Nuclear tragedy in the Pacific

Along with Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945 — the dates of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings — March 1, 1954, is an important date. Fifty-five years ago, residents of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and the 23 crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5), a 140-ton tuna fishing boat from Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, were exposed to fallout from the test explosion of a U.S. hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll.

The Daigo Fukuryu Maru tragedy touched off a movement against nuclear weapons among housewives in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward — a harbinger of later organized antinuclear weapons movements in Japan. The boat now sits in the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall as a monument.

On the early morning of March 1, 1954, the fishing boat was operating about 160 km east of Bikini Atoll when a white substance rained on it for several hours. It was fallout from the explosion of the Bravo bomb, 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima.

The boat returned to Yaizu on March 14. The crew members, suffering from nausea, headache, burns, pains in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, etc., were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals.

On Sept. 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.” It is said that several hundred more tuna fishing boats and their crews were exposed to the Bravo fallout.

From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. carried out 67 nuclear tests at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, and some 840 Marshall islanders are believed to have died of health problems caused by the tests. As of the end of 2003, more than 1,000 islanders were suffering from symptoms believed related to radiation exposure.

U.S. President Barack Obama, during his campaign, said the ultimate goal of U.S. nuclear policy should be to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Japan should work together with the United States toward creating a world free of nuclear weapons.