Comment by Japanese ambassador for disarmament draws fierce fire from A-bomb survivors at Vienna conference

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

VIENNA—On the evening of December 8, the first night of the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, a comment by Toshio Sano, the Japanese ambassador for disarmament and the representative of the delegation dispatched by the Japanese government, faced a furious backlash from atomic bomb survivors. Mr. Sano said that the notion that it would not be possible to establish the means to provide necessary assistance in the event of an explosion of a nuclear weapon “seems a little pessimistic.” The response from survivors was vehement, contending that Mr. Sano’s comment dashed cold water on the momentum of this conference, where efforts are being made to abolish nuclear arms based on the inhumane nature of these weapons.

Summaries by the chairperson of the past two international conferences on this theme stated that it would not be possible to provide sufficient assistance to those affected in the event of a nuclear explosion. During a session on emergency measures, Mr. Sano remarked: “We could encourage, rather than discourage, nations and international organizations to start building up the capacity for providing technical, medical, and scientific humanitarian assistance for countries that are affected.”

After this session, Setsuko Thurlow, 82, who is originally from Minami Ward, Hiroshima, and now lives in Toronto, Canada, approached Mr. Sano to hear him out. Mr. Sano told her, “A nuclear explosion could occur as the result of an accident. Rather than giving up on the idea of providing support, I think we should try to build up as much capacity as possible to deliver assistance to the victims.” Ms. Thurlow expressed her displeasure, saying, “I don’t understand. His view is so different from the A-bomb survivors.”

Alexander Kmentt, Director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said sternly that efforts should be concentrated on eliminating nuclear weapons instead of preparing for their intolerable impact. He added that Mr. Sano’s comment is not likely to attract support from the international community. This conference in Vienna has been organized by the Austrian government.

(Originally published on December 10, 2014)