The III International Conference "Problems of Decommissioning Nuclear Energy Facilities and Environmental Restoration" INUDECO 18 is held these days on the anniversary of the disaster at Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Slavutych.
More than 200 participants from Ukraine, Belarus, the USA, Poland, Germany, Russia discuss problems and prospects of the exploitation of nuclear power facilities. One of the participants of the conference is the Japanese Iharu Toyochi, a direct witness of radiation exposure in the city of Nagasaki. In an interview with 112.ua, Mr. Toyochi described how he managed to survive the atomic hell and why humanity should completely abandon the use of atomic energy
- Mr. Toyochi, you have felt the impact of atomic weapons on yourself. Tell us your story, what do you remember about that time?
"As you know, the war started when I was still a little boy, I was 9 years old. My first years of school (grades 1-4) were during the war, it was a military education ... militaristic-totalitarian. And all this time Japan has pursued such a policy that here we are a "divine" country, and no one can defeat it. And no matter how bad it is now, you just have to wait for a little and we will win. All this time I lived with this thought. Propaganda was saying we were the strongest, but almost every day we had to flee to the bomb shelter to hide from American bombing. And even a 9-year-old child already had a thought that we are losing and, probably, soon everything will end.
Naturally, at the age of 9, I did not understand what was happening, there was almost no information. We knew that an unusual bomb fell, but even adults did not particularly understand what was happening. It turned out that at first, it happened in Hiroshima, and then 3 days after Nagasaki suffered the same way. I was then far from the epicenter of the explosion, 6 kilometers away. There were forests and mountains there, which saved me in a way. But despite this, I saw many suns, a large-scale fire, heard the sounds of explosions ... and felt a hot wind.
Trees started falling in the forest, and I was sitting on a 10m tree that had fallen down too. I passed out when I fell, but I did not get any major injuries. However, as the result of radiation, I got problems with my blood vessels and hematologic system. After the war, I was given a hibakusha document (hibakusha means “a person exposed to the blast effects”. This is the name used for the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, - 112.ua), it has everything about my diseases.
When discussing nuclear bombings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often named together, but different kinds of bombs were used in those cases. A uranium bomb was used on Hiroshima, while a plutonium one was dropped on Nagasaki. Despite the fact that only a part of the plutonium detonated (shows fist – 112.ua), like a small ball, it caused almost 75,000 deaths. This is why we, Nagasaki residents, do not believe it to have been an act of revenge or a necessity from the U.S. side – they were testing us, they examined how our bodies, lives, and our city would react to the bomb. Regardless of the fact that the United States still claim it was a necessary measure in order to end the war, Nagasaki and Japan as a whole do not share such opinion. Of course, we, the Japanese, do not deny the responsibility for what our country did in Asia, in China, in the 1930s. The Japanese do not forget the sense of guilt and responsibility.
Nuclear weapons were used during the war, but we see that even atoms for peace bring a lot of trouble, for example, the Tree-Mile-Island disaster in America, your Chernobyl or Fukushima. As we can see, it is not remotely “for peace”. The difference between nuclear weapon use and atoms for peace is unclear, as the outcome is the same.
It is impossible to achieve a situation, where nuclear weapons and humankind would co-exist. Not just humankind, but our nature as a whole – animals, birds, plants. The atom needs to be completely excluded from our lives. The biggest problem is that people are suffering and dying. This causes a great harm, as it is impossible to reverse that. Humankind does not need the atom in any form.
-To what extent can a nuclear disaster be unexpected, taking into account that we have not fully comprehended the atom? Was there a sense of a threat in Japan in 1945?
Naturally, it was unexpected for the civilians. But now, having analyzed all those events, it becomes clear. Because Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States were developing nuclear weapons. If weapons are being developed, they are going to be used at some point. But I can say this now after all those years have passed. The same could be said about Chornobyl: for the people who were working there, living there, it was a total surprise, but those who built and developed it should have been aware that a fire or an explosion might happen.
- Was there an understanding that this bombing could have a follow-up? How did people behave in this situation?
