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Not just weapons

May 27, 2016
VOX POPULI: Let Obama's visit spark debate on nuclear power, not just weapons



A group of Kyoto University students held an "A-bomb exhibition" in various parts of Japan in 1951, according to Tetsuo Obata's book "Senryoka no 'Genbakuten'" ("A-Bomb exhibition" in Occupied Japan).

At that time, any information concerning the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was strictly suppressed by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces.

The students were obstructed by Japanese law enforcement authorities, but still managed to show the public the extent of the A-bomb damage for the first time.

The exhibits included photos of keloidal scars and other forms of radiation damage as well as a series of paintings from "Genbaku no Zu" (The Hiroshima Panels) by Iri Maruki and his wife, Toshi. The paintings depict the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, such as people with their skin hanging off.

At the exhibition, the students hung a panel with this message: "Liberate the fire of Prometheus from the A-bombs and transform it into a new flame of peace and happiness of the human race!"

It was their hope that nuclear power would become a gift for humanity, just as Prometheus in Greek mythology stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind.

Thus, postwar Japan proceeded with the construction of nuclear power plants in the name of "peaceful utilization of nuclear energy."

Not only did the harrowing A-bomb experiences fail to deter Japan from relying on nuclear power generation, the experiences actually led to Japan embracing nuclear power generation.

U.S. President Barack Obama is visiting Hiroshima on May 27. I hope this will become a day for everyone to think about the utter inhumanity of nuclear weapons and how they can be eliminated.

But having experienced the Fukushima disaster, Japan cannot ignore the potential horrors of another nuclear plant accident.

A poem by Masao Ishii goes to the effect: "I don't know how to treat A-bomb victims/ There is no medicine, and I feel helpless." This piece expresses the writer's feeling of profound regret at not being able to do anything for people who have been exposed to radiation.

This poem could actually apply to Japan itself, which is still struggling in vain to bring the consequences of the Fukushima disaster under control.

The dismantling of nuclear reactors is not proceeding smoothly, and many evacuees are still unable to return home.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima is unlikely to start many conversations on nuclear power generation, but that is exactly why we must talk and think about it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 27

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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