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Editorial: Nobel Peace Prize a chance to rethink Japan's response to nuclear ban treaty

An atomic bombing survivor delivered a speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the first time. Her name is Setsuko Thurlow, 85, a Hiroshima A-bomb survivor who now lives in Canada.

Thurlow walked up to the podium alongside Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) -- this year's peace prize winner -- when the latter made her acceptance speech. This was because Thurlow had played a key role in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed at a U.N. conference this past summer by giving testimony of her experience of the bomb on various occasions in many different countries, among other activities.

Thurlow experienced the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when she was 13 years old. "With one bomb my beloved city was obliterated. Most of its residents were civilians who were incinerated, vaporized, carbonized," Thurlow said in the Dec. 10 speech. She demanded nuclear abolishment as she repeated the words she heard when she got trapped under a collapsed building on that day 72 years ago: "Don't give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it." Behind her devotion to urge countries to join the ban treaty lies her belief that nuclear weapons are "the ultimate evil."

Fihn called the adoption of the ban treaty "a light in a dark time," but also said critics call the movement one led by "idealists with no grounding in reality."

Other atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, present at the ceremony in Oslo included two members of the nationwide hibakusha group Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Suffers Organizations.

Global interest in the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons was heightened thanks to the continued work of hibakusha who have been taking part in anti-nuclear weapons activities as living witnesses.

The late hibakusha Senji Yamaguchi delivered an emotional speech at the U.N. headquarters in 1982, calling for "no more hibakusha." Nagasaki atomic bombing survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi, who passed away this past summer at age 88, urged the world to abolish nuclear weapons at the U.N. headquarters in 2010 while holding a photo of his young self with severe burns on his back, which he sustained from the bombing.

Still, nuclear powers' efforts to reduce such weapons have not progressed, and North Korea continues to develop nuclear arms. The gap between reality and hibakusha's desires to see a world without nuclear weapons is overwhelming.

Nuclear powers and countries that fall under the nuclear umbrella, such as Japan, have not joined the ban treaty. Ambassadors of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China to Norway did not attend the Dec. 10 award ceremony. It is regrettable that the conflict over the treaty was brought to the Peace Prize ceremony.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono has released a statement saying that Japan shares the goal of nuclear abolition. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, who attended the Peace Prize ceremony, meanwhile, has denied the effect of nuclear deterrence, saying that "to believe we are protected by nuclear (weapons) is an illusion."

Japan, the only country ever to suffer atomic bombing during war, is expected to play a bridging role between nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations. The country should take the thoughts of hibakusha seriously and rethink its response to the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

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