Of course, at that moment, it seemed as though nothing else would happen, that “the world has ended”, that nothing worse could happen. People affected by the explosion died, and there was nobody to run somewhere and rescue the children. Then, it seemed like one bomb was enough to destroy everything – Japan, and even the entire planet. As of today, there are more than 16 warheads across the world, while just one is sufficient to destroy everything. If we were to come back to the atoms for peace and power stations, those contain many times more nuclear fuel than there was in the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is why they pose an even greater threat to humanity than a bombing does. Even Chornobyl, after so many years, still remains a radioactive zone. Let us compare atoms for peace and a bombing: the Fukushima disaster happened 7 years ago, it happened once at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 70 years ago. There is no radiation there now. But Chernobyl and Fukushima, these disasters at “peaceful” power stations, they still produce radiation, which is very dangerous for the people living there. If you visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, you could visit the places where bombs exploded, but who can visit Chornobyl? It is a restricted zone.
- Are you going to visit the Chornobyl nuclear power station?
Not this time, we have too many plans. I am not really afraid of anything anymore at my age. You are still young, you probably should not go there.
- Has your experience changed the way you feel about life and the world?
Even though I survived, I lost my mother, brothers and sisters. They died after the bombing because of radiation disease. You can imagine how it feels to lose all your relatives when you are 9 years old. After that, war became especially unacceptable for me. I will keep criticizing it forever and do everything in my powers to prevent it. War and nuclear weapons are the things I despise.
- Does the disaster ever appear in your dreams?
Yes, of course. The dreams are just as horrible as everything that happened then.
- How did you discover the ability to live through it without losing your faith in the future?
I grew up during the war. I was 9 years old when this terrible tragedy happened. But then the war ended, and that had been my biggest hope and dream. Finally, there was peace. After the war, a law was passed declaring Japan would not get involved in any wars, would not have an army for self-preservation. This is written in the Constitution, and that was a great support throughout my life: being sure that Japan will remain peaceful.
- What have you been doing all your life and how are you feeling now?
Ironically, I worked my whole life for Kusu Denreku, and electrical energy company that serviced nuclear power stations. Having been against it throughout my life, I argued with my bosses and directors saying this is all wrong and the use of nuclear energy will not lead to anything good. Also, for 27 years I was a member of Nagasaki parliament, where I acted against the atom and nuclear weapons.
I have high blood pressure, and that is not because of age, the problems began after the bombing. And as I mentioned earlier, I have problems with my blood flow. I am a very positive person. Sometimes I allow myself some sake, obviously, in small doses, and today at lunch I had a little beer. That keeps my pressure up. If I were to have an operation, my blood would not stop, so I try to avoid it by any means (smiles – 112.ua). Of course, I look after my health, I do what I love and believe in. On a serious note though, twice a year I go for a free medical exam as a hibakusha. Therefore, compared to everyone else, I feel pretty well, as I have to take my health a lot more seriously and get examined more frequently. I don’t know how well it works in Ukraine, but Japan’s system works great, it helps me take care of my health. And now, it seems like the people that survived the Fukisima disaster will get the same documents in order to monitor their health state. In case you wonder, I receive around $300 monthly as a survivor of the bombing, and I will keep receiving it for the rest of my life. It is based on the needs of a person with no severe health problems. Then, when I depart to a better world, the state will cover all of my funeral costs. A person with more serious health issues than me may get up to $1000 in monthly benefits. And surely, healthcare is free.
- Is the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive in Japan?
73 years have passed. Throughout this time, in other countries including Ukraine, wars continue. But Japan has not killed a single person either on its own soil or overseas. That is the benefit of that experience. But for me and others that still remember those events are mostly concerned about the Japanese government’s attempts to amend our Constitution and turn us into a nation that could get involved in a war. It is unacceptable to me as a person that has lived his whole life with dreams of peace. And I worry a lot about it. Whatever governments do, I think common people, peaceful citizens of any country, especially Japan or Ukraine, should not forget those events and tell our younger generations about it.Weapons cannot be used to achieve peace, only people, our feelings and intentions.
- Sasaki Sadako is a girl commonly known as a symbol of your tragedy. What is she for the Japanese? Did you know her?
Surely, I know of her, I have never seen her though. She really became the symbol for the entire world and inside Japan. That is how the tradition to make paper cranes started. The tradition still remains today and is a symbol of peace, hope, belief and expectations. This time, I brought 5,000 cranes to give them to the Chornobyl Museum.
