Special article on the anniversary of Hiroshima A-bombing by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center and Senior Staff Writer of The Chugoku Shimbun

Asking questions about the Attitude of Japan as an A-bombed Country

Sixty-eight years have passed since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prior to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Day, many events were held in Hiroshima City towards realizing a world without nuclear weapons. The events seemed to be more diverse than ever before, with participants both from Japan and from abroad.

Many grass roots peace events, such as music concerts, art exhibitions, symposiums, the General Conference of Mayors for Peace, World Conference against A & H Bombs, gatherings to listen to the testimony of A-bomb survivors, anti-nuclear rallies and so forth gave me a sense of hopefulness. However, this year, I felt that the memorial day came around in a mood of despondency. That is because I find the mood of the survivors’ speeches has changed. They are still at the forefront of conveying their firsthand testimony to the public despite the hardship caused by their health problems and their increasing ages. But recently, I frequently hear their voice of lament mixed with resentment, which is as good as resignation. They complain that they can no longer trust in the Japanese government.

“We have been delivering our testimony to serve in some small way for nuclear abolition. We believe this to be the survivors’ responsibility. However, I suspect the government of simply ignoring our wishes…” “Far from finding out the cause of Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, the government hasn’t resolved any of the Fukushima issues yet. Notwithstanding, it is still willing to export nuclear power technology. It is unbelievable to us.”

“To be honest, I wouldn’t like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has a wish to change the peace constitution, to stand in front of the A-bomb Cenotaph.” Thus straightforwardly said a seventy-six-year-old woman survivor living in Higashi Ward in Hiroshima City, who lost her sister in the A-bombing. The names of more than 280,000 victims—including her sister—are recorded in the Register of the A-bomb Victims that is present within the A-bomb Cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park. Under the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound located in the same park, the ashes of about 70,000 victims, who haven’t been identified to this day, lie quietly buried.

Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.

The inscription on the A-bomb Cenotaph implies not only our pledge to support nuclear abolition and refusal of war but a vow of “no more radiation victims in the future” anywhere on this planet.

In June 2011, three months after the meltdown of TEPCO Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant reactor, the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, introduced this epitaph in his prize winner’s speech given at the reception ceremony of the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. He said “We must take these words to our hearts again.”

Japanese people developed “a nuclear allergy,” which was triggered by our experience of nuclear weapons. Murakami continued, “Without compromise, we should have retained our aversion to nuclear power.” He also added, “Through this allergy, Japan could have chosen an energy policy without nuclear technology to be the core proposition for post-war progress in Japan.”

Nevertheless, when the Japanese government launched its introduction of nuclear power plants in the 1950s, the allergic symptom to “nukes” among Japanese people was only to military use—nuclear weapons. Under the concept of the peaceful use of nuclear technology, nuclear power plants were welcomed by most experts, including physicists, as well as by us in the media. It was regarded as “a dream power generator” that promised human society peace and prosperity in the future. Even A-bomb survivors, who knew its potential radiation effect on the human body from their own real-life experience, were not exceptions.

With the exception of a few, survivors in common had not referred to the dangers of nuclear power plants when delivering their testimonies until the Fukushima accident occurred. Even the nuclear accident of Chernobyl in 1986, which was described as “global exposure to radiation”, did not engender a real feeling for the danger of nuclear power plants, happening too far from their own daily lives.

However, the Fukushima incident made a big difference to them. One of the survivors who witnessed the explosion of the nuclear reactor building in the Fukushima No. 1 on TV spoke as follows: “My impression was that Japanese was experiencing the third attack by an A-bomb, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

“I hadn’t paid enough attention to the issue of nuclear power plants as my focus was only on the issue of nuclear weapons.” ”I hardly knew anything about it. I didn’t even know the reason why a reactor needs water.”

Lots of survivors expressed their true feelings with regret and tried to learn more about the risk of nuclear power plants to find better ways of giving their testimony. The core of their activity is still to convey their own firsthand experience of the A-bomb to the public. Now, they have also started to express their opinions on the issue of nuclear power plants in their speeches since that fateful “March 11th.”

That is why they have an antipathy towards the government’s nuclear power policy after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power at the end of last year. Assisted by the nuclear power industry, he determined on the export of Japan’s nuclear power technology as one of his “strategies for economic growth.” He is willingly planning to sell it to nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, which lack geopolitical stability as well as technology and human resources in the field of nuclear development. Above all, negotiations to conclude an atomic energy agreement with India, a nuclear state but a non-signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), could surely encourage further nuclear proliferation. Such behavior should be criticized as an unsuitable way for a country that has endured an A-bomb attack to behave.

There must be more urgent problems than exporting nuclear technology for Prime Minister Abe to tackle with all his energy.

The mass of nuclear fuel melted down and remaining at the bottom of the reactor… the increasing amount of high level radioactive effluent needed for cooling down the reactor… the contaminated wastewater flowing out into the sea… spent nuclear fuel kept in an unstable condition… decontamination tasks and compensation for people’s lives… the influence on the health of those working at the accident site… There would seem to be no end to the list of problems to be solved.

But under his so-called “Abenomics,” Mr. Abe is bustling around promoting exports of nuclear power technology. He should be regarded as a leader who is willing to sacrifice people’s lives to economic growth.

