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6 Aug, 2010 02:07

Japan remembers Hiroshima victims

Japan is remembering the 140,000 people who died after the first-ever use of an atomic bomb, dropped by the US on the city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

It is the first time representatives from America, as well as Britain and France, attended a memorial for the attack. A total of 75 countries were present.

I think it is very significant to see there Ambassador John Roos [US Ambassador to Japan – ed.]. this is the first time that the Americans have actually participated in this ceremony,” said Dr. Kate Hudson, head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “It is widely seen now as an indication of the very serious intent of President Obama [to achieving a nuclear weapons-free world.]

Meanwhile, Professor Robert Jacobs from the Hiroshima Peace Institute believes there is still a large degree of contention in the US over the subject of the Hiroshima bombing.

It was only in 1995 that, at an exhibition commemorating the anniversary of the bombing at the Smithsonian Institution in the US, there was controversy over including photographs of hibakusha [victims who survived the bombings –ed.] along with the display of the Enola Gay [the bomber that dropped the first bomb- ed.]," Jacobs said.

Disarmament activist David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in the US, says the Hiroshima tragedy became significant because it signaled the start of the global arms race.

“I think in some ways, in addition to the personal tragedy of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, another tragedy occurred – that is, that it opened a nuclear age and began an arms race that involved a lot of nuclear testing and the development of nuclear weapons,” he said.

US nuclear and missile proliferation research analyst Peter Crail recalled what the Hiroshima bombing showed the world.

“One of the things that [it] showed the world was exactly what kind of disastrous effects these weapons can have. This was something the humanity hadn't previously before seen,” Crail told RT, adding that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons has diminished considerably.

Retired US general and former assistant to the US secretary of defense Robert Gard, now currently a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, doesn’t believe apologies for the bombings are appropriate under the circumstances.

“On the other hand, it is important to show solidarity with Japan and to recognize the huge destructive power of nuclear weapons, in the hope that we can work together to prevent them from being used again,” Gard told RT.

Historian and author Jacques Pauwels believes there were no reasons to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“There were many simple ways to end the war, including the simplest one of basically blocading Japan. And sooner or later a big country like that would beg to capitulate as there would not be enough food,” Pauwels told RT.
At 08:15 on August 6, 1945, the US destroyed the city of Hiroshima with one bomb. Though not directly hit, the people living in the surrounding area faced another danger in the form of black rain.

There was a big flash; heaven and earth overturned. Then we heard a blast. The students inside were all hit with glass fragments,” Sadako Sori recalled. “Walking home, the black rain started to fall and turned our white blouses black with spots, and even our hair and faces were soaked in black rain.”

The bomb sent a mushroom cloud into the atmosphere, creating its own weather system, pouring down a radioactive soot-filled rain onto the survivors. Some people, who were unaware of the dangers, even welcomed it.

I had never seen black water before,” said black rain survivor Norio Seiki. “I remember it was such a pleasure to play with the black water in our garden.”

The US and Japanese governments acknowledged the black rain as a health risk and set up an official area where they believed the phenomenon had occurred. However, those who lived in the vicinity of Hiroshima say the designated section was far too small, and the governments did not do enough to protect the entire population that suffered. Now, groups of survivors such as the “Black Rain Association” are gathering to make their voices heard.

“Our members are not considered typical A-bomb survivors, but more than 80% of us suffer from serious radiation-related illnesses and cancer. We just want the government to recognize this,” Seiki said.

The victims in the direct path of the radiation wave are easier to identify than those who live in the surrounding areas. In an ironic twist, it is another set of buildings built shortly after the bomb was dropped that gave scientists the information they needed to help the victims of black rain.

Two or three years ago, we found 19 houses with mud under the floorboards. Because of when the houses were built, we know when that mud was exposed, and when we took samples, the mud was still radioactive,” nuclear physicist Masaharu Hoshi explained.

Evidence of radioactivity from black rain can go a long way towards helping the victims. Also, using new technology, teams are re-assessing the size of the radioactive cloud.

The commission that identified the original area calculated the mushroom cloud at eight kilometers. But by finding the vantage point of the pilot and where the photos were taken, we can get a better idea of the real height, which ended up being 16km – more than twice what we had thought traditionally,” said Dr. Masahi Baba from Hiroshima City University.

Armed with new information, the city of Hiroshima has commissioned a new study with the idea of increasing the official area for A-bomb and black rain victims.

Our biggest goal is to extend the black rain area and continue to care for the health and support the survivors,” said Takao Okada from Hiroshima city government. “Even now, 65 years on from the event, the tragedy continues.”

Physically there is very little radiation left,” said Dr. Tuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute. “But the cancer is the problem. You never know when you’ll develop cancer. If you are a survivor, you always have a psychological fear that one day you’ll be attacked by cancer.”

In Hiroshima alone, it is estimated that 350,000 people were exposed to the bombing. Nearly 150,000 died. Today, the city that was once destroyed is a thriving epicenter for culture and peace. Those who live here fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons through their experience, stories and memory, though as Steve Leeper,  Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation says, some Japanese would rather leave the issue behind.

There are a lot [of people] who are just tired of the whole thing. They have been folding paper cranes since they were in first grade. And so there is a dichotomy there,” said  Leeper.