TOKYO, Aug 11 2012 (IPS) - Sachiko Masumura (79) was standing just two kilometres away from the hypocentre of Little Boy, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan over six and a half decades ago.
She lost her mother and two siblings to the horrific heat, flames and radiation that engulfed the prefecture on Aug. 6, 1945, instantly wiping out 120,000 people.
Three days later the United States dropped a second plutonium bomb, ‘Fat Man’, on Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people according to government records.
Thousands of others, like Masumura’s father, who died last year from leukaemia, suffered the after-effects of radiation for years.
Masumura’s son is disabled from a brain disorder, a disease she links to the long-term impact of radiation. Though it is certainly horrifying, her family’s story is not one of a kind.
The 67th anniversary of the 1945 U.S. bombing, the world’s only nuclear attacks on a country, is felt most sharply by thousands of second generation bomb survivors, whom the Japanese government refuses to recognise as ‘official’ victims of the tragedy.
Kasuki Aoki, a second generation ‘hibakusha’, the Japanese term for atomic bomb survivor, told IPS that children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims face a double struggle: first, to gain recognition and insurance from the state as legitimate victims suffering from genetic side-effects of radiation; and secondly as bearers of their parents wishes for a nuclear-free world.
“My parents, whose lives were torn apart when the bomb was dropped, wanted (nothing more) than to see a world rid of nuclear weapons and radiation. This is a fight we children have to follow through by speaking up on their behalf,” Aoki, who now works in the Hiroshima Kyoritsu hospital, told IPS.
He also pointed out that the responsibility of carrying the torch for family members that suffered enourmous physical and mental damage from the bomb is daunting for the second generation, now in their fifties and sixties, who are themselves struggling to secure welfare protections from the state, such as free medical support.
The government justifies its position by stating that there is a lack of concrete evidence of health risks among the offspring of survivors of the explosion.
But those born after 1945 point to countless studies and reports by Japanese and U.S. research organisations that prove a much higher genetic risk of cancer for children of bomb survivors.
Further, scientific research conducted by numerous organisations including the Hiroshima Red Cross and Atomic-bomb Survivors hospital has proved time and again that those who were directly affected suffer higher rates of cancer, especially leukaemia, from exposure to high doses of radiation.
Hiroko Sakaguchi, who makes annual trips to the U.S. to speak out against nuclear weapons, states she has cousins who have died of cancer. Her own mother was affected by the bombing in Nagasaki that left her weakened and infirm for the rest of her life.
Shinichi Oonaka (64) is a second-generation hibakusha in Hiroshima and spokesperson for a recently formed group under the umbrella Japan Atomic Bomb Sufferers Organisation, one of the largest in Japan, with more than 200,000 members.
He told IPS that members of his group have begun to retire from their jobs and now find themselves facing a vulnerable future.
“While we had jobs we were entitled to regular medical check-ups, but that will no longer be the case,” he pointed out.
Oonaka plans to form a lobby to pressure the government to permit free and regular cancer check-ups by extending official hibakusha recognition to second-generation survivors.
But there are many obstacles to this process. Oonaka told IPS that second generation victims remain scattered and reluctant to speak up for better treatment, fearing the same social discrimination that plagued their parents for decades.
“Physical scarring and particularly the risk of cancer made marriage and jobs almost impossible for hibakusha,” said Oonaka, whose father, a former Japanese soldier stationed in Hiroshima city when the bomb was dropped, subsequently married a hibakusha, a common practice among first generation survivors.
In response to the government’s indifference, Masumura launched the Kogane Friendship Organisation for people with brain disorders in July. “ We cannot wait for the government to help us anymore,” she said.
“My death wish is to see my son, who represents the second generation of hibakusha, live independently,” she told IPS.
High-profile international personalities, including the eldest grandson of former U.S. President Harry Truman, who ordered the bombings, attended the memorials this week in the two cities.
Clifton Truman, attending the functions out of respect for the dead, listened to the stories of the survivors and said, “ It is now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we do not use nuclear weapons again.”
Oonaka says he is content to hear such comments from the former enemy, which he views as a step towards hibakusha’s dream of ensuring such suffering is never repeated.