Nine survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were on a bus in Naples, Italy, when they heard the news that hundreds of people are being treated for radiation exposure due to explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that struck Japan on March 11. The atomic bomb survivors, or Hibakusha in Japanese, gave testimony of their experiences several times in Naples, to junior high school students and to the public.
"The most horrible part of the atomic bomb is the radiation that it releases," said Sakaguchi Hiroko, a second generation Hibakusha whose mother was exposed to the atomic bomb at the age of 23 in Nagasaki. "Radiation has no color or shape. However, it penetrates the body and damages DNA." Because Ms. Sakaguchi's mother was not near the hypocenter of the atomic bomb, she didn't have any immediate injuries. But later she died of rectal and lung cancer.
The radiation released from an atomic bomb and the radiation released when a nuclear power plant malfunctions are the same, and Ms. Sakaguchi is concerned for the people who have been or are being exposed to radiation in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami which led to an explosion at a nuclear power plant. "The myth that Japanese technology is good enough to make nuclear energy safe and clean has been broken by this earthquake," Ms. Sakaguchi said. "We cannot stop earthquakes, but we can stop nuclear power. And we must," she said, quoting Felicity Hill, a leader in the struggle against nuclear energy. She urged the audience to work toward developing sustainable energy and creating a world with no war and no nuclear weapons. "It's not only the nuclear bomb, it's all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the uranium mining, that create risks for human beings."
Ms. Sakaguchi, born four years after the atomic bomb, emphasized that radiation affects not only those who are exposed but also future generations. "Radiation causes a special damage, and that damage is also in my body," she said. Several of her classmates and cousins, also second generation Hibakusha, have died of leukemia.
An Italian junior high school student asked why Japan, after having experienced nuclear bombs, has nuclear power plants. Tasaki Noburo, who was exposed to the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, explained that until now Japan has relied heavily on nuclear power, and has exported nuclear power overseas. "But because of the earthquake we now know for sure that nuclear power plants are very dangerous," he said. He recommended the use of solar and natural energy. "The use of nuclear power is not just a problem in Japan. Many countries use nuclear power, and they all share the same concern," he said. "As Hibakusha we know the horrors of radiation. We really have to think about how to move forward to make clean and safe energy," he said.
Yamanaka Emiko, exposed to radiation in Hiroshima when she was 12 years old, explained how radiation affects not only future generations, but also human relations. "When I was a teenager I had a boyfriend," she said. "For four years we had a lovely relationship, and eventually he proposed to me. But his parents forbade our marriage, saying that they didn't want any Hibakusha in the family."
Nishida Goro, exposed to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima at the age of three, also emphasized that radiation is the scariest part of nuclear weapons. Mr. Nishida's mother was not in Hiroshima when the bomb exploded, but she was unknowingly exposed to radiation when she entered the city of Hiroshima several days later. His mother passed away when he was in high school, after she had suffered many years from an enlarged spleen caused by radiation. "Radiation is invisible but it comes out in sicknesses such as cancer and leukemia, and it has a strong effect on people and the environment," Mr. Nishida said.
Currently in Japan, radiation has been released during several explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, and radiation has been detected in the populous Tokyo area.
Kakefuda Itsumi, a psychologist in Tokyo, said that in evaluating nuclear power people should consider the psychological impact of nuclear disasters. "People in Tokyo and the surrounding area are experiencing a lot of stress due to worry about radiation," she said. "Some have started to move away. Radiation is not visible, and people can't obtain accurate information. Even the authorities don't know what is happening," she said. "Nuclear power plants are not worth having."