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24 September 2014

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Manchester Peace Gardens
Manchester Peace Gardens

Still working for a nuclear free world

60 years ago, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As commemorations take place across the globe, there’s a special resonance in Manchester. This is the city where the atom was split, which led to the technology needed to create the bomb.

The bombings in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki three days later brought Japan's swift surrender, ending the Second World War. At least 120,000 people died instantly with many thousands more succumbing later from the effects of radiation.

Many years later, Manchester became the world’s first nuclear free city in 1980, placing itself at the forefront of the campaign to ban nuclear weapons.

Before the bomb

Sir Ernest Rutherford
Sir Ernest Rutherford

Nearly forty years before the Hiroshima bomb, a scientist at the University of Manchester, Ernest Rutherford, began research which led to the splitting of the atom and the creation of the bomb. Rutherford never set about to use nuclear power for destructive or military purposes. His investigations were with radiation and the possibility of seeing inside the atom, then the smallest visible particle in the world.

Fortunately, Rutherford, who was later knighted and received the Nobel prize for his work with radiation, died two years before the start of World War Two and never saw the destructive power of his discoveries.

After the Fallout

Shortly after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Manchester Evening News questioned whether the use of nuclear weapons had broken accepted international laws on wartime conduct. Church leaders and politicians were also worried about the long-term implications of the atomic age. These worries continued for many years.

Councillor Bill Risby
Councillor Bill Risby

By the 70s, there was increasing dread and apprehension regarding nuclear weapons. With the Cold War raging, many were fearful of what might happen should A bombs be unleashed on the world again.

With typically Mancunian defiance, the City Council decided to act. Moston councillor Bill Risby, who still sits on the council, led the move to declare Manchester the first nuclear-free-zone in 1980. The council called on the government "to refrain from the manufacture or positioning of any nuclear weapons of any kind within the boundaries of our city". The council later updated that policy to oppose nuclear power and support renewable energy, and added a further ‘peace policy’, which talks of "promoting social inclusion, social justice, good citizenship and peace between the peoples, cultures and faith communities that it serves".

Barbara Pearson's Messenger of Peace
Barbara Pearson's Messenger of Peace

The city also expressed their feelings in the creation of the Peace Gardens to the rear of the Town Hall, which, after a competition in 1985, also includes a physical embodiment of their commitment to peace, Barbara Pearson’s sculpture, Messenger of Peace.

Manchester and Hiroshima today

The Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Mohammed Afzal Khan will be representing the city in Hiroshima. He says that the trip is a chance to "show continued support for the campaign to ban nuclear weapons, which we joined 25 years ago. We have remembered many atrocities in recent months and the 60th anniversary of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will not be forgotten. It is a time to reflect and learn from mistakes and to honour those who lost their lives."

Hiroshima's Peace Dome Memorial
Hiroshima's Peace Dome Memorial

It is not just the Lord Mayor that has made the journey from Manchester to Japan. Members of a peace group from Rochdale have flown to Hiroshima to take part in peace marches and rallies. 17 year old Amy Gilligan of Littleborough Peace Group says that it is important to remember the dead to avoid repeating the same mistakes again.

Having visited the Peace Park in Hiroshima, which includes the spot of the hypercentre of the 1945 bomb, seeing the images of the destruction and hearing the stories of the survivors, she says that "you could hardly fail to think that nuclear weapons should be abolished. There are so many people in the world that want these weapons abolished and I feel that if we all work together, this can be possible."

last updated: 05/08/05
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Munich 1958
Remembering the Munich air disaster

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