World Conferences against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to be held in August online, amid uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 pandemic

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

On June 3, it was learned that the World Conferences against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs this year would be changed to online meetings. Each year in early August, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) and the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin) each hold their own world conferences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Given that participants would gather from across the globe to participate in the conferences amid uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, however, the two organizations decided that the typical on-site meeting format would not be feasible. This year will be the first time that the meetings do not gather together since the first world conference was held in Hiroshima on August 6, 1955.

Every year, Gensuikyo and Gensuikin establish their own organizing committee with relevant groups and separately hold world conferences. Typically, members of peace groups and researchers from countries around the world gather in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to participate in the gatherings and discuss topics such as the path ahead toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. According to the two groups, the Gensuikyo conference usually gathers more than 10,000 participants, and the Gensuikin meeting is attended by around 5,000 people.

Gensuikyo and its partners abandoned the idea of holding this year’s world conference in Hiroshima and meetings on site in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, originally scheduled for the period August 2–9. Online meeting dates by video conferencing format were determined to be August 2 for the world conference, August 6 for the meeting in Hiroshima, and August 9 for the gathering in Nagasaki. According to this plan, about 10 lecturers are expected to speak at each meeting. In addition to pre-registering 1,000 online meeting participants, the plans call for a video of the gatherings to be streamed online to ensure public access.

Gensuikin and its partners will replace each of its Hiroshima and Nagasaki conferences, originally scheduled for the period August 4–9, as well as a conference originally scheduled to be held in Fukushima in late July, with online meetings held on August 6, 9, and 12, respectively. The online conferences will be convened using a format that involves showing prerecorded videos of the events. However, parts of the programs will be broadcast live online, including appeals made by A-bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A symposium to be hosted by high school students on August 9 is also expected to be livestreamed on the online conference platform.

According to Yasuyuki Satake, assistant secretary general of Gensuikyo, “We made an unavoidable decision with the aim of protecting peoples’ lives. However, we continue to believe that gathering in person and having dialogue are crucial for our activities, making current circumstances truly regrettable.” Tomoyuki Kitamura, secretary general of Gensuikin, explained that, “It was a painful decision, but to carry on our history of holding the conferences, we hope this year’s online event is a success.”


Campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs
Triggered by the accident in which the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No.5), a Japanese tuna fishing boat, was exposed to radioactive fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test conducted at the Bikini Atoll in 1954, this campaign spread throughout Japan as a grassroots anti-nuclear weapons movement. On August 6, 1955, the first world conference against atomic and hydrogen bombs took place at the Municipal Auditorium (now the International Conference Center Hiroshima), located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in the city’s Naka Ward. The campaign then splintered into two groups due to conflict over the group’s stance on nuclear tests conducted by the former Soviet Union. Thereafter, Gensuikyo and Gensuikin separately held their own world conferences. For a period starting in 1977, the two world conferences were combined, but since 1986 they have once again been held separately.

(Originally published on June 4, 2020)