas in South Korea and Italy. The travel advisory level for Japan has also been raised, with it possible that restrictions on entry into the United States could be put in place for travelers from Japan.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 77, acting chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Survivors Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo), is also expected to visit the United States as a member of the delegation. However, in Mr. Mimaki’s home of Hiroshima prefecture, many public events are being cancelled, such as the street campaign to collect signatures for the Hibakusha Appeal, and 0ther gatherings. “I believe my role is to directly call for nuclear weapons abolition in the United States as someone from Hiroshima. That’s why I’m trying to keep in good health,” said Mr. Mimaki, clearly hoping that the situation will improve.

Young people who are to be sent to the conference from the A-bombed cities might also be affected. The Mayors for Peace organization (chaired by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui) plans to send eight high school students from Hiroshima to New York. “We have told students to prepare for the trip in a calm and steady manner,” a Mayors for Peace staff member said. “The only thing to do now is keep a close watch on the situation by gathering the latest information through our network of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).”

(Originally published on March 5, 2020)