October 2, 2013

Antinuclear protests occur regularly in Japan, and many times “Hiroshima” and “Fukushima” are used in tandem by the demonstrators. Many in Japan believe that the Fukushima accident was the third nuclear bombing of their country, albeit self-inflicted. One of the most recent examples is author Hiromichi Ugaya’s book “Road from Hiroshima to Fukushima”. In it, he says that the radiation hazards from nuclear power plants are no different than those from nuclear weapons. He writes,“The atomic bomb and nuclear power are like twin siblings if you trace their history.” Another example concerns the recent protests in Tokyo where outcries against nuclear plants and atomic weapons were used interchangeably. Nuclear power critics have no inhibitions about trying to cement the conceptual tie-in between reactors and bombs. It seems they believe it is their most effective and compelling strategy.

However, the first city to suffer an atomic bombing in 1945 is taking issue with the attempts at a tie-in. Many, if not most of the people living in Hiroshima understand that the differences between reactors and bombs vastly greater the similarities. They take umbrage with those outside the city who make it seem that a nuke power plant is the same as a bomb. The only realistic connection between the two is that they both involve radiation; but it is a weak association to the people of Hiroshima. In Japan Today, the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, said, “Our position, and this is a position we can never compromise, is that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil. [But] I oppose connecting the two simply because they both involve radiation.” He stressed there is widespread sentiment that Hiroshima endured something much worse than the Fukushima accident, and his constituency resents having the two lumped together. The bombing of Hiroshima caused the deaths of about 140,000 Japanese, thousands of which were due to huge radiation exposures and the massive ingestion of fallout. Most of the exposure and fallout victims died within a year. The people of Hiroshima know that Fukushima’s radiation pales in comparison, and has killed no-one in more than two-and-one-half years.

Pleas from Hiroshima to end the proliferation of atomic weapons carry considerable moral weight across Japan. Antinuclear activists have long-sought support from the city’s populace, but their petitions go unsigned and most of the population refuses to get involved. One of the few residents to join the antinuclear effort is Robert Jacobs of the Hiroshima Peace Institute. He believes Fukushima is a “slow-motion nuclear war”. But his opinion is but one of the few dissenting voices out of more than 1.1 million city residents. At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, it is atomic weapons that are the enemy – not nuclear reactors. “Look at these pictures,” said Kenji Shiga, chief of the museum, pointing to a photo of a corpse. “And this is one of the less gruesome ones. Here, it all came with a bang. This is not a place merely dripping radiation.” (Japan Today)

It should be noted that before the bombing of Hiroshima, Albert Einstein went to the American Congress and tried to stop it. For one reason, he was a devout pacifist. But, he was also tormented by a nightmare that his idea would be literally dropped on the world under the specter of a radioactive mushroom cloud. He believed that unless the differences between reactors and bombs were openly shared with the world, confusion between the two could set back the benign development of his idea for a century or more. Few listened. There is no greater manifestation of Einstein’s fear than what has been happening in Japan since 3/11/11 due to reactor/bomb confusion. Outside of Hiroshima, few know, or even care to understand the differences.

Sadly, confusion between reactors and bombs is not specific to Japan. The belief that the source of heat in a nuclear reactor is a constant low-level nuclear detonation is not uncommon, as shown by the words of author Ugaya (above). Antinuclear people have evoked the same belief in negative comments sent to me about my Hiroshima Syndrome website which explains the considerable differences. But, it’s not only the antinukes who believe the misconception. One of my tutorial students recently broached the question of a nuclear reactor exploding like a bomb with his AP English class, and all 18 in the class responded in the affirmative – including the teacher! I’ve posed the possibility to literally hundreds of people over the past 25 years, and most have responded with a resounding “Yes”. When I explain that Uranium itself is not an explosive and the fuel used in nuke plants is the wrong kind of material for a nuclear explosion, many refuse to believe it. The belief has become paradigm in many people’s minds. False paradigms are often extremely difficult to correct.

Confusion between reactors and bombs is a foundation of the world’s antinuclear prophets of doom. It is one of their greatest fears that this incorrect paradigm might someday be corrected. If it were up to the people of Hiroshima, the confusion between reactors and bombs would already be a thing of the past. But it isn’t, and the residents of the city to first suffer a nuclear weapon don’t like it one bit.