Hiroshima citizens’ group campaigns against depleted uranium weapons

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

Five years have passed since the Iraq War began in March 2003. In the city of Hiroshima, before war broke out, about 6,000 citizens gathered and formed “human letters” that spelled out “NO WAR NO DU!” to protest against the war and depleted uranium (DU) weapons. A citizens' group in Hiroshima has carried on this wish, continuing to call for a ban on DU. As the culmination of their activities to date, the group will publish a book reporting on the realities of DU. This article focuses on the movement of these citizens and the content of their book as well as the role of Hiroshima, a city which suffered an atomic bombing.

In early March 2008, in an office building in downtown Hiroshima, five members of the NO DU Hiroshima Project, led by Director Nobuo Kazashi, were proofreading a draft of their book. “We have to correct this sentence.” “This part would be better if the pictures were bigger.” They were carefully checking through the 260-page book which crystallizes their activities over the past five years.

The NO DU Hiroshima Project began in June 2003 after DU weapons were used in the Iraq War. The organizing committee of the human-letter rally was the main body that initiated the project, hoping to mobilize a global campaign to call for a ban on these “radioactive weapons” that use DU.

Soon after their work began, a delegation that included Haruko Moritaki, 69, Secretary General of the group, visited Iraq to investigate the true impact of DU weapons used by the U.S. and British forces. After they returned to Hiroshima, they published a book of photographs entitled “Hiroshima Appeal” to show the reality of life in Iraq to people inside and outside Japan. Approximately 20,000 copies in English and Japanese versions have been widely distributed both domestically and abroad.

Collaborating with other organizations, the NO DU Hiroshima Project invited physicians and researchers from Iraq to visit Hiroshima and they held photo exhibitions to show the reality of the areas affected by DU weapons. Members of the group, including Professor Kazashi and Ms. Moritaki who had taken part in the trip to Iraq, gave lectures and attended international conferences in Japan and abroad, developing a wide network of supporters.

In the summer of 2006, the NO DU Hiroshima Project hosted an international conference of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) in Hiroshima. A total of about 1,000 people from 12 countries, including scientists, activists, and victims of war, attended this conference. In this way, the NO DU Hiroshima Project came to play a key role in ICBUW, too.

Hand-in-hand with the activities of the NO DU Hiroshima Project, the campaign against DU was gaining momentum in the international community. In March 2007, the Belgium Parliament passed a law banning the production, use, and storage of DU within the country. Then, at the end of 2007, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution by majority vote to include the DU issue on the agenda of the next General Assembly.

“We will seize this opportunity, making every possible effort to promote this movement,” said Ms. Moritaki. She has visited Iraq twice, once before the war and once after, and her experiences there now drive her to action. In Iraq, she met many people suffering from cancer, leukemia, and other disorders. Although there was not enough scientific evidence to confirm the cause of these illnesses, Ms. Moritaki wondered what besides DU could be behind this spate of illnesses. She is afraid that DU may still be undermining the health of the local people, five years after DU weapons were fired.

As public security in Iraq continues to deteriorate, Ms. Moritaki recently lost contact with the Iraqi doctors she has communicated with for years. “It's heartbreaking,” she says. “We must stop producing victims of DU.”

Ms. Moritaki's passion is shared by other members of the group. Tamayo Okamoto, 69, a former university professor, has been actively engaged in NO DU Hiroshima Project's work since helping to organize the international conference. She says, “Once you understand the reality of DU, you can't remain indifferent.” Takayuki Sasaki, 25, a company employee, also participates in the group's activities during his time off. “We may not be able to stop anything immediately, but we can at least make people aware of this issue.” His attitude is in clear contrast to that of some young people who felt their efforts were in vain and so left the campaign.

The book published by the NO DU Hiroshima Project, printed by Godo Shuppan, is entitled “A World without Uranium Weapons: The ICBUW Challenge” (2,500 yen). Based on reports presented at the international ICBUW conference, it includes material that covers the suffering of people from the effects of DU in both Iraq and the United States, scientific studies, anti-DU movements in the world, and other related topics.

Read carefully, the book inspires hope that when individual citizens take action, they can muster enough public opinion to advance a peaceful world free from DU weapons and nuclear weapons.

Interview with Professor Nobuo Kazashi, 54, Director of the NO DU Hiroshima Project and Visiting Scholar of Philosophy at Harvard University in the U.S.

The Iraq War has been one of the major issues of the presidential election in the United States, but the war is discussed not from the viewpoint of how much damage it has caused to the people of Iraq but from the viewpoint that the war was a failure for the people of the United States. Although many people are very aware of this issue, I feel that American society is turning inward.

At the end of last year, in the state of New York, a group of scientists from the U.S. and the U.K. presented the results of their studies which show that uranium can still be detected in the urine of former employees of a DU factory, which closed in the 1980s, and the residents who lived nearby. The recent scandal involving the governor of New York was reported worldwide, but concerns involving DU are not sufficiently covered, even within the United States. This is the reality.

The NO DU Hiroshima Project has managed to sustain its energy for two important reasons. One is that DU is an urgent issue that must be addressed. DU weapons are not only inhumane weapons that torment people as we speak, they are also devices that have dire environmental consequences affecting future generations. The other reason is related to the fact that the ICBUW campaign, which the NO DU Hiroshima Project has supported almost from its inception, is steadily moving forward.

Five years ago, we made a “NO DU” appeal in large “human letters” and the photograph appeared in an American newspaper. The response from readers was strong and the NO DU campaign by the citizens of Hiroshima has since met with many more encouraging reactions.

Recently, I spoke about the NO DU campaign at gatherings of American veterans and members of peace organizations active in the Boston area and learned that the English book and video we produced in Hiroshima has moved them to take action and that their own materials and activities are based on our work. Although we hadn't known this, the voices of Hiroshima managed to reach across the world.

In Japan, the number of full-time members in our office may be limited, but the citizens who participated in the human-letter rally have offered their support in response to our appeal, generously giving their time and money for the international conference and for major campaigns.

Looking ahead, we intend to move forward from our appeal to prohibit the use of DU to the next stage which involves stirring international politics towards adopting a treaty that will ban DU weapons. This is a difficult challenge, but we will do our best to raise awareness of this issue in the international community and encourage many more people to take part in this movement.


Depleted uranium
Depleted uranium (DU) is a radioactive waste derived from the production of enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation. As DU is denser than iron or lead, it is used as a material for arm-piercing penetrators. These weapons have been used since the Gulf War of 1991, in the wars in Kosovo, and in Iraq. It is believed that DU weapons are produced by six countries, including the United States, and are possessed by more than 20 countries. Though the U.S. government has not admitted to any health risks connected to DU, there are a growing number of studies that report health-related concerns among residents of the areas where DU weapons were used, the soldiers who used those weapons, and workers employed at factories producing DU.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) was launched in October 2003 with the mission of “achieving a global ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapon systems.” Based in the U.K., ICBUW currently has 96 member organizations in 26 countries. For full details on ICBUW and its work, please see the ICBUW website.