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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Hiroshima’s Message to the World

May 1, 2015

Delegates from around the world have gathered in New York to talk about the most dangerous weapons on the planet. They are at work at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review conference. The agreement took effect in 1970, but 45 years on, thousands of nuclear warheads are still in existence.

NHK World’s Chie Yamagishi joins us from New York.

Beppu: What are the big issues delegates are discussing?

Yamagishi: One is the Austrian-led push for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons once and for all. That would be separate from the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Those who support the initiative argue nuclear weapons are inhumane, and therefore they must not be produced or possessed by any country. Alexander Kmentt, a senior official from Austria says, about 80 non-nuclear states support the campaign.

Shibuya: How are the 5 main nuclear weapons states, such as the US, Russia and China, responding to this initiative?

Yamagishi: They say an immediate ban is impractical and support gradual disarmament. Matthew Rowland, a senior British diplomat, spoke on behalf of the 5 nations. He said they continue to believe that “an incremental, step-by-step approach is the only practical option.” Now, it’s not just the nuclear-armed states that are against the initiative. Japan and Australia, for example, haven’t offered their support for the immediate ban. They’re both allies with the US in the Asia-Pacific region. Their delegates say it is unrealistic to eliminate these weapons right away, and argue it’s better to bridge the huge gap of positions between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states.

Beppu: Of course, the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long called for an all-out ban on nuclear weapons. How are they responding to this Austrian-led initiative?

Yamagishi: Well, they support it. For decades, they’ve said they want to see a nuclear-free world within their lifetimes. But the survivors, known in Japanese as hibakusha, are getting older. The average age is 79. In the past, many of them have traveled to New York for the NPT conference. But some have passed away, and more of them feel too weak to go. So some young people who were born long after World War Two have gone in their place.

We met one high school student who made the trip to New York to represent aging survivors in Japan.

17-year-old Miku Tokuyama participated in a forum at the NPT Review Conference. She and three other students are on a committee at their high school. And they came to represent atomic bombing survivors. “Many survivors hope to save future generations from the same tragedy,” she says. The group advocates the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Members ask people who support their cause to sign petitions.

Tokuyama grew up in Hiroshima, but none of her relatives are atomic bombing survivors. When she was a student in junior high, she learned that the bomb killed more than 300 students at her school alone. “I learned that the atomic bombing took away everything indiscriminately,” she says. “I think it’s really horrific.”

Tokuyama wanted to learn more about what happened, so she joined the Nuclear Abolition Committee. The group meets survivors and listens to their stories, then works to pass on that information. The group has spoken to about 40 people since 2011.

And members posted videos of the interviews on a website called “Hiroshima Archive.” In one of the interviews, survivor Shiro Doi recalled “at school, I was blown away by the blast. Shards of window glass cut my head. My shirt and short-pants were stained with blood.”

Survivors are growing old. One died just a week before a scheduled interview. Tokuyama feels time is running out. “If people listen to what survivors think, and understand the atrocity of the atomic bombings, they’ll wish nuclear weapons could be eliminated,” she says. “I want more people to have that wish.”

Before Tokuyama left for the US, she received a letter from a survivor she had interviewed, saying she was happy that they had the chance to meet. Tokuyama decided to go to New York to represent the voices of those she’s met. “Many survivors are old and sick,” she explains. “I know they have a lot of things in their hearts that they can’t express with words. I want to tell the world what they’ve conveyed to us. I feel that’s my responsibility.”

After Tokuyama and her group arrived in New York, they went to UN headquarters to give a presentation. “I’ve practiced my speech a lot,” she said. “Now I want to convey a message in my own words to people around the world.”

Tokuyama spoke about the survivors she’s met, and called on the world to abolish nuclear weapons so future generations won’t experience the same tragedy.

One of the attendees said of Tokuyama’s presentation, “I am really touched. The survivors will pass away some day, but their spirit is passed to young students.” Another said the students “are making good steps and working hard to get the word out and to help the world to remember what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Tokuyama summed up by saying, “I’m happy to have this chance to tell people how the hibakusha feel, and that we have the torch now.”

Shibuya: Chie, the audience seemed to be listening carefully to what Tokuyama and her group had to say. What does she plan on doing after graduating from high school?

Yamagishi: Tokuyama told me she’s determined to carry on conveying the wishes of atomic bombing survivors to the world. She hopes to study international relations at university and contribute to one day making the world a place with no nuclear weapons.