Demystifying Nuclear Power: Nuclear IS Atomic

photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski,    Fukushima Exclusion Zone   , an abandoned supermarket left in disarray with radioactively contaminated food and goods

photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski, Fukushima Exclusion Zone, an abandoned supermarket left in disarray with radioactively contaminated food and goods

written by Chiho Kaneko, member of Fairewinds Board of Directors

Fairewinds Energy Education Board Member Chiho Kaneko is this week’s special guest blogger.  Chiho is a woman of many talents.  She is fluent in both English and Japanese, is an experienced translator, columnist, author, artist, pianist, and singer.  We at Fairewinds are very thankful for Chiho’s work on our Board of Directors and the heart and spirit she brings to everything she does for us and for others around the world.

Chiho Kaneko:

I worked as a volunteer interpreter at the United Nations in April 2015 on behalf of the Nihon Hidankyo (The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations). As 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nihon Hidankyo sent a large delegation to attend the United Nations 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference were the survivors, who told their personal stories of "The Day" and what followed during the ensuing days, weeks, months, and years.

I was stunned by their stories:

"I was a seven-year-old boy, playing outside on the street with my younger brother and a cousin; both of them were four years old. A sudden flash and blast knocked us all, as well as flattening all the houses along the street, which quickly started to burn. My brother and I were in the lee side of a building and miraculously spared any injury. But our cousin was in a sunny spot. He died three days later."

"I was thirteen years old, a junior at a girls school. At 8:15 in the morning, we were at a factory outside of the city center when a classmate shouted, 'It's a B29! Oh, it dropped a white parachute!' The next moment a blinding flash flared up, and I was blown off my feet by the shock wave. When I finally crawled out of the rubbles of the collapsed factory building, I realized my school uniform was covered with blood from my nose, and countless shards of windowpane were embedded in my body. The freshman class of my school, 223 of them, happened to be working near the city center that morning. None of them survived."

Meeting these courageous people, who survived the destructive powers of the atom unleashed upon innocent victims for the first time in the history of the world, really renewed my interest in reading and viewing all that I could. 


When I was visiting my family in Japan during August 2015, I watched a special 70th commemoration television story.  The story shared by a Hiroshima A-bomb survivor chilled me, when she said,

“I was thirteen years old. A few hours after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, I spotted my father, standing a few paces before me in the line of people waiting to get some medical help. Oh, he, too, survived that incredible bomb, I thought, and I tried to grab his arm -- but I ended up just pulling his sleeve off his shoulder.  --- No, it was not his sleeve. It was the entire skin of my father's arm that I was holding in my hand…”

I wondered, why did the entire skin slip off his arm like that?  I learned that,

“The thermal ray of the A-bomb instantaneously boiled the fluid in the body, causing a flash burn where steam bursts through the skin. This is why people who barely survived the A-bomb were seen walking around like ghosts, with their arms thrust forward and with rag-like pieces of skin hanging from their arms and hands, not to mention from other parts of their body. Some were seen trying to hold in their own popped-out intestines.”

Many who "survived" the initial impact of the A-bomb died within hours.  Others died within a few days. People, who had severe burns all over their bodies, were tormented by maggots that quickly inhabited their flesh in Japan’s August heat. Several survivors told me that they had to pick maggots off the bodies of their family members. Those memories and images, coupled with the memory of the overwhelming indescribable odor, haunt them to this day.

Even those who did not personally suffer immediate physical injuries have spent their entire lives being fearful of the effects of radiation exposure from such a terrorizing blast. A 77-year-old female Hiroshima survivor told this story:

"I was a second-grader in Hiroshima when the bombing destroyed my elementary school. I watched my cousins die one by one in the days following the bombing. I, too, experienced hair loss in the fall. Thanks to my parents' selfless efforts to save me, I lived, and I have been able to survive to this day. When I conceived my daughter, I was torn about whether or not to deliver her, because of the unknown effects of the radiation. I ended up giving birth to her, and it was such a relief to see her grow up normal. But a few years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and died at the age of forty-five. For a long time I blamed myself for her death."

Nuclear weapons were created to kill as many people as possible with a single blast, and they proved to be quite successful for that purpose.  The bomb was not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, whose end was already being negotiated behind closed doors, but because the US wanted to show Russia the power it had achieved. 

According to the History Channel,

“Truman and many of his advisers hoped that the U.S. atomic monopoly might offer diplomatic leverage with the Soviets. In this fashion, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan can be seen as the first shot of the Cold War.”

We all have ended up being held hostage to this powerfully destructive technology. The NPT seems to be a remarkable platform where most of the nations in the world actually come together and talk with each other. (Currently only five nations are not part of the Treaty: India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Sudan.)

However, in my personal opinion, the NPT fails to address the most critical humanitarian goal, which is to ensure that there is no more suffering caused by nuclear weapons. I believe that the only way to achieve this goal is for all nuclear-weapons-possessing nations to stop making new weapons and to give up their stockpiles. There is no other way.

The so-called "deterrence by nuclear armaments" philosophy is simply a form of intimidation, because it still is the manifestation of an aggressive attitude. Why haven’t we learned from history that armaments simply lead to more conflicts?

While listening to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors tell their stories at the U.N. in April, I had this revelation: These people are the real deterrent.

