NAGASAKI – Nagasaki marked the 74th anniversary Friday of the atomic bombing of the city, with Mayor Tomihisa Taue using the memorial ceremony to call on the government to immediately sign a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons.
“As the only country in the world to have experienced the devastation caused by nuclear weapons, Japan must sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as soon as possible,” Taue said in the annual declaration.
The mayor had urged the central government to sign the international treaty at the two previous annual ceremonies, but this year he used stronger and more direct language.
The treaty was adopted in July 2017 by 122 U.N. members but is not yet in force as it has not been ratified by the required 50 nations.
A moment of silence was observed at 11:02 a.m., the exact time on Aug. 9, 1945, when a plutonium-core atomic bomb code-named “Fat Man” dropped by a U.S. bomber exploded over the city, three days after the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged at the ceremony that Japan would continue its efforts to be a “bridge between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states” and realize a world without nuclear weapons. But he did not refer to the treaty.
At a news conference after the ceremony, Abe repeated that Japan is not considering taking part in the treaty, which he said does not reflect security realities.
The ceremony at the Peace Park was attended by roughly 5,200 people and representatives from around 70 countries including all five recognized nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — as well as the United Nations and the European Union.
As a step toward joining the treaty, Taue called on Japan “to seize the trend toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and to initiate efforts to make Northeast Asia a nuclear-free zone where all countries coexist under, not a ‘nuclear umbrella,’ but a ‘non-nuclear umbrella.'”
Civil society groups including A-bomb survivors have “shown the power time and again to change the world,” he said, citing the important role played by citizens in concluding the treaty. “The power of a single individual is small but by no means weak.”
He also said the world is now in an “extremely dangerous” situation as the opinion that nuclear weapons are useful is “once again gaining traction” and the danger of a nuclear calamity is “mounting.”
Referring to the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next spring, the keystone of the international nuclear disarmament regime, Taue said, “All the nuclear states should recall the meaning of the treaty.”
The anniversary ceremonies in the two cities were held amid concern about a new arms race following the United States’ formal withdrawal last week from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with Russia in 1987.
Taue called on the United States and Russia to “assume responsibility as nuclear superpowers” by setting a specific course to “drastically reduce nuclear stockpiles.”
“The atomic bombs were built by human hands and exploded over human heads. It follows that nuclear weapons can be eliminated by an act of human will,” the mayor said.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a message, “The only true guarantee against the use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination,” adding, “This remains the United Nations’ and my personal highest disarmament priority.”
Braving the scorching sun from early morning, residents and visitors gathered at the park to mourn those who perished in the attack and pray for peace.
Nagasaki native Midori Kawajiri, 63, said her late mother, who was a hibakusha, hardly talked about the experience. But Kawajiri believes Nagasaki residents must pass down the victims’ stories to future generations amid concerns over the aging of the survivors.
“Of course I understood her feelings, but now it seems some countries are about to start a war, so such a situation makes it even more important to pass down individuals’ memories,” she said.
An estimated 74,000 people had died as a result of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the end of 1945, according to the city.
The combined number of surviving hibakusha from the two atomic bombings stood at 145,844 as of March, down about 9,000 from a year earlier. Their average age was 82.65.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in November during the first papal visit to Japan since that of John Paul II in February 1981. Nagasaki has numerous sites linked to the history of Japanese Christians, who were persecuted in the 17th to 19th centuries.
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