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G-7 leaders gathered in Hiroshima meet an atomic bomb survivor

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President Biden and the leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized nations kicked off a three-day summit in Hiroshima. That was the first city to suffer a nuclear attack. And Japan is using the symbolism of a venue to unite the G-7 leaders on a range of issues, including working for a world without nuclear weapons. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Hiroshima, it faces some awkward limitations. And I will note here - this piece includes graphic descriptions of the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Every August 6, Hiroshima marks the anniversary of the city's nuclear bombing. The sound of a bell inscribed with the characters for peace resonates through a park.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

KUHN: The G-7 leaders began the summit with a visit to the park. They met an atomic bomb survivor - or, in Japanese, hibakusha - who told them that humanity must never again experience a nuclear disaster.

On that day in 1945, some residents feared the city could come under attack, so 6-year-old Hiroshi Harada's parents arranged to evacuate him from the city. When the bomb dropped, he was at Hiroshima Station waiting for a train.

HIROSHI HARADA: (Through interpreter) I was exposed to the bomb about a mile from ground zero. Of course, there were heat rays and the blast. However, I happened to be in the shadow of the station building. So miraculously, I survived.

KUHN: Harada remembers running from the station. Fires were everywhere.

HARADA: (Through interpreter) People's bodies were in a tragic situation, with their heads split in two, their skin melted and flowing. In a flash, they became charred corpses. Probably, one can't imagine a more tragic situation on this earth.

KUHN: Harada has devoted himself to ridding the world of nuclear weapons and educating younger generations about the weapons' inhumanity. He was previously the director of the museum which the G-7 leaders visited. But, says Harada...

HARADA: (Through interpreter) The museum exhibit does not tell the whole story. If we were to reproduce the situation of that time, no one, including myself, would be able to enter the museum.

KUHN: Hiroshima is represented in Japan's parliament by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. In a speech last year in New York, he pledged to use the Hiroshima G-7 summit to push for the elimination of nuclear weapons. He noted that Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine has raised concerns about a possible nuclear catastrophe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA: I cannot but admit that the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even harder. Nevertheless, giving up is not an option. I believe that we must take every realistic measure towards a world without nuclear weapons, step by step, however difficult the path may be.

KUHN: But even while calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, Japan depends on U.S. nukes for protection.

KEIKO NAKAMURA: Many hibakushas has been betrayed by our own government many, many times.

KUHN: Keiko Nakamura is an associate professor at the Nagasaki University Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.

NAKAMURA: They have been so distressed, disappointed, but still have hope that, one day, the Japanese government will listen to the real voice of the hibakusha and change their course.

KUHN: The G-7 is expected to restate previous calls for nuclear-armed nations to recommit to not using their nukes and to reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles. That's not new, argues Toby Dalton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Nor is Japan's nuclear dilemma, which has existed basically since the end of World War II.

TOBY DALTON: That need to rely on nuclear weapons for its security, even as it also has the kind of moral imperative to argue for disarmament based on its experience of having received nuclear damage - I think that's what's baked into the Japanese orientation to nuclear policy.

KUHN: This dilemma leaves the hibakusha no choice but to keep on hammering home their anti-nuclear message. Their average age is 85 years old.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hiroshima, Japan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Anthony Kuhn
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.