Japan’s hibakusha, a name that literally translates as “explosion-affected people”, are the survivors of the August 1945 atomic bomb attacks carried out by the United States on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though the youngest hibakusha are just turning 70, the remaining survivors still contribute a strong voice to the fight against nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Anxiety about nuclear technology survives among hibakusha
According to a survey by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, most of those who actually witnessed the destruction wreaked by the atomic bombs and lived to tell about it still suffer from health-related anxiety due to their exposure to radiation. Nearly half worry about their exposure somehow affecting the health of their children and grandchildren.
Another concern among survivors is that a nuclear attack might happen again, especially in light of heightening tensions between the United States and Russia. They are also concerned about the use of nuclear power.
More than 66 percent of the respondents, or 3,842, said they are opposed or somewhat opposed to nuclear power generation as an energy source.
A cautionary tale against nuclear arms
Many hibakusha believe it is important to recount their stories of burns, black rains, sickness and ultimately survival. They do this so that no one else will ever experience the horrors that they did.
In the Tokyo suburb of Kunitachi, survivors are helping to train young historians to carry on their tradition of storytelling so that their first-hand experiences may still be relayed after they can no longer continue. While various forms of media may preserve these experiences, a government-sponsored program is cooperating with the Tokyo-based Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers’ Organizations in order to maintain the uniquely personal tradition of face-to-face storytelling as it relates to the country’s greatest tragedy.
Few hibakusha are fit enough to participate in public events, though those that can speak out are determined to keep doing so as long as they can.
Having witnessed what the man-made nuclear weapon did to humans, I must condemn it as absolutely wrong, and the mistake should never be repeated. That’s what drives me to tell my story, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I live.
—Hibakusha Shigeyuki Katsura (via the Japan Times)
A similar program in Hiroshima has been operating since 2012.
Japanese-Brazilian hibakusha caution their adopted homeland
While most survivors still live in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, there are others spread throughout the world. In Brazil, which has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, a group of hibakusha are actively warning Brazilians against the dangers of nuclear technology and expanding the country’s nuclear power program.
On the 70th anniversary of the attacks, members of Brazil’s 100-strong hibakusha community, some of whom are in their 90s, tell stories similar to those of their counterparts who remained in their country of birth. They warn Brazilians of the horrors of nuclear war, but also against the dangers of Brazil’s — albeit small — nuclear power industry, which has had its share of accidents and corruption scandals.
Some express concern about nuclear waste. For example, they wish to make the public aware of a nuclear waste storage site that still exists in a crowded area of São Paulo.
Many people don’t know that radiation is so close to our lives. People must be aware of it, what radiations are and what kind of effect they have in our body. We must pass on [what we know of the risks] to future generations.
—Junko Kosumo, a hibakusha in São Paulo, Brazil (via the Guardian)
As in Japan, there are widespread concerns about nuclear power in Brazil, which currently has only two nuclear reactors, though since the restart of the country’s nuclear program, completion of a third has been scheduled for 2019.