Ronald McCoy, the Malaysian founder behind Nobel prize-winning anti-nuclear group Ican

ICAN founder Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy relates his long journey to abolish nuclear arms. A nuclear disarmament campaign, ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017.VIDEO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came as good news for then 15-year-old Datuk Ronald McCoy, the Malaysian who was the brains behind the Nobel prize-winning anti-nuclear group Ican.

During the harsh Japanese occupation of Malaya, the bombings meant only one thing - Japan would soon surrender.

"We were all very happy that the occupation would be over," Dr McCoy, now 87, recollected.

He thought little about the atomic bombings and went on to pursue medicine until one book, Hiroshima by John Hersey, showed him the human cost of his freedom.

"For the first time, I understood its destruction - more than 100,000 people in Hiroshima and 40,000 in Nagasaki killed - that is unacceptable," he said.

Overwhelmed by the devastation and the helplessness of doctors in treating survivors, he realised that nuclear weapons are too destructive and must be abolished.

This led Dr McCoy to create a nuclear disarmament campaign, one that won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017 earlier this month.

He founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican), a coalition of 468 NGOs advocating to abolish nuclear weapons.

"The organisation is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons," the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee's statement awarding the prize said.

The committee also said the prize acknowledges Ican's "ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons".

It led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was signed by 53 countries, including Malaysia, on Sept 20 this year and will become legally binding once it is ratified by 50 countries.

"Winning the Nobel Peace Prize will give us a lot more clout as an organisation to get rid of all nuclear weapons," Dr McCoy told The Star, adding that the treaty would be ratified in the next two years.

He admitted that he did not foresee spending over 30 years of his life on this project when he started out as a doctor.

In 1986, his career took a turn when he read about the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

IPPNW, a federation of medical groups advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons, had presented nuclear warfare as a medical problem in a way that Dr McCoy could not ignore.

"As doctors, if we cannot cure the health effects of nuclear warfare, we must prevent it and to do that we must eliminate nuclear weapons," he said.

That motivated him to establish the Malaysian chapter of IPPNW (now renamed to Malaysians Physicians for Peace and Social Responsibility) and in 1996, upon retiring from medical practice, he devoted his life fully to nuclear disarmament.

Born in Seremban, Dr McCoy said his idea for Ican was created out of frustration that for years, IPPNW had been dealing with broken promises by nuclear-armed states, particularly the United States and Russia, which dangled the promise of eliminating their nuclear weapons.

"They had no intention of giving up their nuclear weapons," he said.

Within 10 years, Ican's treaty was finally adopted by the United Nations and the possession and creation of nuclear weapons is close to being declared illegal.

"Our next step is to convince the nine nuclear-armed nations (UK, US, North Korea, China, Russia, France, India, Israel and Pakistan) to give up their nuclear weapons, but it is up to the citizens of these countries to pressure their governments," Dr McCoy said.

The grandfather of four also hopes Malaysia will focus on finding a sustainable energy solution in renewable energy.