On March 15, hibakusha participating in a cruise organized by nongovernmental group Peace Boat made a stop in Naples, where they gathered at a local university to present their experiences as survivors of the atomic bomb.
After the session, the hibakusha were surrounded by reporters whose chief concern seemed to be why a country that had experienced the horror of atomic devastation would build nuclear power plants.
The reporters wanted to know the significance of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to a nation that still commemorates the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Italians' attempt to conflate atomic weapons with nuclear power generation was basically lost on the very old survivors.
Shoso Hirai, 82, survived the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but in response to the reporters' questions he could only say, "I'm sorry but I can't give a good answer on nuclear power plants because I haven't studied the issue."
A hibakusha from Nagasaki, Akira Fukahori, 81 said he had no comment.
Hirai later said, "I, to some degree, trusted the government when it said, 'Nuclear energy is necessary for Japan which does not have natural resources.' "
Fukahori also recalled that he never doubted the government's assurances about the safety of nuclear energy.
Japanese society after the end of World War II made a clear distinction: rejecting nuclear technology used for weapons, but accepting the peaceful use of such technology for nuclear energy.
Even Takashi Nagai, a physician specializing in radiology who survived the Nagasaki bombing, talked about his dreams for nuclear energy in his 1949 bestseller "Nagasaki no Kane" (The Bells of Nagasaki).
Nagai wrote, "By controlling the explosion of nuclear energy, it can be used to operate ships, trains and airplanes. How happy would that make humans?"
That comment represents the hope Japanese society held for the new science and technology of nuclear energy as it moved from defeat in war to rebuilding the nation.
Those hopes were held even by those who suffered terribly due to the atomic bomb.
In 1951, Masaaki Tanabe, 73, was in his second year at a junior high school in Hiroshima.
In describing his experience with the atomic bomb, Tanabe wrote, "Nuclear energy is scary. If it is used in a bad way, mankind would be destroyed. However, the more it is used in a good way, mankind will become happier and there would be peace in the world."
Tanabe's account was included in a compilation of experiences written by children that was published in the autumn of 1951 titled "Genbaku no Ko" (Children of the A-bomb).
About 1,000 entries were submitted and the late Arata Osada, an education professor at Hiroshima University who was also a hibakusha, selected those to be included in the book.
The atomic bomb took almost everything from Tanabe. His family home that stood next to what is now the Atomic Bomb Dome was destroyed and his mother and younger brother died. While he was able to earlier reunite with his father, who was an officer in the Imperial Army, he also died on Aug. 15. Tanabe was left with only his grandmother.
Tanabe still remembers reading about the "peaceful use of nuclear energy" in a school textbook and how there were plans to use nuclear energy to generate electricity.
While he still had anger in his heart at the nuclear technology that took his family, when he thought about the possibility of the happiness that nuclear energy could bring people through peaceful means, Tanabe also felt a ray of hope.
Of the 105 entries that were included in Genbaku no Ko, there were four that touched upon expectations for nuclear energy.
The editor of the book, Osada, wrote in the preface, "Hiroshima must become the birthplace of a nuclear age under peaceful conditions."
The time when Tanabe wrote about his dreams for nuclear energy was also a time when the people were not told about the effects on human health from radiation exposure.
Immediately after the atomic bombs were dropped, the Japanese government protested to the United States that it had used a weapon that was banned under international law.
Foreign reporters who went to Hiroshima wrote reports in newspapers in the West describing how people with no apparent external injuries were dying.
In an attempt to deny reality, Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, who was involved in the Manhattan Project, told a gathering of reporters at a Tokyo hotel in September 1945 that everyone who could not be saved in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had died and that there was no one in either city who was suffering from radiation.
That statement denying the effects of residual radiation would become the official position of the United States.
As the Occupation forces covered up the damage from radiation, those who survived the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki began talking about their dreams for nuclear energy.
Nagai looked after many patients in Nagasaki and had first-hand experience of the suffering of patients with radiation sickness.
But one of Nagai's disciples, Kinichiro Hamasato, 87, had a different explanation for what motivated Nagai to hold hope for nuclear energy.
"Due to his instincts as a scientist, Nagai felt that nuclear energy would be a magical energy source," Hamasato said. "I believe he wanted to use nuclear energy for medical purposes to treat those with radiation sickness."
Toshiyuki Tanaka, 62, a professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute under the Hiroshima City University, said, "Because of the very fact that the hibakusha had their family members killed by the atomic bombs and also suffered injuries themselves, they probably held hopes that perhaps nuclear energy could be used to also save them."
It was not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but all of war-devastated Japan that held a dream of nuclear energy being the light of hope.
Newspapers began running articles showing the various ways in which nuclear energy could be used.
In its Aug. 3, 1953 edition, The Asahi Shimbun used almost an entire page to report on developments in nuclear energy in the United States. In an opening paragraph to the page, the paper explained that it would describe the current situation surrounding nuclear energy power generation just a few days before the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.
It was not long thereafter, however, when the threat from radiation became more widely known.
After reports surfaced that the No. 5 Fukuryu Maru fishing boat was showered by deadly radioactive fallout from the testing of a hydrogen bomb in March 1954 by the United States on the Bikini Atoll, a movement spread calling for a ban on atomic and hydrogen bombs.
Hibakusha also began their own campaign seeking compensation.
On Aug. 10, 1956, about 800 hibakusha gathered in Nagasaki to form the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization.
The convention declaration stated, "Mankind should never repeat the sacrifice and difficulties that we have experienced."
However, later in the declaration it stated, "Our only wish as long as we live will be to definitively turn nuclear energy in a direction for the happiness and prosperity of mankind."
Toshihiko Sudo, 82, attended the gathering from Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. He listened to the statement with high hopes, but does not remember the latter section on nuclear energy.
"At that time, the only thing in my mind was expectations for winning compensation," he said. "I had no knowledge about nuclear energy."
(This article was written by Yasufumi Kado and Yosuke Watanabe.)
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