Lasting Legacy of the A-Bomb: Hiroshima, City of Peace Its Biggest Contribution to the Antinuclear Cause May Simply Be as a Symbol

By Cameron W. Barr, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 1995 | Go to article overview

Lasting Legacy of the A-Bomb: Hiroshima, City of Peace Its Biggest Contribution to the Antinuclear Cause May Simply Be as a Symbol


Cameron W. Barr, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


SHORTLY after an atomic bomb burst overhead 50 years ago, turning human beings into wisps of smoke and bricks into melted lumps, Hiroshima declared itself a city of peace.

Since then, the word "peace" has become something of a local brand name. In a half-hour's stroll, a visitor can see the Peace Bridge, the Peace Park, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Flame of Peace, the Pond of Peace, the Figure of the Merciful Goddess of Peace, the Children's Peace Monument, the Peace Clock Tower, and so on.

One can even mail a postcard from the Peace Memorial Mailbox.

The vision of peace articulated here is sweeping: "We dedicate this bell," says an inscription, "as a symbol of Hiroshima's aspiration: Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace!"

Yet some activists say the Hiroshima peace movement - made up of councils sponsored by political parties, parts of the city government, and small independent groups - has little to show after decades of effort.

Especially troubling to some is that the movement has largely ignored the potential dangers posed by Japan's own nuclear-power industry. To some extent, these critics suggest, the anguish endured in Hiroshima has inspired more banalities than action.

Hiroshi Hara was 13 years old on Aug. 7, 1945, when he made his way past corpses toward his junior high school to tell the authorities that he had survived.

Now a retired railway engineer who has traveled the world to talk about his experience of the atomic bomb, his long-term assessment is grim: "It's disappointing," says Mr. Hara. "Not much has been done to eliminate nuclear weapons in the past 50 years."

Hara faults world governments for this more than the local peace movement. Even so, he says, the movement has been dulled by internal divisions and because the affluence of modern-day Japan has made people less interested in activism and political action.

Satomi Oba, a former schoolteacher who heads a 200-member group called Plutonium Action Hiroshima, is more critical. "The peace movement in Hiroshima," she says, "has always focused on Aug. 6, 1945 - only on the past."

As a result, Ms. Oba argues, more immediate issues have been overlooked: Japan's massive accumulation of "peaceful" plutonium, the potential for nuclear-weapons proliferation in Japan and other nearby countries, and the dangers of the commercial use of nuclear power.

Indeed, during the postwar era Japan has grown increasingly reliant on nuclear energy, now the source of a third of its electricity. Although the government insists its motives are entirely peaceful, Japan is also one of the few countries still developing reactors that generate and burn plutonium - the key ingredient in nuclear weapons and a substance that is said to pose extreme health hazards even without being detonated.

Jinzaburo Takagi, a Tokyo-based activist who is a nuclear physicist, estimates that Japan had a supply of 11 metric tons of plutonium at the end of 1993. He calculates that the nuclear-energy industry now has the capacity to use just 2 metric tons, resulting in a sizable surplus. "I don't see any concrete military nuclear program in Japan," Dr. Takagi observes, "but still there is some potential risk" that the political climate would change and that a military program could emerge. …

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