Scholars hunt for dispersed A-bomb health logs

by Mai Iida

Kyodo

Japanese scholars are trying to locate records of early research on the health impact of radiation from the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to create a digital archive accessible to anyone.

The scholars began by searching for photos, records of medical treatment and other materials mainly from the 1940s to 1970s in the United States and Japan, said Masahito Ando, a professor of archival science at Gakushuin University’s graduate school who is leading the government-funded, four-year research program that began in April.

“Although nearly 70 years have passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the whole picture regarding records of atomic bomb damage is not really clear,” he said.

Ando said much of the material is believed to have been taken to the United States and that it is not known how much still exists or is publicly accessible.

Hironobu Ochiba, a curator at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said he believes there has been no such archive to date.

“If it is developed, it would greatly help our research for exhibitions and I think it would be significant.”

Rescue and relief activities as well as medical treatment by a few surviving doctors and nurses began soon after the bombings. Military, university and other research teams also showed up.

The United States sent research teams after Japan’s surrender and in 1947 set up the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission for research on the long-term health effects of the attacks, aided by a Japanese health research institution starting in 1948.

The ABCC was the predecessor of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, which today has labs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is jointly operated by the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Ando said a large part of Japan’s early research material on the impact of radiation likely came into the possession of U.S. researchers. Some records believed to have been compiled by Japanese researchers have been found in recent years in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington and other U.S. institutions.

“Thorough research from the perspective of archival science is required,” Ando said.

Many of the documents related to early U.S. research are believed to have been stored at the National Archives and Records Administration, while the ABCC’s political documents are stored at the National Academy of Sciences.

He said the Texas Medical Center Library has been collecting private documents, including diaries and drafts of U.S. scientists who worked for the ABCC and RERF, but other records are likely being held by U.S. universities and research institutions.

Referring to specimens from A-bomb victims that were returned to Japan in the 1970s after being collected by the ABCC and stored at the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Ando said the group’s investigation “does not represent a demand to ‘give us back the records.’ “

“Materials on the atomic bombings should be shared by all human beings,” Ando said.

Ando said the team will search the National Archives and other institutions to determine if there are any related materials and consult with U.S. institutions that have already disclosed their records with the aim of compiling an integrated catalog.

“We are considering setting up a system that enables cross-searching by connecting public data, mainly through cooperation with U.S. institutions,” he said. The team has already established cooperation with some of them.

Although the system is still to be worked out, Ando said, “I aim to announce digitized records four years from now” while addressing privacy issues related to the records, which include “really tragic photos of hibakusha.”

Relevant records in Japan are stored at the RERF, Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University, but may also be elsewhere and in other countries as well, including those among the World War II Allies.