NAGOYA – Senior U.S. officials accused Japan of denying it valuable security data by refusing to let them examine 23 Japanese fishermen irradiated by a U.S. hydrogen bomb test near Bikini Atoll in 1954, according to a declassified report found recently by Kyodo News.
The 19-page report reveals not only a serious bilateral spat over the irradiation of the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, known as the Lucky Dragon in English, but also sheds light on the attitude of U.S. scientists, who appeared to see the victims as experiment subjects and were in no doubt about the superiority of U.S. medical practices.
“The field of atomic medicine is in its infancy. . . . Accidentally an experiment was performed on 23 unfortunate men,” the report said. “The loss of an expert evaluation in this experiment may well outweigh all other reasons for seeing these patients.
“It was apparent that American medical practices were far superior in every respect. In just the diagnoses and therapeutics as related to the fishermen, their chances of survival and of speedier recuperation would be greatly enhanced under the supervision of the U.S. team,” the report said.
The document was compiled by John Morton, director of the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, and Jack Lewis, the commission’s head of medicine, two months after the test.
“The Japanese team by its obstinacy and desire for aggrandizement has irrevocably lost what may be very valuable data for the national defense to the U.S., the islands of Japan, and the free world,” it said.
The trawler was fishing for tuna about 160 km from the test site and was outside the designated danger zone.
Nevertheless, the crew was showered with radioactive fallout and all fell ill.
Morton and Lewis, then stationed in Hiroshima, had traveled to Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, the home port of the Fukuryu Maru, and Tokyo to collect data in March and April 1954. The U.S. had offered to assist in treating the crew but was turned down.
The report also blamed the Japanese media for the deterioration in Japan-U.S. relations over the issue, saying, “This in no small part was due to the rantings of the hysterical sensation-seeking, irresponsible, sometimes mendacious Japanese press.”
The report was found in the archives of the U.S. Department of Energy in Nevada.
Susan Lindee, a history and sociology of science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, commented, “Notice that the report accuses the Japanese of emotionality and hysteria, but it is itself very emotional as well. I think this report suggests just how crucial the Fukuryu Maru incident was in the Japanese-American relationship.
“U.S. observers were frustrated and angry because the Americans believed that anyone irradiated by American bombs should be assessed solely by Americans,” she told Kyodo News by e-mail. “But for the Japanese, the Americans had been dishonest and secretive, refusing to share data” on radiation victims from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in 1945.
“By 1954, all these long-simmering tensions exploded around a fishing crew that was unexpectedly subjected to a weapons test,” Lindee said.