The Norwegian government on March 4 and 5 sponsored an international conference on the various effects that nuclear weapons detonations would have on human health, the natural environment and economic development.
Although the conference did not touch on nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear arms reduction or elimination of nuclear weapons, it was significant in that it squarely dealt with the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.
Government and political leaders and citizens should deepen discussions on this issue and increase the awareness of the cruel nature of nuclear weapons to give momentum to efforts for reduction and eventual eradication of nuclear weapons.
Delegates from 127 countries, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement, and civil society organizations took part in the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Regrettably the official five nuclear weapons states — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — boycotted the conference, saying it will sap the interest in various measures for nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation — an argument hard to understand. Some 19,000 nuclear weapons exist on Earth, 97 percent of them possessed by the five states. North Korea and Israel, which also have nuclear weapons, boycotted the conference.
The conceptual basis of the conference is the final document of the 2010 review conference of parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which noted “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.” The detonation of a nuclear weapon will not only cause enormous destruction and death. Radioactive materials released from the explosion will contaminate large areas, causing serious health hazards and making rescue and relief activities almost impossible.
Two atomic bomb survivors, among the Japanese government delegates, told the conference that survivors have suffered not only ill health but also post-traumatic stress disorder from their radiation exposure 68 years ago.
Mr. Masao Tomonaga, director the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku (atomic bomb) Hospital, presented his research, which showed a high cancer incidence among atomic bombing survivors. He characterized nuclear weapons as “gene-targeting weapons.”
On the basis of his research result that an exchange of 100 nuclear weapons, each with the destructive power of the Hiroshima-type atomic bomb, between India and Pakistan could cause lower temperatures and rainfall, which would, for example, reduce corn production in the United States by 10 percent. Dr. Ira Helfand, past president of National Physicians for Social Responsibility of the U.S., told the conference that such a scenario could lead to 1 billion deaths due to hunger.
The conference underlined the impossibility of rescue and relief activities once a nuclear weapon is detonated. The chair’s summary said: “It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacities even if it were attempted.”
Having suffered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, Japan has a duty and responsibility to appeal against the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and work toward their elimination in earnest.