Masao Ito

From “Never Forget” to “Never Again”

5. From pro- to anti-nuclear power plants

In 1955, the Yomiuri Newspaper sponsored an exhibition on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy (Atoms for Peace) in Hibiya Park, Tokyo.  The following year, the exhibition toured in 20 locations throughout Japan, each co-sponsored by local newspaper companies.   Over 2.5 million people came to the exhibit nationwide.  In Hiroshima, it was held at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which had just opened the previous year, moving A-bombed materials that were exhibited in the Museum elsewhere.  A nationwide campaign was launched to promote the idea that although atomic bombs were evil, the peaceful use of nuclear power would lead to prosperity.  Even Mayor Shinso Hamai, who at the time was known as the “A-bomb Mayor” and was working hard to help A-bomb survivors, said, “The peaceful use of nuclear energy in Hiroshima, the first victim city of the atomic bomb, will comfort the souls of the deceased victims.  I think the citizens themselves would agree that nuclear energy that was used for death is now being used for life.”  As a junior high school student, I was also impressed by this exhibit, thinking that the peaceful use of nuclear energy would lead to a bright future.  After that, no matter what happened—the Three Mile Island accident in the United States or the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union—I still believed in the safety myth surrounding nuclear power plants.  Without having any evidence, I believed that Japan would never have such an accident, and I lived as pro-nuclear energy supporter until my younger sister passed away.

On March 15, 2011, my sister passed away due to thyroid disorder, which is one of the long-standing A-bomb diseases.  She was 67 years old.  Four days earlier, on March 11, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region, followed by a massive tsunami.  The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant lost all power due to the tsunami, causing the cooling system to shut down, which resulted in a meltdown.  Ironically, in the midst of the fear of the huge earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident, my sister, one hibakusha, died due to radiation sickness.

The house we lived in was 3.2 kilometers from the hypocenter, and although we were not directly exposed to the atomic bomb, the surrounding soil was contaminated with radiation by the black rain that fell afterward.  But at the time, we had no way of knowing that.  We ate fruits and vegetables that grew in the surrounding fields.  My sister was one and a half years old at the time.  She later got married and lived in Osaka.  However, when she was past 50, she developed a thyroid disorder and started going in and out of the hospital repeatedly.  It cannot be scientifically proven whether my sister’s thyroid disorder was caused by internal radiation exposure from ingesting crops that grew on soil exposed to the black rain.  Moreover, two of my sister’s three sons also had thyroid cancer and have undergone surgery.  Until she took her last breath, my sister worried that the reason of her sons’ thyroid cancer was because she was a hibakusha.  Even though we are told that the relationship between my nephews’ cancer and my sister’s exposure to radiation cannot be proven, it’s also not something they can say is totally unrelated.  At the same time, within me, the safety myth of nuclear power plants was completely shattered.  In terms of the fear that comes from the potential effects of radiation, atomic bombs and nuclear power plants are the same.