At the time of Japan’s devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake last week, Japan had 54 nuclear reactors, producing roughly 30 percent of its electricity. In the disaster’s aftermath, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan was experiencing its most difficult crisis since the end of World War II.
In the city of Hiroshima, images of damaged nuclear plants are as unavoidable as they are in the rest of Japan. But they are perhaps especially troubling to people for whom radiation is an all too familiar enemy. Need to Know’s Abby Leonard was in Hiroshima just after the quake hit. She sends us this report:
Hiroshima was the first place on earth to feel the devastating impact of a nuclear weapon. More than six decades later, the city still bears the scars — including high rates of cancers and birth defects.
There’s a vocal anti-nuclear movement here, which promotes eliminating not only nuclear weapons but nuclear power as well.
Last year, a local power company proposed building a nuclear plant 60 miles from Hiroshima, and another on a nearby island, protesters staged a round-the-clock vigil with support from survivors of the bomb, many of whom have become antinuclear activists.
One survivor-turned-activist is Keijiro Matsushima. He’s a cheerful man with an easy laugh. But his eyes grow dark when he recalls that day in August 1945. He was 16, sitting by his classroom window when, he says there was a blinding flash, followed by searing heat. And then, the world went black. Afterward, he saw people staggering through the streets burned and bloody — a “procession of ghosts,” he calls them.
Matsushima told me he considers this “Japan’s third atomic bomb … this one self inflicted.”
“This thing happened again. Very disappointed, disgusted, yeah, very sad.”
Across this country, opinions about nuclear energy are mixed. The government has touted it as a way toward a greener future, but a 2009 poll showed that 54 percent of the population felt anxious or uneasy about it. That number may grow now. Fear of the potential for a new “procession of ghosts” will no doubt influence the debate about Japan’s nuclear future, and likely the whole world’s debate as well.