Then on March 11, the damage was reprised. The tsunami-triggered meltdowns at three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors were nowhere near as acute or deadly as the cataclysm that engulfed Hiroshima. Still, in both cases, thousands of people were exposed to radiation. In both, thousands lost their homes. That is why, for Hiroshima survivor Akira Yamada, the bombings of 1945 no longer seem so final. Saturday is the 66th anniversary of the bombing of his city but the first on which he is also speaking out against civilian nuclear power.
“Yes, the events are connected,” Yamada said. “With both, I have regrets.”
Since the Fukushima crisis, Japan has launched a nationwide debate about the merits and risks of its atomic energy program. The most zealous anti-nuclear activists tend to speak of a history forsaken — as if, by racing to build reactors in the 1970s, the country had ignored the clear warning signs of Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945.
But most of the bombing survivors, known as hibakusha, have long had a far more complex, and often positive, view of nuclear power — which partly explains why Japan now has reactors along almost every rural swath of its shoreline, 54 in all, accounting for about 30 percent of the national power supply.
Some hibakusha saw civilian nuclear energy as the antithesis of the destruction they had witnessed. Some even became nuclear power researchers, paving the way for nationwide acceptance of the technology.
In its charter documents, Nihon Hidankyo, Japan’s atomic bomb victims’ organization, called for the prevention of nuclear war and the elimination of nuclear weapons. But its statements about nuclear energy, even after the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, were limited to occasional and unemphatic calls for better safety testing and research.
“Even though we’d gone through horrific experiences, nuclear power energy at that time was seen as the discovery of a second fire,” said Nagasaki survivor Sueichi Kido, 71. “In a way, we were hoping nuclear power could be used as a great tool to make our lives better.”
This June, three months into the nuclear emergency unfolding along the northeastern coastline, Hidankyo held its annual general assembly meeting in Tokyo. In previous years, Yamada said, the event had grown predictable: Survivors talked about their health and their friends who had died. Sometimes they shared details of an ongoing class-action lawsuit.