Today is the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. At 11:02 a.m. Aug. 9, 1945, a five-ton plutonium bomb exploded a third of a mile above the city. Its blast winds tore through the city at two and a half times the speed of a Category 5 hurricane.
Six weeks ago, 74-year-old Tomonaga, now a leading specialist on long-term radiation effects on the human body, flew to New York as Nagasaki’s official representative in support of a breakthrough international nuclear weapons ban treaty, adopted at the United Nations on July 7.
Backed by 122 nations and with strong support from civil society organizations across the globe, the accord is the world’s first comprehensive treaty banning the use, threat of use and production of nuclear weapons. It places nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as all other weapons of mass destruction — including chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions, which have long been outlawed.
The treaty was not an act of naiveté. Its proponents knew that nuclear-armed and nuclear-defended nations — including Japan — would vehemently reject the ban, defending their position that nuclear weapons prevent nuclear war. The ban was negotiated too with clear understandings of the current heightened tensions between the United States and Russia, because of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and testing, and President Trump’s nuclear posturing.
The strategy — as was successfully implemented with landmines — is to delegitimize and ultimately eliminate the most destructive and inhumane weapons made. After treaty ratification in September, the next step is to convince first one, then other nuclear-armed or defended nations to abide by it. Similar treaties banning weapons of mass destruction have resulted in policy changes even by countries that haven’t signed them — including the United States, which now follows the landmines ban without having signed that treaty.
Testimony like Tomonaga’s can only help. Using his experience as a survivor, radiation scientist and physician who has treated hibakusha (atomic bomb-affected people) for nearly 50 years, Tomonaga gave a statement before the United Nations that countered vague images of nuclear war with details of its terrifying acute and long-term human consequences.