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A-bomb survivor expresses hope in nuclear weapons ban treaty, raps Japanese gov't

Setsuko Thurlow speaks at the United Nations headquarters on March 28, 2017. (Mainichi)

An 85-year-old atomic bomb survivor lashed out at the Japanese government at the United Nations headquarters on March 28 for not taking part in talks on a convention to outlaw nuclear weapons, but expressed hope that the talks would be productive.

Setsuko Thurlow, a resident of Canada who was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on Aug. 6, 1945, received a huge round of applause after recounting her own experiences to those gathered in New York.

Thurlow was 1.8 kilometers from the hypocenter when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima. Mobilized in the war effort as a student, she was aged 13 at the time.

"Whenever I remember Hiroshima, the first image that comes to my mind is my 4-year-old nephew who was transformed in an unrecognizable, blackened, swollen, melted chunk of flesh, who kept begging for water in a faint voice until his death released him from agony," she said.

Thurlow noted that the atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, had worked "tirelessly for decades" for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and condemned the Japanese government over its inability to fully commit to negotiations.

"Indeed yesterday morning the Japanese government official's speech deepened hibakusha's feeling of being continuously betrayed and abandoned by their own country," she said.

Nevertheless, she expressed hope for the future, telling the participants, "Please do your job well."

"We hibakusha survivors have no doubt that this treaty can -- and will -- change the world," she said. Participants responded with over one minute of applause.

A representative of the Mexican government, which is backing the convention, pointed out the value of survivors' remarks, saying they reminded participants why they were there.

After Thurlow finished her speech, many people approached her to express their gratitude.

She said she was overwhelmed, adding that she had been guided by the feelings of those who lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She tearfully said that she was glad to remain alive 72 years after the bombing.

Thurlow studied in the United States in 1954 after graduating from university and was interviewed about the protests against nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll that were taking place in Japan. Upon publication of an article criticizing nuclear testing, letters arrived at her dormitory telling her, "Don't forget Pearl Harbor," and "Go back to Japan."

She said she felt isolated, but became aware of her responsibility as an A-bomb survivor to speak about her experiences. She later moved to Canada, and every year since 1975 she has held exhibitions of photos taken after the bombing, and events paying respects to those who perished. She has continued her activities in various countries and has frequently been cited as a potential candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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