Excerpt from Chris Busby, Wolves of Water, (2006), Green Audit Books, Aberystwyth, Wales, pp260-263.


This comes from a New Zealand friend, Kate Dewes, who visited Japan and talked with the Hibakushas, victims of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese word translates literally to "explosion-affected people." Her account is so important and interesting that I will devote some space to it.

Kate Dewes story: Women hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki Talk about Genetic Effects.

In June 2001, Japanese peace activists organised a speaking tour of eight cities for Mary Silk from the Marshall Islands and myself, to launch the Japanese version of the book Pacific Women Speak Out for Independence and Denuclearisation. [Zohl de Ishtar-Ed WILPF (Aotearoa), Disarmament and Security Centre and Pacific Connections; Christchurch, 1998]. As mothers, we spoke of our ongoing concerns about the genetic effects of nuclear radiation. Specifically, we highlighted the stories of women who had given birth to ‘jelly-fish babies’ and ‘bunches of purples grapes’ in the Marshall Islands following the US Bravo nuclear tests in 1954.

As a result of the media attention and our openness in discussing these sensitive issues, first and second generation women hibakusha (atomic bombing survivors) approached us with stories of the cover-up which continues to take place in Japan over the genetic damage caused to their children. After speaking in Nagasaki, a young woman called Kimie, aged about 23, gave me photos of her young son and asked me to share his story with anyone who would listen outside Japan. She told me that she was a second generation hibakusha, and that during her pregnancy she had been warned by two older doctors that her baby might be deformed. When her son was born with a deformity to his hand, her husband blamed her grandparents’ exposure to radiation and immediately divorced her. He does not keep contact with his son. Like many other hibakusha women before her, she continues to suffer discrimination because she is speaking out. She was told by other doctors that genetic damage is not normally attributable to radiation, and that therefore her son would not be eligible for compensation.

However, when I met Dr Mori - who had made diagnoses of 400 hibakusha -- in Kochi City, he confirmed that there are now 34 different illnesses recognised as radiation-induced. Having been to the Marshall Islands in the 1970s to help with compensation claims, he provided me with papers which proved the US government paid compensation to Marshallese who gave birth to deformed and mentally retarded children born after the nuclear tests. For example, a boy born with a tumour on his spine, and those who had stunted growth due to effects on the thyroid gland, were each given US $100,000. He told me of research done on a few men from the 856 Japanese fishing boats exposed to radiation during the Bikini tests in 1954. Those who were hospitalised were tested for their sperm counts. There were 10 men without any sperm and, of the others, the number of sperm was 570, 140 and 120. A healthy man's semen would normally contain 50 -100,000 sperm per cu ml, so these results showed less than 1% of the average. After eight years the men had children, but the sperm was not healthy. There was no follow-up study done on these men.

As we travelled around Japan, we spoke with older women hibakusha, with second generation women hibakusha as interpreters. The interpreters explained that we were also mothers, we were genuinely interested in their stories, and we believed there was a link between radiation and genetic damage. The women therefore trusted us and talked openly about issues which they had often not dared mention since 1945.

Some of them had given birth to ‘bunches of purple grapes’; some had been forced to have abortions even years after the bombings; most had stopped menstruating for up to eight years, and they knew of many deformed and intellectually handicapped children who had been hidden away. They spoke of friends concealing the fact that they had been hibakusha from their own husbands, children and grandchildren. They said researchers had rarely asked about menstruation problems, miscarriages, or deformed children. The women had often lied to protect themselves from further discrimination, and because it was culturally inappropriate to talk about these sensitive issues with men.

Some brave women were prepared to have their names published. For example, Bun Hashizume knew of babies born with small heads. Nagano Hatsue has 3 daughters and 2 sons, 5 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. She and her late husband were both hibakusha from Hiroshima. She said her second son was really small and very weak when he was born - he looked black and very wrinkled. The midwife was very surprised because he looked so unusual. She had to take him to the hospital every day for 3 years. Another son suffers from diabetes. One of her daughters still suffers .from anaemia and gets very tired - she also has thyroid problems. The doctors say these illnesses are not related to radiation. She said that doctors never asked her about the health of her children or anything to do with her fertility and miscarriages - it was therefore not documented. She was pregnant with her first son when the bomb was dropped. He has liver problems which his current doctor refuses to acknowledge as attributable to radiation. The first doctor she saw with him admitted that it was radiation-related. Teruko Yokoyama of Nagasaki has written about her youngest sister born in 1948. At the age of 7 she developed purpura (or red blotches) all over her body and suffered bad stomach aches. Some hibakusha experienced the same symptoms soon after the bombing.

Haruko Manzen was 9 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She gave evidence in the Hiroshima District Court in August 2003, to the effect that, although she had been 2.6 km from the hypocentre, her parents-in-law told her to have an abortion when she became pregnant in 1960. She had several miscarriages and in 1962 had her ovaries removed to prevent pregnancies. After the bombings, midwives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki became very concerned about the number of deformed babies being born. In the September 1954 issue of Health and Midwifery, it was reported that about 30,150 births were observed in Nagasaki from 1 January 1950 to 31 December 1953:

Before the bomb was dropped the proportion of abnormal children to those born healthy was very low, but in the nine years since the bomb was dropped this proportion has changed enormously. Of 30,150 babies born, 471 were stillborn and 181 abortions. Of those born alive, 3,630 were abnormal and the abnormality was divided as follows:

Professor Yoshikazu Sakamoto observed that “foetal exposure to radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about a higher rate of congenital deformation, particularly microcephalia and mental retardation as compared with those who have not experienced such exposure." He confirmed that it was “not easy to say anything definitive on the 'second generation' on the basis of statistically reliable data, because a large number of survivors and their children have not disclosed information on their experience and they... fear that they would lose their opportunity for employment, marriage and bearing offprings." He suggested that "the second generation and the generations to come have to live under the constant fear that they, after the interval of decades, would suddenly be afflicted by fatal diseases." [Yoshikazu Sakamoto quoted in an article by Dr Syed Sikander Mehdi, ‘No More Hiroshima, No More Nagasaki’, Third World International, Vol 9, No 4, August 1985, pp 21-22. Professor Sakamoto cites Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings, by the Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 1979), pp 706, and especially Chapter 9 'After Effects and Genetic Effects', pp 217 ff]