Boat crew survivors focus of Bikini nuke test study

The city of Sukumo, Kochi Prefecture, will conduct health studies next month on crews from Kochi fishing boats hit by fallout from the 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Central Pacific.

The Kochi boats constituted about 30 percent of the estimated 1,000 Japanese boats in the Pacific at the time of the fallout.

The U.S. bomb test exposed the Japanese fishing boat Fukuryu Maru No. 5, known in English as the Lucky Dragon, and residents of Rongelap Island to radiation.

Twelve of the 23 crew members of the 140-ton vessel have died, most after years of treatment for illnesses believed linked to radiation exposure.

Most surviving members have also suffered serious health problems.

Many other Japanese ships and people were affected by the ensuing nuclear fallout of the bomb, which was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Many of the fishermen in Kochi have died, while others, coupled with aging, are apparently suffering different kinds of illnesses linked to radiation exposure.

It is believed that 992 tuna boats were exposed to radiation at the same time as the Lucky Dragon, which was fishing for tuna about 160 km east of the test site when the hydrogen bomb was detonated.

Of the 992, 270 were ships from Kochi Prefecture, and it is believed about 2,340 people based in Sukumo, Muroto, Tosashimizu and elsewhere suffered the effects of radiation.

On March 24, the Sukumo Municipal Assembly adopted a written opinion calling on the state to address relief measures for irradiated ship crews and publicize materials and documents on fishermen affected in the Bikini Atoll blast, citing medical compensation the United States provided U.S. service members who were involved.

The city is planning to consult with the prefectural government to investigate the current status of the survivors, and conduct health checkups on them similar to ones provided for survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.

Because of a political settlement with the U.S. government, Japan has not recognized the crew members as nuclear bomb survivors, unlike atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and has continued to exclude them from relief measures under law.

Under the political settlement of January 1955, the U.S. paid compensation of 720 million yen to the Lucky Dragon crew and fishing industry facilities.

Sukumo Mayor Seiji Nakanishi urged the central government to heed the calls at the local level and not simply “shut the door” on them.