…deals with nuclear radiation on several different levels. Because of that, I conducted quite a bit of research on nuclear weapons, nuclear power and radiation poisoning. So much good and so much evil all pushing their way out of one of the most complex elements known to man. It is the stories of the people, from the scientists to the victims, that are so heart wrenching. Following is a detail I came about when researching that I thought was worth sharing.
The most tragic outcome associated with nuclear weapons is obviously the two bombings in Japan at the end of World War II. The Japanese word hibakusha translates to, “explosion covered people.” It is a derogatory word used to describe the people who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, but were exposed to radiation. Even today some people fear the effects of radiation poisoning are contagious and the victims should be avoided.
As of 2012, the Japanese recognize 440,000 people who died either from the bombings or from the after effects of radiation exposure. Over 20,000 Koreans also died during the bombings because they were in Japan under forced labor. Hard to imagine, but almost 200 Japanese people survived both bombings. Harder yet to understand is that hibakusha is a shameful word. It signifies a condition that brings dishonor to families of the victims. People who were infected by the radiation try to hide the disease – even the children of victims are sometimes shunned and denied employment because of the label.
There’s a fascinating but heart-wrenching written history of victims who share their eye-witness accounts of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Over 100 people were videotaped, and their stories have been transcribed into English on this website: http://www.inicom.com/hibakusha/ The first interview is of an Army doctor who was 28 years old at the time of the bombing. He was located 4 kilometers from the hypercenter (about 2.5 miles from the explosion). He had just arrived at work and said hello to his coworkers when he felt the heat first, then weightlessness, then the force of the detonation that knocked him across the room. His white shirt turned red and everyone in the room, including the desks and furniture, were blown to one side. Outside his window he saw the mushroom cloud billowing up over the gas company. He tells the story of working triage in a small regional hospital facility before they realized how bad the explosion was – and that the larger hospitals in town had been destroyed. He walked into the hospital waiting room and smelled something like grilled squid – a delicacy to eat in Japan – and then he realized he was smelling burnt flesh. It’s a fascinating story to read – one that will stay with you for quite some time.
Next week – nuclear issues closer to home – very close to home.