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This week: 70 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

New report of ICRC: Red Cross hospitals are still treating survivors


Seven decades ago Hiroshima and Nagasaki were annihilated by an atomic attack by the United States. The two bombs killed more than 50% of civilians in Hiroshima and 30% of civilians in Nagasaki. Many more died in the following days and weeks, from a combination of severe burns, internal injuries, and radiation sickness. According to a new report by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Japanese Red Cross Society, 70 years after the bombings those who survived the blast are still suffering from the long-term health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation.

"Initially, many medical experts expected the effect of radiation to diminish within 10 to 20 years.  Contrary to this assumption, it is now clear that these atomic bombs have caused lifelong illnesses.   New cases of cancer and leukaemia rates are still emerging and the number of atomic bomb survivors developing heart disease is rising. " (source: ICRC)
"70 years since the atomic bombings, the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still suffering from long-term health consequences. Nuclear weapons are inhumane and the humanitarian suffering that they cause is unacceptable. They must be prohibited", says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN.
Survivors have struggled through stigma and persecution to come forward and share their stories. For decades states have turned a deaf ear to their pleas and warnings. Despite the documented catastrophic impact of nuclear weapons, there are still 15,000 of them and the risk of detonation is increasing. Out of tune with the gravity of the threat, the response of the international community has been a conveyor belt of toothless overtures and half-measures, which have amounted to little more than lip service to “a world without nuclear weapons”.
The arms race is not over, it is taking a new shape


Countless instances of poor communication, technological failure and human error have left us on the brink of nuclear destruction, and the risks are not decreasing. Despite promises to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon states instead are investing trillions of dollars to keep these weapons as central tenets of their security policy.


The arms race is taking a new shape and a few countries’ reckless nuclear reliance could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe that we cannot prepare for.


The uprising of non-nuclear weapon states
After decades of immobilism and failed consensus-based efforts by the nuclear-armed states, a revolutionary movement, led by the non-nuclear weapon states and civil society, organized under the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) coalition, is paving the way for an international prohibition of nuclear weapons. 


After three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons it is clear that the possession and use of nuclear weapons is simply unacceptable. The failure to come to consensus at the 2015 NPT Review Conference highlighted the dysfunction of the NPT and the frustration among non-nuclear weapon states. A majority – over 110 states – have committed to negotiating a legally binding instrument to end the threat of nuclear weapons and at last bring the atomic age to an end.


All states have a responsibility to commemorate this 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings by beginning a process to prohibit nuclear weapons.



If you would like more information from an expert on this topic or wish to interview a survivor of the bombings, please contact Daniela Varano +41 78 726 26 45 or



What are the humanitarian consequences on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?


The effects of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastating. More than 50% of civilians in Hiroshima and 30% of civilians in Nagasaki were killed by the nuclear weapon detonations. Many more died in the following days and weeks, from a combination of severe burns, internal injuries, and radiation sickness. Approximately 70% of those killed were fatally injured by severe burns. 90% of civilians with 500 metres of the blast site were killed immediately, with many more succumbing to burns and other injuries. In Hiroshima alone, approximately 90% of buildings were damaged or completely destroyed. Emergency services, including hospitals, were unable to provide assistance to those injured by the blast


In Hiroshima, of the atomic bomb survivor deaths that occurred in the hospital through March 2014, nearly two-thirds (63%) were attributed to malignant tumors (cancer) of which the primary types were lung cancer (20%), stomach cancer (18%), liver cancer (14%), leukemia (8%), intestinal cancer (7%) and malignant lymphoma (6%). (Source ICRC/Japanese Red Cross Society)


The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had only a fraction of the nuclear yield of modern weapons. A detonation of such a weapon would cause fatal burns and injuries from falling rubble, and a significant number of survivors near the blast zone would succumb to radiation sickness. The same radiation would uncontrollably contaminate large areas of land and water. Those who survived the initial impact would be plagued by serious medical conditions throughout their lives, with increased risks of cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases. The health effects have been shown to impact second and third generations as well. 



The Humanitarian initiative: paving the way towards an international prohibition


This past year, at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, states parties failed to come to a consensus on an outcome. For decades, the NPT has been held hostage to the whim of the few nuclear-weapon states, barring steps to meaningful nuclear disarmament. Nuclear disarmament cannot progress in such a limited, unfair framework. Nuclear disarmament must be open to all states and civil society to be successful. The Humanitarian Initiative has paved the way forward and presented the international community with an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate these weapons.


Three states, Norway, Mexico and Austria have hosted international Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact to elaborate global understanding of this issue. The conferences have grown each year, with participants strengthening the call for nuclear weapons prohibition.


The second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in 2014 in Nayarit, Mexico, concluded that there is an urgent need to eliminate nuclear weapons, and a process to begin negotiations on a legally-binding treaty should be initiated by the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Austria built on this momentum by hosting the third Conference which concluded by issuing a Humanitarian Pledge to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” Since it was issued in December 2014, over 100 states have endorsed it, with more joining every day.


The international community has a responsibility to the world, and to the Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, in their lifetime.




"As it is now 70 years since nuclear weapons inflicted unspeakable suffering on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is essential that governments take this opportunity and start a process to prohibit nuclear weapons. A treaty banning nuclear weapons should not be negotiated because of the NPT and its failure to agree on an outcome document. It should be negotiated because, in today’s international context, weapons with indiscriminate, inhumane, and unacceptable effects that harm civilians, communities, and the environment should be prohibited."


Beatrice Fihn, ICAN Executive Director


"For 70 years, Hibakusha have worked to communicate that nuclear weapons are inhumane and the consequences of using them are unacceptable. Now, within the limited time left to those who have first-hand experience of wartime nuclear detonations, it is time to establish an international treaty that stigmatizes nuclear weapons, criminalizes them, and provides for their total elimination. Such a treaty would honor the Hibakusha's seven decades of work and provide them a fitting, lasting legacy."


Akira Kawasaki, Director, Peace Boat


“The time has come for non-nuclear weapons states and civil society to initiate a nuclear weapons ban for the sake of humanity.” – Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of Hiroshima


“I feel that it is important to keep alive the memory of the suffering, devastation, and death that nuclear weapons can cause in the hope that no one will ever use them again.” – Yasukai Yamashita, survivor of Nagasaki


“We the Hibakusha refuse to accept any threat or use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are clearly inhumane weapons.” - Kodama Michiko, survivor of Hiroshima


High-resolution photos 

Jody Williams and Desmond Tutu on nuclear weapons (video)


Unspeakable Suffering: The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons


Part 1: Health

Part 2: Environment and Agriculture

Part 3: Economy and Development

Part 4: Law and Order

Part 5: Case Studies

Part 6: Conclusion – Preventing the Unacceptable





The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of more than 400 non-governmental organisations in 95 countries. We are calling on governments to launch negotiations in 2015 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, which would place them on the same legal footing as chemical and biological weapons and help pave the way to their complete elimination.





Daniela Varano

+41 787 262 645645

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