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Hiroshima survivor & doctor: Nuclear plants are "terrible things"

February 20, 2014

Hibakusha: Doctor who examined A-bomb survivors for decades says nuclear plants must go


Shuntaro Hida (Mainichi)



In mid-January, Shuntaro Hida, a 97-year-old former army doctor who has examined A-bomb survivors for over 60 years, gave his first lecture of the year. In a talk filled with gestures, Hida -- himself a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima -- spent about an hour and a half describing the horrific aftermath of the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing, while discussing the terrible nature of radiation damage.

"You can't see the radiation emitted from nuclear bombs or nuclear power plants. People are less sensitive to threats when they can't see them," he says. As a reporter who had heard Hida speak many times, I sensed impatience in his words.

In the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Hida, who is knowledgeable about internal radiation exposure, received a stream of requests to give lectures. Mothers with young children, in particular, formed groups and invited Hida to study meetings. Hida says that after a high-profile incident 60 years ago in which the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru Japanese tuna fishing boat was exposed to radiation from U.S. nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll, a group of housewives in Tokyo's Suginami Ward kick-started a ban-the-bomb movement. At one point he felt that such sentiment nowadays was more widespread than back then.

Among the patients Hida has examined was a former U.S. military firefighter who was exposed to radiation in nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll. The man was involved in a U.S. nuclear test in 1946, eight years before the Fukuryu Maru incident, and fell ill immediately afterward. He came down with a condition known as chronic lymphedema and his arteries started hardening. The man was sure his symptoms were caused by exposure to radiation from the nuclear testing, but the U.S. government denied any causal relationship of this kind. In 1982, the man, who was fighting his case in a lawsuit, came to Japan to be examined by Hida. Hida can still clearly remember him appearing in his wheelchair, both legs severed from the knees as a result of his illness.

"The U.S. tried to make out that there was never any damage from radiation exposure. He was discarded by his own country, and was a victim of this stance," Hida says. The following year, Hida says, the man died of cancer.

"Several hundred Japanese fishing vessels besides the Fukuryu Maru were exposed to radiation at Bikini Atoll, but the U.S. and Japan stated that damage was confined to the Fukuryu Maru. This was in spite of the fact that many young fishermen died of cancer and other such ailments," Hida said, visibly angered. "Even now in Fukushima, they say there's no damage from radiation because they're worried about the consequences of harmful rumors. I've heard that there are many people who can't speak out." The disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant also angers Hida.

Some 50,000 Fukushima residents forced to evacuate are still living outside Fukushima Prefecture. Yet at the same time, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears keen to restart Japan's nuclear reactors.


"It was a mistake for this A-bombed country, which is also rife with earthquakes, to build 50-odd nuclear reactors," he says. "If there's another nuclear accident at some other location, Japan will be ruined. Hida has a sense of crisis somewhat resembling impatience.

"Both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are terrible things that cannot be controlled through human knowledge. We have to make an effort and continue action so that these things do not remain, for the benefit of our children and grandchildren," he says. (By Fusajiro Takada, photo by Kan Takeuchi) (This is Part 2 of an ongoing series.)

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