Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings
The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people, and their effects are still being felt today.
By the end of 1945, the bombing had killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima, and a further 74,000 in Nagasaki. In the years that followed, many of the survivors would face leukemia, cancer, or other terrible side effects from the radiation.
“Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain.”
- Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of the August 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 2017
The uranium bomb detonated over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 had an explosive yield equal to 15,000 tonnes of TNT. It razed and burnt around 70 per cent of all buildings and caused an estimated 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945, along with increased rates of cancer and chronic disease among the survivors.
A slightly larger plutonium bomb exploded over Nagasaki three days later levelled 6.7 sq km. of the city and killed 74,000 people by the end of 1945. Ground temperatures reached 4,000°C and radioactive rain poured down.
Photo: Tricycle belonging to 3-years-and-11-months-old Shinichi Tetsutani - who was riding outside of his house in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was detonated over the city on August 6th, 1945. Courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, copying and use of this photo without permission is prohibited.
No response capacity
If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated over a city today, first responders - hospitals, firemen, aid organisations - would simply be unable to help. This powerful video by the Red Cross explains why:
The reason we know this is that the extent of the damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 made it nearly impossible to provide aid. In Hiroshima 90 per cent of physicians and nurses were killed or injured; 42 of 45 hospitals were rendered non-functional; and 70 per cent of victims had combined injuries including, in most cases, severe burns.
All the dedicated burn beds around the world would be insufficient to care for the survivors of a single nuclear bomb on any city.
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most victims died without any care to ease their suffering. Some of those who entered the cities after the bombings to provide assistance also died from the radiation.
Photo: Courtesy of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, copying and use of this photo without permission is prohibited.
It takes around 10 seconds for the fireball from a nuclear explosion to reach its maximum size, but the effects last for decades and span across generations.
Five to six years after the bombings, the incidence of leukaemia increased noticeably among survivors. After about a decade, survivors began suffering from thyroid, breast, lung and other cancers at higher than normal rates.
Paintings created by survivors. Courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, copying and use of without permission is prohibited
Pregnant women exposed to the bombings experienced higher rates of miscarriage and deaths among their infants; their children were more likely to have intellectual disabilities, impaired growth and an increased risk of developing cancer.
And for all survivors, cancers related to radiation exposure still continue to increase throughout their lifespan, even to this day, seven decades later.
Koko Kondo was buried under rubble with her mother who was holding the 8-month-old child during the attack on Hiroshima, and has spent a lifetime campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Photo: Ari Beser
The Hibakusha (survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) are integral to the history of the atomic bombings of these cities - not only because they are among the few true nuclear weapons experts to have experienced the actual impact of these weapons - but also because of the tireless efforts of many Hibakusha to eliminate nuclear weapons.
From the iconic story of Sadako’s 1000 paper cranes to the tireless efforts by Hibakusha to rid the world of nuclear weapons to this very day, their stories are stories of hope and determination that must not be lost. Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are living witnesses to the horror of nuclear war and when we talk about nuclear weapons, we must talk about the real unacceptable effects they have on human beings.
To learn more, you can find a vast number of Hibakusha testimonies online, but good starting places are Hibakusha Stories and the 1945 project, as well as these resources by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
A Path Forward
Setsuko Thurlow - Hibakusha and lifelong activist for the elimination of nuclear weapons - delivers the Nobel Lecture on behalf of ICAN in 2017. Photo: Jo Straube
After decades of campaigning for a world free of nuclear-weapons, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted in 2017 holds great significance for the Hibakusha. A survey among 6000 Hibakusha carried out by Kyodo News showed that a vast majority feel that Japan should join the U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons, underscoring their discontent with the government’s opposition to the agreement. Joining the treaty would represent a recognition by Japan of its affected citizens’ rights and suffering.
80.2% of Hibakusha welcomed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- Kyodo News poll, 2018
Since the Treaty's adoption, many Hibakusha have continued their tireless advocacy efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The Hibakusha Appeal calls on all governments to join the TPNW. World leaders must heed the calls of Hibakusha, and of concerned citizens around the world, for a nuclear-weapon-free future.