Today August 6th is Hiroshima Day, a date for remembrance of the nuclear bombing over this Japanese city in 1945, at the end of the II World War. Three days later, Nagasaki was also bombed. Around 250.000 persons died in both places as a result of the immediate effects of the explosion, and many others did in the weeks, months and years that followed. The urban centres were destroyed in the first (and only up to now) time that nuclear weapons were effectively used in war.
It was 8.00 am in Japan when the US bomber Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb of 4 Tm over Hiroshima. The city was devastated and an estimated 140.000 persons died. Three days later, a second bomb was delivered over Nagasaki, also destroying the city and killing 100.000 people.
As a consequence of the bomb on Hiroshima, a huge fire enveloped the city reaching incredibly high temperatures. Some buildings melt down and many persons simply vanished, leaving only their shadows as paintings over the walls. These ‘death shadows’ are reproduced every year by the city inhabitants as a commemoration for those who died. Many of them were killed instantly while others did in the mid term due to different injuries and illness caused by radiation. Others survived, but had to learn how to live with acute health problems.
The Cold War ended two decades ago but nuclear arsenals remain in place. There are an estimated total number of around 20.000 nuclear warheads. 4.500 out of them are considered operative. Around 2.000, in the US and Russia, remain in state of alert and could be used without delay. The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognized five countries as ‘legitimate’ nuclear powers (US, Russia, China, France and the UK). Others have informally joined that ‘club’ by 2013: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The number of countries with nukes has doubled since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970.
The Iranian nuclear programme has been subject to pressures for years, ranking from bilateral and multilateral negotiation to threats. But those pressures face many obstacles. One of them is the double standard of the international community. Of the aforementioned new powers, two (India and Pakistan) have nuclear weapons although they are not ‘recognized’ by the NPT, and one else (Israel) is not even part of the Treaty. If you add the fact that recognized nuclear powers are not undertaking real and decisive steps towards disarmament (as the NPT establishes), the credibility of the international community is clearly undermined when trying to deal with Iran or whatever other country.
The good news is the combination of citizen engagement and mobilization, as well as Governments ready to act, that led to the adoption of five Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, covering most of the Southern countries.
This day is an occasion to remember the victims and the terrible effects of nuclear weapons. It should also remind us the need to work towards disarmament and non proliferation. It looks like something of the past when we talk about nuclear weapons. Maybe it sounds like an old Cold War relic. Nothing further from reality: nuclear weapons are still here and their danger remains intact.