An ‘utterly immoral weapon of mass destruction’

August 3, 2017

In this article, published originally in Canada’s Star newspaper, Hiroshima survivor and ICAN supporter Setsuko Thurlow describes her feeling of betrayal at the refusal of the Canadian and Japanese governments to support the historic UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

By Setsuko Thurlow

I am still rejoicing. After more than half a century of warning the world of the horrors that nuclear weapons would rain down on cities and people, I and other survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally have concrete hope. Against the will of the nine nuclear weapon states that boycotted the United Nations negotiations, 122 countries voted to adopt the text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It will enter into force after 50 countries sign and ratify it, beginning 20 September.

Over the past several years I had felt concern about the huge impacts of use of nuclear weapons rising, as awareness deepened through the three humanitarian conferences held at Nayarit (Mexico), Oslo, and Vienna. I came home to Toronto buoyed by the feeling that determination to make real headway on nuclear weapons abolition was growing.

At these meetings and later at the UN in ban treaty discussions, when I gave witness, reliving the horror of my experience, the listening and empathy were palpable. My joy at the success of our endeavours is profound. This is a moment to be savoured: the first determined step the world has taken on the path to abolition of this last, utterly immoral weapon of mass destruction. But I felt betrayed by my birth country Japan, and by Canada, my adopted country, when both refused to participate in the ban treaty negotiations.

I am deeply disturbed that Canada did so under pressure from the US. I am appalled that the Canadian government remains under the nuclear umbrella, and under nuclear deterrence supports threatening people with nuclear annihilation. Canada, in the name of “security”, relies on the weapon of mass destruction identified as immoral and grossly inhumane in the Humanitarian Pledge, which the Canadian government refused to endorse. Canada’s refusal to participate in the UN ban treaty negotiations is a crime against humanity, given Canada’s direct involvement in development of the atom bomb.

Uranium for the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from Canada. Dene hunters and trappers from Deline on the western shore of Great Bear Lake were paid $3 a day by their white employers to carry sacks of radioactive uranium ore on their backs to barges along a 2,100 km “Highway of the Atom” of rivers, rapids and portages. Many subsequently died of cancers, leaving Deline a “village of widows”. The community in the Northwest Territories still struggles with the 1.7 million tonnes of uranium waste dumped into Great Bear Lake.

Through the Eldorado Mining and Refining Company, a Crown corporation, the Canadian government sold more than 900 tonnes of uranium ore to the American Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb. The Canadian uranium ore and 1,200 tonnes of uranium concentrate from the Belgian Congo were refined by Eldorado in Port Hope.

Graduates from Canadian universities, such as Arthur Dempster (University of Toronto), Clarence Johnson (University of Alberta), Walter Zinn (Queen’s University), and Louis Slotin (University of Manitoba), made significant contributions to the Manhattan Project. Slotin’s body was shipped back to Winnipeg in a lead coffin after he suffered massive exposure to radiation in one of the first nuclear accidents.

Many survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have died in recent years with their dreams of nuclear abolition unfulfilled. Their motto was “abolition in our lifetime”.

Instead, with development of North Korea’s nuclear missiles, persistent conflict between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and the US and Russia – and Donald Trump’s finger on the US nuclear button – the world we live in is getting more and more dangerous. There are 15,000 nuclear weapons, far more destructive than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, still in existence. The nuclear-armed states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals and disarmament negotiations remain blocked.

Many Canadians expected significant change in foreign policy when Justin Trudeau became prime minister. Disappointingly, nuclear disarmament was not even mentioned in his mandate letters to foreign ministers Stéphane Dion and Chrystia Freeland. If Canada wants to be “back” as a peacemaker, the Trudeau government cannot oppose the majority of the world’s nations seeking to abolish the scourge of nuclear weapons. We must become a signatory to the UN ban treaty.

On 6 August at the Toronto City Hall Peace Garden, I will read from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki peace declarations, as part of the annual commemoration of the bombing. I will remember those who died and express the hope of those who survived that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons.



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    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

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