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“The Coming of a Second Sun”: The 1956 Atoms for Peace Exhibit in Hiroshima and Japan’s Embrace of Nuclear Power1 via Japan Focus

Ran Zwigenberg

In November 2011 when asked about the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO’s) deteriorating finances, a Japanese official commented, “This is a war between humans and technology. While that war is being fought, we should not talk about bankruptcy.”2 The unnamed official, perhaps inadvertently, alluded to something more than the financial issues here; the fact that technological fixes are no longer an option and that Japan, sixty-six years after the bomb and fifty-five years after it welcomed atomic energy, finally is beginning to come to terms with the true cost of over-reliance on nuclear power.

Following the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, a host of commentators, in Japan and internationally, decried the corruption, smugness and shortsightedness that led Japan to choose nuclear power in the fifties. These critics more often than not draw a picture of Japan’s entry into the atomic age as a combination of American imposition and elite (conservative) complicity.3 On the other side of this picture stand the hibakusha (A-bomb victims) and other activists who resisted this move. Drawing on the historically powerful symbolism of Hiroshima, Ōe Kenzaburō talked about Japan as becoming a fourth time victim of the atom, alluding to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Bikini victims aboard Lucky Dragon # 5.4 Speaking of Japan’s postwar history in these familiar black and white terms of the people falling victim to the machinations of powerful Japanese politicians in collusion with American imperialism, though not without credence, obscures the balance of forces of the fifties moment in which Japan went nuclear.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the reaction of the city of Hiroshima to the introduction of the Atomic age.5 On the 27th of May 1956 the Atoms for Peace exhibition opened in the peace memorial museum in Hiroshima. The exhibit was a key component of the American plan to present the atom as a positive force for progress and overcome the Japanese “nuclear allergy.” The exhibit proved to be an enormous success, drawing well over 100,000 visitors and enthusiastic press reception. Significantly, the museum, which hosted the exhibit, one year earlier, had hosted the equally successful World Congress Against A- and H-Bombs, and it was also the museum that exhibited the horrors of the bombing.6

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