TOKYO — More than 70 years later, Terumi Tanaka can still relive the havoc wrought on his hometown Nagasaki, which was flattened by a plutonium bomb unleashed from a United States Army Air Forces plane.
At around 11 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, Tanaka was at his home some 3.2 kilometers away from the hypocenter of the atomic blast, when he heard a “loud bang” and immediately fell unconscious.
“Everything was instantly blown away in a storm,” the 84-year-old Japanese man told The Korea Herald in Tokyo last week. “I survived because I was lying down on the floor. However, five out of my six relatives died, some instantaneously from the raging inferno, some slowly from putrefying burns.”
Ahead of the international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons on Sept. 26, designated by the United Nations in 2014, the secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers’ Organization, also known as Nihon Hidankyo, warned of the indelible consequences of pursuing nuclear arms and energy.
There are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with the US and Russia possessing 93 percent of them, according to anti-nuclear organization the Ploughshares Fund. The arsenals are a thousand times more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The bombshell dropped on Nagasaki, dubbed “Fat Man,” killed 74,000 people, roughly half the number that had perished from Hiroshima three days earlier. There are currently over 174,000 survivors — called “hibakusha” in Japanese — of the apocalyptic events in Japan and several thousands more worldwide.
Along with civic organizations such as Japan NGO Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Peace Boat, Nihon Hidankyo has shepherded anti-nuclear calls around the world since it was established in 1956. It has participated in international conferences, street rallies and speaking tours, urging the total abolition of nuclear weapons, state compensation for their injuries, enhancement of government policies and relief measures, and solidarity with nuclear victims around the globe.
As part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, Tokyo renounced its right to claim damages from the nuclear bombardments from Washington. The hibakushas were deprived of their health, disadvantaged in employment and discriminated against by society, according to Nihon Hidankyo.
However, the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the subject of national discourse following the radiation exposure and death of Japanese fishermen who were affected by America’s nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean.
According to analysts, some 50,000 Koreans are thought to have lived in Hiroshima and 20,000 in Nagasaki during the attack, out of which roughly 30,000 and 10,000 are estimated to have died.
Most of Nagasaki’s Korean victims, who came from Hapcheon County in South Gyeongsang Province, were forcibly conscripted for backbreaking labor in wartime factories. The survivors returned home after the war to establish an organization similar to Nihon Hidankyo, with which the Japanese side maintains close contact.
“I believe Japan must also consider peaceful diplomacy with North Korea,” Tanaka argued. “As a personal opinion, a peace treaty between Pyongyang and Washington could stabilize the situation.”
On relations with South Korea, he asserted that Japan — both a casualty of history as well as aggressor — has the moral responsibility to offer the olive branch.
“Colonial Japan had caused great harm and suffering on the peoples of Asia throughout the first part of the 20th century,” he contended. “We should never forget this part of our history. However, the younger generations aren’t well aware of the past due to our government’s lukewarm attitude and our education’s passive, pacifist curriculum.”
Highlighting the importance of contrition through education, the secretary-general also advised Korea not to perceive the whole of Japan in a negative light.
“The government or policy could be overly nationalistic, but this doesn’t mean that all Japanese people are on board with it,” he said.
“It is highly irresponsible to use nuclear energy in a country with frequent earthquakes,” the professor contended. “As we have witnessed in Fukushima, it is impossible to perfectly engineer for all possible disasters. In the event of a meltdown, the financial gains accrued from operating a power plant can be wiped out in repairing the damage.”
Mentioning that the toxic nuclear waste must be sealed off underground for over 100,000 years, Jacobs emphasized that “nuclear energy is unfeasible with peaceful, equitable and sustainable development.”
“No society can confidently claim it is protecting its future generations from the danger of nuclear power,” he said. “Nuclear energy creates liabilities that last for thousands of generations. Spent nuclear fuel will remain poisonous for hundreds of thousands of years.”