A-bomb survivors disappointed by NPT Review Conference postponement, wanting their call for nuclear weapons abolition to be heard

On March 13, it was anticipated that the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) would be postponed for one year, given the global novel coronavirus pandemic. In response, A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima who were intending to visit the United States in conjunction with the conference to voice their wishes to have nuclear weapons abolished, expressed deep disappointment. This year marks 75 years since the atomic bombings. As the aging survivors were passionate about what was to be an important conference held in this milestone year, the likely postponement has only served to increase their disappointment.

The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo, based in Tokyo) was planning to send a delegation of about 50 people and hold an A-bombing exhibit at the United Nations headquarters, the venue for holding the NPT Review Conference. On March 13, Sueichi Kido, 80, the confederation’s secretary-general, conveyed to staff over the telephone its decision not to dispatch the delegation. “We’ll now not be able to call on the international community directly to abolish nuclear weapons, which is truly a shame,” said Mr. Kido somberly.

The conference looks likely to be postponed for up to one year. Toshiyuki Mimaki, 77, one of the delegates and acting chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), expressed concern at the organization’s office in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward. “Some of our delegates can go to the United States this year but would probably not be able to do so next year because of health issues,” Mr. Mimaki said. “One year in the future is too distant for us.”

Kunihiko Sakuma, 75, chair of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, was accepting of the Japan Confederation’s decision. “Given the health of the A-bomb survivors, we have no choice but to accept the decision not to send the delegates. We’ll continue to advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons until all are eliminated from earth,” said Mr. Sakuma.

The year is the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. At the Review Conference, in this historically significant milestone year, discussions were anticipated to take place about whether the NPT can put a brake on a new arms race that includes the United States’ deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons for active service.

Nobuo Takahashi, 81, is director of the Hiroshima prefectural chapter of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Hiroshima Gensuikyo), an organization that was scheduled to dispatch 32 delegates to the United States. “As the nuclear weapons problem approaches a delicate and important stage, we desperately wanted to convey to the United Nations the wishes and hopes of A-bomb survivors,” said Mr. Takahashi. Now, however, he is looking forward to the next opportunity. Tetsuo Kaneko, 71, a member of the representative committee of the prefectural chapter of the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin), said, “Now is the time for both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states to meet and for A-bomb survivors to convey their messages to these states, because we have now reached a crucial phase.” He added, “I sincerely hope the review conference can be held sometime during this year, which marks a milestone.”

Young people in Hiroshima prefecture were scheduled to participate in the NPT Review Conference and related events as observers. Yuichiro Muta, 17, a High School Peace Ambassador and second-year student at Motomachi High School, living in Higashi Ward, was to be sent to the United States based on the support of certain civic groups. “Even though I can’t make it to the conference this time, I’ll make every effort in Japan to have many people know more about activities of the High School Peace Ambassadors,” he said optimistically.

The Mayors for Peace organization (for which Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui serves as president) was planning to send eight high school students to the United States. Two members of the computation skills research club at Fukuyama Technical High School (located in the city of Fukuyama) had prepared a presentation to show the scenes around the A-bomb hypocenter, a video they reproduced by virtual reality (VR). Katsushi Hasegawa, 54, the instructor in charge of the club, said, “The two students who were supposed to go to the conference will graduate next year. It’s a shame that students who worked hard for this purpose now cannot make their presentation on the world stage.”

(Originally published on March 14, 2020)