We examine the historical debate on the country’s atomic ambitions
On Oct. 3, 1946, readers of The Atlanta Constitution woke up to a shocking front-page headline: “Japan Developed Atom Bomb; Russians Grabbed Scientists.”
What followed was a detailed account of how Japan supposedly tested an atomic bomb just three days before the Aug. 15, 1945, address by the Showa Emperor that accepted unconditional surrender and ended the war. The article was essentially an interview with one Japanese source, who spoke under a pseudonym.
The source, dubbed “Capt. Tsetusuo Wakabayashi,” claimed to have witnessed an atomic explosion near Konan, North Korea, that had been detonated by the Japanese military on Aug. 12, 1945. The story was written by David Snell, a reporter who had been released from the U.S. Army’s 24th Criminal Investigation Detachment in Seoul just weeks before and was now back at his old job.
U.S. and Japanese authorities, including Harry Kelly, a science adviser to Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur, immediately dismissed the article, saying there was no evidence to justify the story, as did other high-ranking U.S. officials and Japanese scientists at the time. Snell never revealed the true identity of his source.
“Contrary to the impression conveyed by the overwhelming popular sentiment in Japan against any association with nuclear weapons, there is mounting evidence that the conservative government in Tokyo secretly contemplates the eventual manufacture of such weapons, unless international agreements intervene,” a declassified August 1957 U.S. State Department report said.
That news came as Japan was preparing to embrace nuclear power as an energy source. Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, grandfather of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, indicated Japan’s postwar peace Constitution did not forbid a strictly defensive nuclear arsenal, setting off a storm of protest and debate.
Read more at Going nuclear: How close has Japan come?