Atomic bomb survivors view the G7 summit in Hiroshima as a 'beam of hope' for nuclear disarmament

HIROSHIMA, Japan — This weekend's Group of Seven summit of leading industrialized nations in Hiroshima provided survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a rare – and possibly last – opportunity to push for nuclear disarmament before a global audience.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has roots in Hiroshima, chose the city in part to highlight their nuclear nonproliferation efforts, which have been rocked by Russia's nuclear threat to Ukraine and increasing aggression from China and nuclear-armed North Korea. He greeted the G7 leaders on Friday at the city's Peace Memorial Park and escorted them to pay their respects to those who died as a result of the attack after viewing exhibits at the museum dedicated to them, and meeting survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On Sunday, Kishida will also do the same for the leaders of the visiting nations.

Kishida has vowed to act as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear nations, but some critics say his goal of disarmament is empty. Japan relies on the United States' nuclear umbrella for protection and is rapidly expanding its military.

Sueichi Kido, an 83-year-old “hibakusha” or survivor of the Nagasaki explosion, said he doubted whether the prime minister could convince the G7 leaders – including the nuclear nations US, UK and France – to make real progress on disarmament.

“But since they met in Hiroshima, I have little hope that they will have positive talks and make small steps towards nuclear disarmament,” Kido said.

The United States dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. It dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending World War II.

Kido hopes leaders will spend more time than former US President Barack Obama on his rushed 2016 visit through museum exhibits that include buildings and bodies destroyed in the attack.

Obama's trip to Hiroshima was the first by a serving US leader.

“I really want leaders to have a solid understanding of what the atomic bomb did to humanity,” Kido said. “A lot of people think of mushroom clouds, but they often have no idea what's happening to the people underneath.”

Kishida has been criticized by survivors for his plans to double Japan's defense budget in the next five years. He wants to fund a military build-up that will strengthen strike capabilities meant to stave off an escalating Chinese threat.

Japan wants to deepen three-way ties with the United States and South Korea to enhance nuclear deterrence. But it also refused to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, despite repeated requests from atomic bomb survivors to do so. Kishida said the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which comes into effect in 2021, was unenforceable because it does not have a membership of a nuclear nation. Instead, he said, Japan needs to take a realistic approach to bridging the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear nations in a challenging world.

As a child, Kishida heard about the horrors of the atomic bomb from his grandmother. He is from Hiroshima and his story left an “indelible mark”, inspiring him to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, said Noriyuki Shikata, Cabinet Secretary for public affairs. He said Kishida becoming a politician representing the people of Hiroshima had strengthened that determination.

“The path to a world without nuclear weapons is becoming increasingly difficult,” Kishida told select foreign media, including The Associated Press, in April. “But that's why we need to keep flying the flag of our ideals and regain new momentum.”

An estimated 12,705 nuclear warheads are in stock by 2022, most of them held by the United States and Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

During the G7 summit, Kishida will seek support from nuclear nations for his Hiroshima Action Plan, which calls for continuation of non-use of nuclear weapons, transparency, and reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

Kido, a Nagasaki survivor, was 5 years old when he saw a flash of light in the sky and was hit by an explosion on the morning of August 9, 1945.

He received burns to his cheek, but was reunited with his family at the shelter. When he went out the next day, charred bodies were everywhere and people were walking around asking for water with their flesh hanging from them.

“Everything went black,” he said. “The city was completely wiped out.”

Kido is one of those dwindling populations that can tell a direct story about the bombing.

“We won't be long now. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be gone,” he said. “We all have the firm resolve that we must not let anyone else become hibakusha and feel this pain. And the surest way to do that is to create a world without nuclear weapons, abolish atomic weapons, and not go to war, because nuclear weapons will not be used if no war.”

Many survivors have lived for decades with lingering grief, anger, fear and shame in Japan, where hibakusha and their children are discriminated against because people believe radiation sickness is contagious or hereditary.

After decades of silence, some of the survivors started speaking out in the desperate hope that the younger generation would continue their unfinished work.

It took Kido more than 40 years to join the anti-nuclear weapons movement in Gifu, where he taught history at the local university and learned that there was no organization to help survivors in the prefecture.

Support from young people was the main driving force behind securing the nuclear-weapons treaty that led to the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, said Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor and activist living in Canada.

“For years, atomic bomb survivors have raised the torch to achieve peace through denuclearization. We need younger, stronger hands that can replace the torch and raise it higher so that its light can be seen from around the world,” said Thurlow, who was exposed the atomic bomb was only 1.8 kilometers (1.1 mi) from ground zero on Hiroshima.