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From Hiroshima To Fukushima

From Hiroshima To Fukushima

The Japanese city that has become a symbol of atomic devastation is shocked at its country's current earthquake-triggered nuclear disaster.

Hiroshima memorial (Senior Baron)

HIROSHIMA – This city knows about nuclear power.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima became the first city to be hit by the atomic bomb, and ever since has become the symbol of the destructive power of nuclear technology. Aerial photographs from those days show a city entirely flattened, only a handful of buildings standing in a wide, desolate landscape made of rubble as small as matchsticks. Even today, 66 years later, those photographs leave us stunned: one single device and such thorough devastation.

Since then, Hiroshima has rebuilt itself from scratch, becoming the pleasant, affluent and lively city we see today. Its inhabitants add a friendly, open attitude to the proverbial kindness of the Japanese. Sure, had they had a choice, they would have happily given up being a symbol of the atomic bomb's deathly power. Still, modern Hiroshima appears to have gracefully embraced its self-assigned mission -- promote peace in any way possible.

Toshiko Tanaka, an elegant 73-year-old lady, all energy and smiles, immediately announces she is a "hibakusha," a victim of the nuclear bomb. "I was 6 years and 10 months old," she recalls. "I was a couple of kilometers from the Industrial Promotion Hall," she says, referring to the closest surviving building to where the bomb detonated, which later became the Atomic Dome, a part of a the city's peace memorial park.

"Until a few days earlier, I'd lived nearby, but like many others I had been evacuated," Tanaka goes on. "It was a beautiful sunny day, and I remember seeing the plane in the sky. I saw it. And then I saw flames breaking out all over the city.

"In one second, all my hair was gone, my arms and back were burnt," she says, her tone serious, though oddly serene. "To us ‘hibakusha," what is happening in Fukushima is absolutely terrible!" she adds. "After the tragedy of the earthquake, nobody could have predicted that something so terrifying and horrible would take place on top of that."

Tanaka says nuclear energy "is clearly something very, very dangerous," and she's always been opposed to its uses for civilian purposes as well. "What we see on TV every day is an awful nightmare," she says. Shaking her head, fighting back tears, she adds, "I'm thinking of the people who are nearby, exposed to the risk of radiations, and I am scared for them."

To Haruko Moritaki, director of Hiroshima's alliance for the abolition of atomic weapons, it boils down to this: "From our humble experience in Hiroshima, it is obvious that human beings cannot coexist with nuclear power."

Moritaki has been busy running between meetings and writing press releases about the Fukushima nuclear plant, whose reactors have been overheated since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 cut the power needed for their cooling systems to function properly. The nuclear crisis that followed has rekindled a worldwide debate over the dangers of nuclear energy.

Moritaki, too, was just a little girl when the bomb was dropped. But she had been evacuated to the countryside and suffered no physical consequences. Many consider her father, Ichiro Moritaki, the father of the anti-nuclear movement. "He was a teacher, and, along with his students, he had been put down to do manual work for the army," the woman said. "He was hit in the face by glasses that shattered as soon as the bomb went off. On top of serious wounds, he lost an eye."

Moritaki said her father spent six months in hospital and then began taking care of other survivors, especially children known as "the bomb orphans." When the occupying U.S. forces started advocating nuclear energy as a positive thing, making the distinction between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, Ichiro Moritaki said ‘No," his daughter recalled. "This is too strong a force, we can't delude ourselves into thinking we can control it," said the woman. "From Hiroshima, we ask that no form of nuclear energy be used: no nuclear weapons, no depleted uranium weapons, no nuclear energy."

Her anxiety has grown as she's watched what was happening in Fukushima, noting that Japan has many nuclear plants, is an exporter of nuclear technology and has been promoting nuclear energy as a form of clean energy. "This is folly! Look at the nightmare we are in!" Moritaki said.

Activists in Hiroshima have been organizing protests. A group of demonstrators in front of the offices of the Chugoku Electric City Company, a few steps away from the memorial Atomic Dome, demanded that construction of two nuclear plants near the city be halted. The protesters, who included some survivors of the World War II bombing, tried to deliver a letter to company officials.

"On Monday they refused to take it, so we're trying again," said Kyoko Taniguchi, a protester. "It is the same attitude as Tepco (the company operating Fukushima), complete arrogance, they don't care."

"Nuclear is not safe. Period. Fukushima proves that," says Taniguchi. He acknowledged Japan has few alternative sources of energy, and limited space. But, Taniguchi said, Fukushima has taught a lesson that can't be ignored: "We are from Hiroshima: We have a duty to be on the frontline."

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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