SHIZUOKA – Three tuna fishermen who survived radioactive fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific say they despair at the world’s adherence to such weapons, days after North Korea claimed to have tested a device.
“If (the bomb is) used, it is the end of humankind. I know the horror of it as a person who experienced it,” Matashichi Oishi, 81, said.
Oishi recalls a bright light bursting into the boat’s dim cabin at dawn on March 1, 1954, when the United States detonated a bomb for its so-called Bravo test at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Oishi went out on deck and saw the western horizon glowing as if at sunset. There was a roaring sound that appeared to come from beneath the sea.
“I thought the Earth had broken up,” said Oishi, who lives in Ota Ward, Tokyo.
Their 30-meter wooden boat, the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, also known as the Lucky Dragon, was about 160 km from the test site.
As white radioactive powder fell on the boat and its 23 crew, helmsman Susumu Misaki, 88, remembered thinking: “It can’t be snow because this is a tropical area.”
During the two-week return journey to Yaizu port in Shizuoka Prefecture, the crew suffered acute symptoms of radiation sickness, including hair loss, diarrhea and vomiting.
Six months later, the ship’s chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died. He was 40.
Misaki, who was hospitalized with Kuboyama in Tokyo, spent 14 months in the hospital fearing he might be next.
Although Misaki recovered and returned to Shizuoka Prefecture to run a tofu shop, he noticed people referring to his products as gembaku tofu (atomic bomb-tainted tofu). Others would whisper about compensation money he received from the United States.
A fellow crew member said the episode was one he wishes he could forget.
“I never wanted to hear the word hydrogen bomb again,” Masaho Ikeda, a resident of Yaizu, said.
“Even now, I wonder if something could happen to me,” the 83-year-old said, referring to bouts of ill health.
The former crew members are also frustrated because they feel many people do not seem to fully understand the horror of nuclear weapons.
“Aren’t politicians and ordinary people thinking that the issue is someone else’s problem?” Oishi asked.
Misaki said: “Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Bikini — those who have not witnessed nuclear weapons cannot understand their terror.”
The Bravo test was one of 67 nuclear experiments conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958. The tests exposed the local population to radiation.
The hydrogen bomb was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, which had killed an estimated 140,000 people by the end of the year.