1954 radiation survivor continues anti-nuke fight

by Masato Wada

Kyodo

An 80-year-old former crew member of a tuna boat exposed to radiation from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test 60 years ago has vowed to continue a personal crusade against nuclear energy for the rest of his life despite suffering a series of illnesses, including liver cancer.

Matashichi Oishi was aboard the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 when it was exposed to nuclear fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean, on March 1, 1954. At the time, he was fishing about 160 km east of the atoll.

Oishi has written articles and given more than 700 speeches about his experiences, including his fears of the “death ash,” notably documented in the book “The Day the Sun Rose in the West.”

He was hospitalized for a stroke in 2012 and told his daughter, Yoshiko Tanaka, “it’s over” during a visit.

“My father is strong-willed but was shocked” by the suddenness of the stroke, Tanaka, 53, recalled.

Oishi became unapproachable after the exposure incident, but his outlook softened after meeting various people through his anti-nuclear activities, she said.

Though Oishi was shocked by the stroke, which left him unable to walk or speak, he devoted himself to physical therapy thanks to encouragement from visitors at the hospital. Seven months later, he walked, with a cane, out of the hospital.

“Nuclear disasters, such as the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident, may recur,” Oishi said. “As authorities will try to hide them, I will have to pass on (fears of nuclear energy). I will do so until the end.”

In January, Oishi delivered a speech at a junior high school in Tokyo on the effects of exposure to radiation, such as serious blisters, dizziness, nausea and loss of hair.

Oishi and all 22 other crew members of the trawler, also known as Lucky Dragon No. 5, were exposed to radioactive fallout from the bomb test. Six months later, the chief radio operator, Aikichi Kuboyama, died at the age of 40. As of mid-February, only seven of the 23 crew members are alive.

Nuclear disasters “will be forgotten unless people directly involved in them speak about their experiences,” he said during his 30-minute speech.

Oishi’s life has been “rough,” Tanaka said. “Though he doesn’t have much time left, he probably feels he has no other choice but to continue the role of speaking as long as he can.”

Tanaka has accompanied her father on his speaking tours since he left the hospital.

“My daughter didn’t have much interest (in anti-nuclear campaigning) but is now a great help to me,” Oishi said.