Interview with Terumi Tanaka, head of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, on nuclear disarmament conference in Oslo

by Junpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

Sponsored by the Norwegian government, an international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was held on March 4 and 5 in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Delegations from 127 countries and regions attended the conference. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Terumi Tanaka, 80, secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, on the conference and its outcome. Mr. Tanaka took part in the conference as a member of the delegation dispatched by the Japanese government.

“Japan’s presence was weak”

What activities did the Japanese delegation pursue?

I gave a speech, which I delivered in English, and referred to my experience of the atomic bombing. I said that, from the damage caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we know the kinds of inhumane conditions that would result if a nuclear weapon was used. I wanted people to imagine the hell we experienced under the well-known image of the mushroom cloud.

Another member of the delegation, Masao Tomonaga, the director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku Hospital, gave a lecture on the medical effects that occur when a nuclear weapon is detonated.

This was the first international conference that saw nations discussing the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

If the inhumane and immoral nature of nuclear weapons is not at the heart of this, our effort to eliminate such weapons will not be realized. If people all over the world come to feel that human beings should not use nuclear weapons, the idea of nuclear deterrence will no longer be viable. I realized once again that focusing on the inhumane nature of these weapons is the right course, and the starting point for this is Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Five nations which are permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), including the United States and Russia, did not take part in the conference.

This is regrettable, but it isn’t easy to realize. The reason that they didn’t attend the meeting appears to be the idea that their participation would interfere with the efforts at nuclear disarmament being made by the nuclear weapon states themselves. But I don’t think these efforts are contrary to the purpose of the conference. All efforts, from all angles, should be made to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world.

Was Japan’s presence felt?

Japan’s presence was very weak. The Japanese government refused to sign a joint statement calling for nuclear weapons to be made illegal, a statement backed by 16 nations, including Switzerland. Japan’s position was such that the best it could do was send a delegation.

The delegation from Kazakhstan had more than ten members, which was significantly larger than Japan’s four-member group, and had a far stronger presence at the conference. People affected by radiation took the podium and explained how the nuclear test site was closed and the Kazakh president’s point of view. They also held an exhibition of photo panels.

Do you think the conference was a step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons?

The participants all surely sympathized with the chairperson’s summary statement which declared that no nation could handle the destructive consequences if a nuclear weapon was used. I think this will influence the views of nations at the second preparatory meeting for the NPT Review Conference, which will open in April in Geneva, Switzerland. By continuing to conduct conferences like the one in Oslo, there will be stronger momentum for nuclear abolition.

What would you like the Japanese government to do?

After the conference closed, a high official of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked me to help change the attitude of the Japanese government. While Norway is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the country is working hard to advance nuclear disarmament. The idea that it’s difficult for Japan to support nuclear disarmament because it’s under the U.S. nuclear umbrella is a poor excuse.

Japan is the nation that experienced the first atomic bombings in human history. It’s shameful that Japan doesn’t sponsor these types of conferences or assert leadership on this issue. Japan should be at the forefront of these efforts and spearheading the trend toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.


Terumi Tanaka
Terumi Tanaka was born in the former Manchuria (in northeastern China) in 1932. While a first-year student at Nagasaki Prefectural Nagasaki Junior High School, he was exposed to the atomic bombing at his home, 3.2 kilometers from the hypocenter. Five members of his family, including his grandfather, were killed. He was formerly an associate professor at the school of engineering at Tohoku University, among other previous positions. In June 2000, Mr. Tanaka became secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations for the second time. He lives in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture.


Joint statement calling for nuclear weapons to be outlawed
Last October at the First Committee (Disarmament) of the United Nations’ General Assembly, 16 nations, including Switzerland and Norway, drew up a joint statement calling for a stronger effort to make nuclear weapons illegal under international law. These nations have been emphasizing the inhumane nature of nuclear arms. While 35 nations approved and signed the statement, Japan, though asked to join this group of supporters, refused. Japan’s “National Defense Program Guidelines” state that extended U.S. deterrence, including its nuclear deterrence, will be vital as long as nuclear weapons exist in the world. The Japanese government thus decided that the statement is incompatible with this position.

(Originally published on March 18, 2013)