As the only country in the world to have been hit by atomic bombs, it is Japan’s “duty” to seek to wipe out nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on the anniversary of the Hiroshima blast.
Around 50,000 people gathered for a minute of silence in the south-western city’s peace park, a cleared area near the epicentre of the early morning explosion on 6 August, 1945.
The bombing of Hiroshima 68 years ago killed 140,000 people, and along with the even more deadly attack on Nagasaki three days later prompted Japan’s surrender in the Second World War.
There are over 200,000 survivors of the first blast, known as “hibakusha”, with an average age of nearly 79, and many attended today’s ceremony to light incense and pray.
Delivering a “peace declaration” speech, Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui described the pain of those who survived, only to be shunned as contaminated by the radiation.
“The atomic bomb is the ultimate inhumane weapon and an absolute evil. The hibakusha, who know the hell of an atomic bombing, have continuously fought that evil,” he said.
Matsui hit out at the government for its efforts to restart the nuclear plants and export nuclear technology to other countries.
“This summer, eastern Japan is still suffering the aftermath of the great earthquake and the nuclear accident. The desperate struggle to recover hometowns continues. The people of Hiroshima know well the ordeal of recovery.
”We urge the national government to rapidly develop and implement a responsible energy policy that places top priority on safety and the livelihoods of the people,“ Matsui said.
Despite his comments about Japan’s unique position in the disarmament argument, Mr Abe avoided any reference to the current nuclear dilemma facing the country.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes by the Fukushima reactor disaster, and most of Japan’s other nuclear power plants remain offline after the massive earthquake which caused it.
The Prime Minister has been criticised for favouring plans to restart the plants, with new safety guidelines, and for championing a new nuclear energy partnership with India.
Last year, the previous government pledged to eventually phase out nuclear power and vastly increase use of renewable energy. Mr Abe has distanced himself from that commitment, saying that he favours a ”responsible“ policy that would allow nuclear plants to restart, reducing the burden on the economy from costly imports of natural gas and oil.