- Were there any other stories, legends or traditions after the disaster?
Nagasaki has a special tradition. High school students play a big part in preserving it. They collect signatures against nuclear weapons, organize different meetings. It is very flattering that young people, almost kids, are doing this.
Also on 8 August (the day before the Nagasaki bombing) representatives of various religions and confessions, whoever, gather for a requiem. And everybody commemorates all those people who died during the bombing. This tradition is especially strong in Nagasaki. Let me switch to a slightly different topic. The Nagasaki university has a department that does nuclear tests with the atom. But it is a very special organization, a scientific center that never cooperates with the government, arguing that the latter may use the products of their work for military purposes. Also, there is an alliance of representatives of cities (for example, mayors) from all over the world, which is headed by the mayor of Hiroshima. At the same time, the mayor of Nagasaki is his deputy. Hibakusha is very active in voicing their opinion, and if they know that some country is conducting nuclear tests or a power station is being built they react with rallies and protests. There are various alliances of countries and cities that have been bombed. For example, the latest bombing in Akita, Japan, or the first bombing of Gernika, Spain. Those cities cooperate very closely.
- How are these tragedies described in the Japanese culture? In film or art?
I could talk about it for hours. But I would like to tell you about two things. I brought an animation film called “Bell of Angels” for the Chornobyl Museum. It is about Nagasaki. The title references the fact that a nuclear bomb fell on one of the bells. The movie is very interesting, I recommend you to see it. If we dig deeper in the history of Japan, may things are linked to Christianity. And the bell was inside Asia’s largest Christian church. There is a song that tells about the bell. A Kyiv children choir is going to sing that song at the Chornobyl victim commemoration event. The song was written by a Fukushima native. Another cultural aspect is the project of Okiagari Koboshi, which is the reason why I came here. These are the traditional dolls in Fukushima that people of all occupations paint in order to cheer up, to support. It started with the Fukushima disaster, and by now it has become a symbol of peace pretty much everywhere. Most of the exhibition is in Tokyo, but it has been around the world too. Now, a part of it is here, in the Chornobyl Museum.
- Do you ever travel to the USA and has your experience changed your attitude towards Americans?
Of course, whenever I have the opportunity, I go to the USA. Last year I spoke at a university. I do not have a reason to hate that country. I even mentioned it in my speech, I said that it could have all been a coincidence. The weapons could have been first used by the USSR, the US and Japan. The USA is not to blame, the weapons themselves are. The now former president of the United States Barack Obama visited Nagasaki and apologized for the tragedy in his speech. Also, that university has long-standing ties with the Nagasaki University and the scientific union. People do not have any reasons for hate. It might be the exact opposite of that – we have a lot in common.
- What should North Korea do about its nuclear tests?
The US and Russia need to reduce their nuclear arsenals. They are not conducting tests, but they retain the weapon that threatens the whole world. When it comes to North Korea, I have been there a number of times. North and South Korea should be a single country. It is unfortunate, and even embarrassing that Russia and America are standing behind them and preventing their unification. I consider atom in any form to be evil. Even Japan that does not produce any weapons and does not conduct any nuclear tests, but maintains so much plutonium, should give it up.
- How real, in your opinion, is the threat of a third world war with the use of nuclear weapons?
Of course, it would lead to the destruction of our planet, as there are so many weapons that it is hard to imagine. It is enough to destroy not just one planet, but several. We must do everything in order to make sure this does not happen.
- How can we, regular people, influence the situation? Does anything at all depend on our actions?
Of course, it does depend on what we do, and we can have an impact. People start with a war, and those are not my words, they have been said by many, even the Pope of Rome. We can only hope and expect the world to remain at peace. And to defend peace at all costs. Do you know what “Russian roulette” means? We cannot afford to live in fear, this is why I fight for our right to live without any nuclear threat or nuclear weapons.
At the common people level, we should not forget that we can all be friends and love each other. Today, I met so many beautiful couples, where the husband was Japanese and the wife was Ukrainian, and vice versa. That is truly wonderful. There is only one world, it is a little ball. There is no your country or my country/ This is all our planet.