Sixty Years After 'Bikini,' Fear of 'Ashes of Death' Persists

Sixty years have passed since the disaster of the American hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, which rained down “ashes of death” (radioactive fallout) on a Japanese fishing vessel. The suffering of the crew and local islanders exposed to radiation continues to this day. This newspaper wants to make clear that the idea of nuclear is unacceptable.

There is a large mural in the passageway of the Inokashira Line of Shibuya Station in Tokyo. It is Taro Okamoto’s “Myth of Tomorrow,” a masterpiece depicting the hydrogen bomb ripping apart alongside the tuna fishing vessel, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. The Fukuryu Maru was showered in radioactive “ashes of death” from the hydrogen bomb test of the U.S. near the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific on March 1, 1954. The explosion was approximately 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. All 23 crew members received acute radiation poisoning. The 40-year-old radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama was hospitalized and died six months later at University of Tokyo Hospital. Many other survivors died of liver cancer, and the still-surviving seven are battling severe illnesses.

The Japanese fishing vessel Fukuryu Maru was not the only victim of the hydrogen bomb testing. Between 1948 and 1958, under the cloud of the Soviet-U.S. Cold War, there were 67 nuclear tests, and a survey conducted by the Japanese government confirmed at least 856 Japanese ships were exposed to nuclear radiation. Even after the case of the Fukuryu Maru, fishing vessels operated in these waters with no knowledge of the nuclear testing.

However, there was great emphasis on the Fukuryu Maru, and so incidents of exposure to nuclear radiation of other ships’ crews were ignored and trivialized. In 1955, compensation paid by the American government to the Japanese government was set aside for contaminated fish and scrapped vessels, but there was no follow-up regarding the health of the crews.

The Bikini Atoll experiment was nuclear destruction that was a continuation of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet it was not a target of the Atomic Bomb Victims’ Relief Law enacted in 1995* – a law that purports to be the starting point of nuclear abolishment, and yet has yielded no real results. A partial study of the crew members who were victimized shows repeated occurrences of death from cancer. Many others suffered from late-onset handicaps from internal exposure.

There was no compensation or relief. Out of fear of discrimination and prejudice, these people lived on without being able to tell their story of exposure to nuclear radiation. Some people — because of losing those close to them and aging – are coming out to participate in health surveys. It’s a battle of time now. The Bikini Atoll nuclear experiments cannot be forgotten.

The island people of the Pacific where the experiments occurred are suffering from the same nuclear fallout. Following a repatriation policy that the United States has encouraged, instances of abnormal thyroid glands and leukemia are spreading among these peoples. Similar mistakes must not be allowed in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Precious hometowns are snatched away, and lives and livelihoods are destroyed. Nuclear [reality] erodes our right to live. How do we face this issue? We should all take a moment of silence to consider it.

*Editor’s note: The author is referring to the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Support Law, enacted by the Japanese government in 1994.

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