On 7 July 2020, the 3rd anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Fiji became a State party to the treaty following the unanimous approval of the Fijian Parliament in May.
The Pacific Conference of Churches has been calling for a total ban on nuclear weapons since 1975 and has consistently advocated for this, most recently at its 11th General Assembly in 2018.
The people and environment of the Pacific have suffered as the guinea pigs for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These experiments designed to secure world domination were undertaken by the United States which held 109 tests in the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Johnson Atoll, Alaska and in the open ocean; the United Kingdom which held 21 tests in Australia and Kiribati; and France which held 340 tests in Maohi Nui/French Polynesia.
To put the impact of these tests in scale – the uranium fuelled atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. The subsequent tests in the Pacific in the 50 years following the end of World War 2 from 1946 to 1996 by the US, UK and France is the equivalent to 9010 Hiroshima bombs, or between 108,000 to 135,000 tonnes of TNT.
The failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk of other countries acquiring nuclear weapons. The only guarantee against the spread and use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them without delay. Although the leaders of some nuclear-armed nations have expressed their vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world, they have failed to develop any detailed plans to eliminate their arsenals and are modernising them.
Their impact on the fragile ecology of the region and the health and mental wellbeing of its peoples has been profound and long-lasting. Pacific islanders continue to experience epidemics of cancers, chronic diseases and congenital abnormalities as a result of the radioactive fallout that blanketed their homes and the vast Pacific Ocean, upon which they depend for their livelihoods.
Despite being the most destructive, inhumane weapons ever invented, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction which were not banned under international law. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons seeks to change that.
Who controls nuclear weapons is of no consequence – they are no good for the Pacific, they are no good for the world.
Today, portions of the Pacific stretching from Enewetak in the north to Kiritimati in the central region and Moruroa in the east remain not only uninhabitable but are gradually leaking toxic effluent into an ocean which is the food source of the region and the fishing ground of the world.
Today, three quarters of a century after the Bikini Atoll test by the United States, the people of that once beautiful coral paradise remain displaced or physically scarred.
Servicemen from Fiji, New Zealand and the UK and their descendants battle the illnesses caused by exposure to radiation from hydrogen bomb tests from 1957 to 1958. In Maohi Nui/French Polynesia – a quarter of a century after France terminated its nuclear testing programme, the people continue to cry for justice, for compensation, for medical treatment as waste slowly but surely leeches into the sea. Currently there are strong indicators of an imminent collapse of Morurua Atoll, which will cause the remaining radioactive substances from the French tests to spill into the Pacific Ocean.
We urge all governments to hear the cries of our Pacific communities who struggle to sing the Lord’s song as songs of freedom and justice in their own land. These cries are not only for the people but for the land and sea of which the Pacific people are a part.
We firmly believe that God created the world in which we live as a means to sustain mankind – to provide life through water, air food and shelter.
Today we renew that call.
The world must end any possibility of nuclear war; there must be no chance of even one weapon being ever detonated again.
The Pacific must have justice and reparation for its forced role in nuclear testing.
And that justice must take place now.
The Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati New Zealand, Palau, Samoa and Vanuatu have signed and ratified the treaty, while Nauru and Tuvalu have signed but are yet to ratify.
In the name of peace, justice and abundant life, we call upon all States to take the step towards ratification, the step closer to a world without nuclear weapons.
May the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless you.
This text is the fifth of a series of blog posts highlighting different reflections and experiences of those who are calling for an end to nuclear weapons. Learn more:
"75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: has your country ratified the UN treaty?", by Jennifer Philpot-Nissen (15 June 2020)
"Kiritimati and the Bomb: A Tale of Two Churches", by Becky Alexis-Martin (6 July 2020)
"Recollections of an ecumenical pilgrimage to Japan, for the 70th anniversary of atomic bombing (2015)", by Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (15 July 2020)
"Japan’s churches urge nuclear-free world", by Rev. Renta Nishihara (20 July 2020)