On August 6, 1945, by executive order of President Truman, the
United States of America detonated the atomic bomb named “Little Boy” over
Within 1/1000 of a second of the detonation, a fireball formed in the center of Hiroshima and raised temperatures to 20,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the surface of the sun. The explosion generated a shockwave that leveled most buildings in the city - crushing infrastructure and people alike. A firestorm kindled by the explosion rapidly surrounded Hiroshima and burned anyone surrounding the city. In three days, the United States would detonate another device over Nagasaki.
We commemorate the anniversaries of these horribly destructive events and renew our commitment to see a nuclear free world.
Survivors, called hibakusha, which translates to “those who were bombed,” have suffered discrimination for decades over the consequences of radiation. They have become some of the most outspoken and persuasive activists against nuclear weapons. Yet, many hibakusha saw promise in nuclear energy as a manifestation of the concept of ‘peaceful atoms.’
March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake was followed by tsunami with 15 meter waves
that engulfed the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear station. The reactors went
into a blackout situation in which emergency power could not be restored to the
reactors in order to cool the cores and spent fuel pools. A series of
hydrogen explosions erupted in four of the six reactors on site and three of
the reactors went into full-meltdown in the hours and days that followed.
Large amounts of radiation have been released from the reactors, both
into the air and into the ocean.
This is the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The Japanese government evacuated a 12-mile zone around the reactor, though US authorities recommended a 50-mile evacuation for US citizens. The Japanese government is still trying to get these reactors under control, and has responded to the public health dangers posed by the radiation by raising the permissible radiation doses for people in the immediate zone around Fukushima from 1 milisieverts (mSv) a year to 20 mSv a year (while keeping the 1 mSvfor the rest of Japan). The New York Times recently reported that the government knowingly did not evacuate areas that experienced some of the most severe doses of radiation. This is tantamount to creating another group of hibakusha, second class citizens.
Exposures from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were essentially a one-time event, like a large x-ray, since the bombs were exploded high in the air. Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima have different impact, because they have resulted in long-term exposure to small doses of inhaled and ingested radiation from contaminated air, food, and water. Much of our understanding of radiation effects on health is from studies of survivors of the US nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. And though we have much less information on long-term exposure rates from inhaled and ingested radiation, the National Academies of Science BEIR VII report shows that any exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer.
Now the Washington Post reports that the hibakusha have reexaminedtheir position about nuclear power. For the first time, the hibakusha’s organization, Nihon Hidankyo, has called for the “elimination of nuclear power generation.” The destructive possibilities of nuclear have become evident – whether in terms of energy or weapons. No longer can hibakusha look at nuclear reactors with hope, but instead with a grim realization that Hiroshima and Fukushima are two sides of the same coin.
As we look forward, drawing on the lessons learned from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukushima, we must work together to build a nuclear free world.