The worst nuclear disaster to strike Japan since a single bomb fell over Nagasaki in 1945 occurred one year ago this week, in the spring of 2011, at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the epic tsunami. The wide release of radiation, and fear of same, has forced the Japanese and others all over the world to reflect on what happened to the country in 1945, and the continuing (but usually submerged) threat of nuclear weapons and energy today.
In its main story marking the sixty-sixth anniversary of the atomic bombings last August, the New York Times highlighted the new activism of survivors of the bombing (the hibakusha) this year: campaigning against nuclear power, which has provided most of their country’s energy needs. No one in the world can relate to the fears of a wide populace terrified that they (and perhaps the unborn) may be tainted forever by exposure to airborne radiation.
My colleague Robert Jay Lifton wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Fukushima and Hiroshima.” He pointed out: “One may ask how it is possible that Japan, after its experience with the atomic bombings, could allow itself to draw so heavily on the same nuclear technology for the manufacture of about a third of its energy. There was resistance, much of it from Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. But there was also a pattern of denial, cover-up and cozy bureaucratic collusion between industry and government, the last especially notorious in Japan but by no means limited to that country.”
The Mainichi Shimbun sought out Sumiteru Taniguchi, now 82, and currently director of the Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors Council, for comment. It noted that while he normally talks quietly and haltingly, “when the conversation turns to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant it is as if the floodgates open, and his tone suddenly turns harsh.” Taniguchi said: “Nuclear power and mankind cannot coexist. We survivors of the atomic bomb have said this all along. And yet, the use of nuclear power was camouflaged as ‘peaceful’ and continued to progress. You never know when there’s going to be a natural disaster. You can never say that there will never be a nuclear accident.”
As it happens, I have interviewed Taniguchi three times, in the United States and in Japan. He is perhaps the iconic symbol of the hibakusha today, thanks to footage of him taken after the bombing, showing him, months after the attack, still on a floor, spread-eagled, his entire back an open wound, flaming red. It was part of footage shot by a US film crew, and suppressed, with horrible consequences, for decades, as I probe in my new book Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made. (You can see some of the Taniguchi footage here.)