Each time the survivors share their terrifying memories, repeating them over and over to everyone and anyone, as they reveal the scars on their bodies and share the grief within their hearts, they teach so many of us how cruel nuclear weapons are. Their messages say loudly and clearly, no more nuclear weapons, and no more wars.

I really hope for a day when the world is free from nuclear weapons, and really, free from war.

Of course, none of us can just hope and dream for peace. To achieve worldwide peace, each one of us must actively work toward "sustainable peace" throughout the world. Peace throughout the world is not the kind of peace that many leaders advocate, because they are primarily motivated by the desire to maintain privileges and assets enjoyed by their country's wealthy class, which doesn't lead to a long-lasting and universal peace on earth.

It is my belief that the current government of Japan is an example of leaders making policies that are counter to "sustainable peace."

Japan’s Diet (Parliament) passed The Security Bill that defies the Japanese Constitution's unique clause of "Renunciation of War." A new government agency called the Defense Equipment Agency opened this month, and already a powerful Japanese business organization (Keidanren) is promoting the vision of manufacturing weapons and exporting them as a key component for Japan's future economic growth. The ongoing use of nuclear power is part of that vision, along with the full operation of the Rokkasho nuclear re-processing plant in northern Japan.

I cannot help but think of the irony and hypocrisy of the fact that Japan was allowed to build a commercial nuclear re-processing facility, one of only three that exist in the world, given the current bickering over the Iran nuclear deal. Rokkasho was touted as the solution to the ever-increasing spent nuclear fuel stockpile, and yet so far it has been riddled with technical problems during its test runs. Essentially,  Rokkasho chemically strips away bomb-grade plutonium from inside spent fuel rods after they have been the fuel inside Japan’s nuclear power plants’ radioactive nuclear cores.

I am sincerely afraid that some members of the government see this as enabling Japan to move one step closer to having the capability to make its own nuclear weapons. And I fear that the environmental consequences of operating such a toxic plant will be devastating.

I shudder at the blatant exhibition of greed for money and power by the leaders of my country. And I am not alone -- For weeks I read reports of large rallies and marches happening all over Japan, urging the parliament not to pass the Security Bill. Since its chaotic passage on September 19, many scholars and citizen's groups have denounced the legality of this bill. People fear that Japan may be moving toward military rule and the erosion of civil rights in the name of national security, just as it did before and during WWII.

I am certain that no one on earth wants to be the victim of nuclear weapons or a nuclear power catastrophe and meltdown.  The nuclear power industry grew out of the nuclear bombs that decimated two Japanese cities in August 1945.  These two industries are still inextricably entwined and will never be separated.  The enrichment technology to make new uranium fuel is identical to that needed to make the uranium bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, while the plutonium stripped from spent nuclear fuel at reprocessing plants like Rokkasho is identical to the plutonium used in the plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

As long as we accept the narrative that necessitates the existence of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and other nuclear facilities, we will never ensure that the world will be free from nuclear-caused suffering.

I know life is complicated, and the world's conflicts over its limited resources probably will not abate anytime soon, but I keep thinking about the words of Kuninori Ohya, a late historian and peace scholar from my home prefecture of Iwate:

"Peace by force is nothing but a temporary measure for the sake of protecting someone's vested rights and interests."


The private conversation I had with a 77-year-old female Hiroshima survivor, at the U.N. conference I mentioned earlier, revealed some simple truths. She said,

"The government says they need to beef up our defense capabilities in order to protect us. That's a lie. They cannot protect us with weapons -- you only need to look at what happened in WWII. They couldn't protect us."


She continued: "I experienced a lot of discrimination in my life because I am a Hibakusha -- "the Exposed." It happened when I tried to find employment, it happened when I was getting married, and it happened when my daughter wanted to marry someone. It's all because the government has not honestly dealt with the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Two years ago, I gave a talk as a Hiroshima survivor at a local junior high school in Chiba prefecture. After the talk, an 8th-grade girl chased me down the corridor, grabbed my hand and thanked me. She said she was an evacuee from Fukushima, being sheltered at a relative's house in Chiba. After a moment, I sensed that she wanted to say something more, because she kept looking in my eyes without letting go of my hand. I asked, 'What is it?' She finally said, 'Will I be able to have a child all right?' This was a really sad and difficult moment for me. . . I managed to give her encouragement, but the fact is that she, too, is a Hibakusha, not just a disaster victim as she is usually referred to."

photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski,    Fukushima Daiichi Exclusion Zone   , plastic bags of radioactive, nuke garbage sitting along the Pacific coastline

photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski, Fukushima Daiichi Exclusion Zone, plastic bags of radioactive, nuke garbage sitting along the Pacific coastline


According to a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year, "56% of Americans believe the use of nuclear weapons (at the end of WWII) was justified; 34% say it was not. In Japan only 14% say the bombing was justified, versus 79% who say it was not."

It must be noted that the percentage of Americans who think the use of nuclear weapons was justified has decreased compared with surveys done decades ago.

In 2014, nine utilities that own nuclear power plants in Japan collectively spent more than $11.5 billion just to maintain those plants while they were idle. By contrast, Japan's solar energy output has grown 9.5 times in the past five years to 27 million KW as of March 2015, which is the equivalent of more than 20 nuclear power plants.