In Japanese, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are called “Hibakusha”. Many of them have dedicated their lives to the struggle for a better world, a world free of the nuclear threat, and have begun to tell their stories to younger generations. All over the world, people are following their courageous example and are starting to tell their stories as well. As physicians, we see it as our responsibility to educate people about the connections between the civil and military nuclear industry and about the health effects of ionizing radiation. This exhibition contains case studies of places around the world, where the detrimental effects of the nuclear industry on health and the environment can be studied. It is important to realize that this exhibition is not meant to be comprehensive. Beside these case studies, there are many more all over the world, which would just as well deserve to be included in this exhibition. These posters are illustrations of the problem. They are meant to raise questions, to demonstrate connections and to show the extent to which we, as a human race, have caused harm to our planet, to our environment and to our health.
Instead of victimizing the people who have lived through the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the term “Hibakusha” denotes them as survivors – those who can tell their stories to younger generations so that the catastrophe they witnessed will never be allowed to occur again.
During the Cold War, the term “Hibakusha” was expanded and globalized in order to include the casualties of nuclear weapons testing, like the Downwinders of Nevada, Semipalatinsk, the “Pacific proving grounds” or other nuclear test sites around the world. Hibakusha from Japan have been active in reaching out to Hibakusha from the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan, Russia, the U.S. and French Polynesia, inviting them to their conferences and including them in their call “No more Hibakusha!”
Two sides of the same coin
When the Fukushima catastrophe began in March 2011, the term “Hibakusha” took on a new meaning in Japan. Many of the people affected by the nuclear meltdowns also began calling themselves “Hibakusha” and it dawned on many that nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are really only two sides of the same coin:
Both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons require uranium. The mining of uranium has in itself created tens of thousands of “Hibakusha,” as miners and people living close to uranium mines suffer from the effects of radioactive contamination. Indigenous people from five continents have now joined the global struggle to keep uranium where it belongs: in the ground.
Both technologies require uranium enrichment. Every country that has secretly tried or succeeded in building nuclear weapons hid their military nuclear program behind a civil nuclear program in order to create weapons-grade fissile material. Every country with a civil nuclear program has taken the first step towards developing nuclear weapons.
Both pose a substantial proliferation risk. Once a uranium industry and a civil nuclear infrastructure exist, the step towards creating a bomb is not so great. Plutonium, highly enriched uranium and MOX fuel are shipped around the globe to power nuclear reactors and naval vessels, but could also be used for nuclear warheads.
Both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons can severely harm the environment and people’s health. An accident at a nuclear power plant, a plutonium factory or a reprocessing plant can release massive amounts of radioactivity, contaminate air, soil and water, and cause detrimental health effects for many generations.
There are no adequate solutions for managing the enormous quantities of radioactive waste caused by the nuclear industry which need to be safely deposited and guarded for hundreds of thousands of years.