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Hibakusha: Global push for nuclear abolition beacon of hope for aging A-bomb survivor

Sunao Tsuboi, head of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), is pictured during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Hiroshima's Naka Ward in October 2017. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- "At long last, the world's got moving," said Sunao Tsuboi, a 92-year-old Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor. He was speaking of the news last month that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) had won the Nobel Peace Prize for its instrumental role in the passage of a United Nations treaty outlawing nuclear weapons.

"It doesn't matter whether my name was on it or not. The award meant that a movement against nuclear weapons, even if made up of small voices, has emerged across the world. I practically jumped for joy, thinking, 'This is it!'" Tsuboi said.

Up until last year, he watched the Nobel Peace Prize announcement at the Hiroshima branch office of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), to respond to reporters who assembled there in anticipation of the award going to its parent body. This year, Tsuboi, who has headed Hiroshima Hidankyo since 2004, was at home waiting for the news to break on Oct. 6.

However, his jubilation was not absolute, due to the Japanese government's snub of the U.N. nuclear weapons ban treaty.

"The government says it cannot sign the treaty because of its relations with the United States. What cowards!" a fuming Tsuboi said.

Tsuboi was exposed to radiation from the Aug. 6, 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima a mere 1.2 kilometers from the hypocenter when he was a 20-year-old student. He sustained burns all over his body and was unconscious for about 40 days, falling into critical condition three times.

"The energy that drives me to live on gushes from nothing other than my desire (to achieve nuclear abolition). Not a single nuclear weapon, which can destroy human beings, should exist," he said.

After injuring his lower back this past spring, Tsuboi has appeared in public only a handful of times. Using a cane to back up his shaky legs, Tsuboi arrived for his late October interview with the Mainichi at the Hiroshima Hidankyo office wearing a gray suit.

Tsuboi used to be at the office almost every day after he became deputy secretary-general of the group about 20 years ago. Recently, however, his ill health has prevented him from coming in that often.

"My doctor tells me not to come here," he revealed. Tsuboi was in hospital for three days this summer, receiving intravenous drips, and had just gone through a closer examination due to deteriorating anemia symptoms prior to the interview.

"I have to step down (from my position). I'm wondering how to leave Hidankyo to future generations," said Tsuboi, as his fellow A-bomb survivors have passed away one after another.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Japan in early November, Tsuboi was glued to the TV screen to witness what the leaders of a nuclear superpower and the world's only A-bombed country had to say about nuclear weapons. He took in the scenes with only the weakening vision in his right eye, the left having been rendered sightless by the A-bomb.

However, the news reports disappointed Tsuboi, as they focused on Abe and Trump playing golf together and emphasizing the Japan-U.S. alliance.

"We should not take it lightly the fact that these people are the leaders of Japan and the United States," Tsuboi noted.

At a U.N. conference on nuclear disarmament to be held in Hiroshima later this month, he will deliver a speech before foreign government officials and experts.

"Humanity still has a challenge to solve. I'll go anywhere I'm needed," he said. (Story and photo by Naohiro Yamada, Hiroshima Bureau)

(This is the second part of a series.)

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