There is a strong possibility that the radioactive-contaminated wastewater discharged from Fukushima No. 1 power plant has been affecting not only the nearby coastal areas but the entire ocean. This means that Japan, a country that suffered nuclear bombing, could become an offender country, inflicting serious damage on the fishermen in Fukushima and Ibaraki as well as on international society. But even in such devastating circumstances, what Abe is most concerned with tackling is selling nuclear power technology to foreign countries.

“Besides the criminal action in Fukushima, would the A-bombed country ever take initiative to increase the number of radiation victims?” A-bomb survivors feel hopeless and angry about the prime minister’s actions against humanity.

There are other reasons that made Hiroshima and Nagasaki feel disappointed and resentful in Tokyo. Last April, in a preparatory committee meeting for the NPT conference that will be held in 2015, the Japanese government did not agree with the proposal for a “Joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons” and attracted the criticism of non-nuclear nations, international NGOs, and its own citizens for its stance.

The joint statement was proposed by several governments, including South Africa. Switzerland, Norway, Malaysia, and Mexico consented to it, followed by 80 countries in the end. Nevertheless, the Japanese government raised a question about a phrase in the statement mentioning, “it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”

Since every year the Japanese government has proposed a resolution on nuclear abolition to the UN General Assembly, it seemed that Japan, as an A-bombed country, would welcome such a statement without question. Notwithstanding, it turned down the proposal because it believed that the deterrent force under the “nuclear umbrella” of the US would be weakened if it agreed to it.

For the A-bomb survivors who narrowly escaped death in the catastrophe and have been delivering their testimonies, calling for “No more Hiroshima,” “No more Nagasaki,” and “No more war,” this decision of their own government made them feel as if their long term efforts so far had been totally ignored.

It even sounds like that, under certain circumstances, Japan would be ready to ask the US to make a preemptive nuclear attack. By the reality of being protected by the nuclear umbrella, the sincere voice for nuclear abolition from Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been largely spoiled among international society.

It is true that the expansion of China’s military strength, as well as nuclear weapons and missile development in North Korea, is ongoing. But Japan’s militarization should not be the answer to easing the tension within the East Asian region. What is the most meaningful way for us to bring a more stable and peaceful situation not only to East Asia but to the surrounding region, as well as a whole world? The only answer should be our diplomatic efforts by learning from history, repeating dialogues, sharing wisdom and nurturing mutual reliance.

The “theory of the nuclear deterrent“ is nothing but a myth. Supposing it really did work to control wars and secure peace and the safety of citizens, then every nation should be recommended to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

However, the reverse is the case. The more the number of nuclear nations increases, the more mutual mistrust among nations grows. As a result, the world suffers greater instability. It causes the spread of radioactive substances, increases the number of radioactivity-contaminated areas and Hibakusha, as well as a heightened risk of nuclear terrorism. Nuclear weapons don’t contribute to deter either terrorism or cyber attacks.

What has been forcing the leaders of nuclear nations such as the US and Russia not to use their arms? It was not the nuclear arsenal that its enemy possesses but the hellish reality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki beyond all imagination and people’s appeal to “Never ever let anyone commit such a sin again.”

What is the present regime of the world’s first A-bombed country doing sixty-eight years after the war? What is the interest of its political leader who is responsible for resolving the problems in Fukushima? He is disturbing the efforts of international society that are calling for an early agreement of the nuclear weapons convention. He is promoting a sales campaign of nuclear power technology abroad. At the same time, he is making his best efforts to recommission the nuclear power plants within the country and to amend the constitution. When listening to the survivors’ voices of mortification and thinking of the victims’ feeling of resentment, the word “Japan as an A-bombed country” used by the government sounds hollow.

The number of the people who regard nuclear weapons not as “power” but as “cruelty,” more over as ”an absolute evil” is certainly increasing around the world. That is a result of the survivors’ unflagging petitions over many years. The demand to shift energy policy from a risky nuclear one into a sustainable and renewable one is expanding, too. Such tendency seems to be strengthening the survivors’ distrust of the present government, which is heading in the opposite direction.

How we can push our government to adopt a nuclear-free policy, which is surely the most suitable for an A-bombed country? I believe that stronger action should be taken towards the central government, firstly by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by concerned citizens and local governments with a deep understanding of the historical significance of the experience of both these cities. In addition, to approach international society through various measures is crucial. These efforts would surely be the right and only way to honor the memory of the victims and to repay the efforts of those who survived—now with an average age of over seventy-eight—who are still conveying their testimonies to the next generation.

As the nation’s media, we must also confirm the grave responsibility of this approach.


Akira Tashiro, the author of this editorial is both Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center and a Senior Staff Writer of the Chugoku Shimbun, started working in 1972. After filling various posts in the shipping division at the sales department and in the editorial department, he has held his present position since 2008. His major writings include “Nuclear Age: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (Chugoku Shimbun Publishing), “Discounted casualties: The human cost of depleted uranium” (Daigaku Kyoiku Shuppan), “21st Century--Negative legacy of nuclear age--by travel around the super powers of the USA, Russia and former USSR” (Iwanami Shoten Publishers). He has also been the recipient of prizes such as the Vaughn-Ueda International Writer Prize, and the Japan National Press Club Award.