“I was playing in front of our house,when,suddenly,there was a bright flash of light,” Mimaki,72,said through a volunteer translator,Megumi Aikawa.
The atomic bomb survivor,known as a “hibakusha” in Japanese,shared his experience Tuesday during a ceremony to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,Japan.
U.S. B-29 bombers dropped the nuclear weapons over the cities on Aug. 6 and 9,1945. The bombs killed more than 120,000 people,and within a week,the emperor of Japan surrendered,ending World War II.
For the last 32 years,the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area,led by John Steinbach,67,of Manassas,Va.,a recreation supervisor in Loudoun County,Va., has hosted ceremonies to remember the bombings and honor victims of nuclear radiation.
About 40 people gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial for the two-hour event,which featured a reading from John Hersey’s book “Hiroshima” and a moment of silence at 7:15 p.m. to correspond with the time in Japan – 8:15 a.m. – when the bomb was dropped over the city.
Steinbach said they chose to hold the ceremony at the memorial because King was “strongly opposed” to nuclear weapons.
Although focused on the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,Steinbach also spoke about other nuclear disaster sites,including the areas around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine and Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the east coast of Japan.
“We are humans. We know that things can go wrong,” Steinbach said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect technology. We look at Chernobyl,we look at Fukushima,we look at countless fail-safe accidents where nothing was supposed to happen and it does. So the logical conclusion is we need to listen to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Mimaki,who still lives in Hiroshima,often speaks to school children,politicians and religious groups about his experiences in the aftermath of the bombing. He tells them about frantically searching for and finding his father,who was working in the city when the bomb fell,and of the eerie,blackened sunset he saw that night. His message,more than just sharing memories,emphasizes his opposition to nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear weapons mean nothing but the annihilation of the human race,” Mimaki said. “Not a single life form,plants,animals or humans,can coexist with nuclear warheads on this planet.”
Atomic bomb radiation or leaks from failed nuclear facilities can cause lasting adverse health effects. Dennis Nelson,71,the director of Support and Education for Radiation Victims,grew up in St. George,Utah,when the U.S. government was conducting nuclear experiments in nearby Nevada in the 1950s. He and others from the area call themselves “downwinders” because the fallout drifted over their towns.
“We happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Nelson said. “We were just expendable.”
Since then,the U.S. government has compensated those affected,but members of Nelson’s family died from various forms of cancer as a result of radiation exposure. Nelson has had two different kinds of skin cancer.
“Nobody really takes into consideration what the real dangers are,” Nelson said. “We can’t fight this kind of thing without getting some on ourselves.”
As survivors of nuclear disasters age,another speaker explained the importance of continuing to tell their stories. Fumie Kakita,60,is a second-generation hibakusha. Her mother worked in Nagasaki about 2 miles from the explosion. While many direct survivors suffer emotional and physical harm,members of the second generation have also experienced radiation-related diseases such as cancer and thyroid problems.
Kakita,the assistant secretary general of Nagasaki Council of A-Bomb Sufferers,said she and other second-generation survivors must let the first generation tell their stories,but also must help them speak if they cannot.
“Many of the first-generation hibakusha are over 80,and many of them are in their beds,and they cannot move,” Kakita said through a translator. “I really feel I need to take their role from now on and keep on sending their message to the world.”
Reach Reporter Kate Winkle at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.