Editorial: Let Peace Memorial Ceremony be a starting point for a nuclear-free world

Sixty-six years after the atomic bombing, this year's Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony marked a new era: the ceremony not only denounced nuclear weapons, it also cast doubt on the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

In the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, a crisis triggered by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the dangers posed by nuclear energy in an uncontrollable state have become painfully clear to all.

In his Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui strongly urged the Japanese government to “quickly review our energy policies and institute concrete countermeasures.”

As if he were responding to Mr. Matsui's statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan then spoke at the ceremony and said that “Japan is working to revise its energy policy from scratch” and “will reduce its level of reliance on nuclear power generation with the aim of becoming a society that is not dependent on nuclear power.”

These remarks should carry special weight, particularly in light of the fact that they were made in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims where the names of 275,230 victims of the atomic bombing are enshrined.

In mid-July Mr. Kan stated that Japan should eventually do away with nuclear power as a source for the nation's energy. However, without offering any timetable or road map along with his comment, the prime minister's announcement was met with strong criticism, even from within his own Cabinet. Two days later, Mr. Kan backpedaled, saying that his statement on nuclear power was his “personal opinion.”

Mr. Kan apparently held no substantive discussion within his administration before he spoke out. Later, the government's Energy and Environmental Council belatedly presented a scenario for reducing dependence on nuclear energy as a medium- to long-term strategy.

But can this scenario of shifting away from nuclear energy now be considered government policy? At a news conference after the Peace Memorial Ceremony, Mr. Kan would only say that he and the council share the same outlook.

According to a poll conducted by Kyodo News at the end of July, more than 70 percent of respondents support the idea of breaking away from the nation's dependence on nuclear energy.

The council will draw up a timetable by the end of this year. Beyond expanding renewable energy sources and reviewing the wasteful aspects of society's energy consumption, what sort of blueprint will the government present to create a nation that has no nuclear power plants? A thorough national debate on these issues is needed.

With the United States resuming subcritical nuclear tests, the road to the elimination of nuclear weapons has become harder and steeper. In this aspect, the speeches made by both the mayor and the prime minister at the ceremony fell short of presenting effective measures to pursue a breakthrough.

Also, unlike the two previous mayors, Mr. Matsui did not refer to the idea of Japan freeing itself from the U.S. nuclear umbrella. As the mayor of Hiroshima, he should have spoken more directly about this central problem.

When asked his view of nuclear deterrence at the press conference, Mr. Kan sidestepped the question and answered that nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence will be beside the point when the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons has been realized.

He should have been prepared to offer a road map leading to the abolition of such weapons.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has served as the foundation of global nuclear disarmament, but at the same time, it helps further the spread of technology for nuclear power. To move toward a nuclear-free world, including the end of nuclear energy, a nuclear weapons convention that outlaws nuclear arms should be the goal.

A-bomb survivors have called on the prime minister to strengthen the nation's efforts to advance a nuclear weapons convention, but he has offered no response. Meanwhile, the Japanese government has abstained from voting on a resolution by the UN General Assembly which calls for the start of negotiations on such a convention.

The inscription on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park states: “We Shall Not Repeat the Evil.” On August 6 of this year, the question was posed as to whether the pledge of this inscription can be broadened, beyond the pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons, to encompass a completely nuclear-free world.

(Originally published on August 7, 2011)