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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Japanese Man Dies From U.S. Thermonuclear Bomb In 1954

Today, of course, is the third-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the tsunami it spawned, and then the subsequent problems it caused with the Dai-ichi nuclear electrical power generating station in Fukushima-ken.

Rather than dwell on that... let's look back at a little known or rather little talked about story of nuclear activity... one involving a hydrogen bomb. 
  
This is the story of the very first person to die as a victim of a hydrogen bomb—an unlucky Japanese man by the name of Kuboyama Aikichi (surname first), 39, the chief radioman of a 23-crew tuna fishing boat that was exposed to fallout from a U.S. thermonuclear bomb test on March 1, 1954... just over 60 years ago.
Kuboyama in the advanced stags of radiation sickness.
The bomb was known as the Castle Bravo, and was dropped from a 150-foot tower on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The fishing boat was built and launched in 1947 (because all of my stories should have the #47 in it), when it was first known as Dainana Kotoshiro Maru (第七事代丸, Kotoshiro Maru No. 7)... but after a few years, it was sold to interest in Yaizu, Shizukoka, to become a tuna fishing boat renamed Daigo Fukuryū Maru - the Lucky Dragon 5.

Our story begins on January 22, 1954, when Kuboyama left the port city of Yaizu aboard the Lucky Dragon. I'm omitting the number from the name from now on.

The fishing trip was not a great one from the get-go. Apparently the chief engineer left a spare engine part on shore, and rather than return back to get it, it instead sailed to another port for a replacement. To return, would have been considered a bad omen. And who needs bad luck when you are on a fishing trip.

As it was sailing to a new port, it ran aground. An attempt was made by another ship to pull it off, but failed. This is another bad omen... as the Japanese fishermen have many such beliefs. High tide came, however, and the ship floated off.

On Day 2... the weather was crappy. As well... rather than the Soloman Islands as a destination as was previously thought, the crew learned it was instead heading for the Midway Islands, which was 2,000 miles east, and while bountiful, the area's fishing grounds had dangerous and rough seas. The crew was not happy.

That decision was made because the boat's owners needed a big payday, as the previous trip out was not so profitable. So... danger ahoy.

Crew member Suzuki Shinzo (surname first) was a rookie, and after leaving his wife and child back home with about US $10 to survive two months, he had to pay for new fishing gear: boots, pants, food....

Arriving in at their destination on February 5, 1954, they began fishing. It would be a good omen if the initial catch was good, but after taking four hours to throw out the lines, only 15 fish were hauled up... which sucked big time because the total weight of the catch was less than the weight of the fish they had cut up to use as bait. Bad omen.

Next:
  • Main line broke, losing 40 miles of line and nearly half the sets;
  • engine trouble;
  • storm.
Jinxed? It sure seems that way - if we were to believe in such bad omens.

Still... they continued to fish, because they had to. By the end of February, the fishing was still pretty sucky for the crew, having only caught 156 fish for a total of nine tons. That would be enough to cover expenses, but bit much left over to pay the crew or the owner.

Also, they were running out of fuel - figuring they would have to head back home after throwing out the lines one more time on March 1

Our man Kuboyama told the captain of the boat and the fishing master that they needed to avoid the Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. had tested its atomic bombs eight years earlier.

And... with that ominous warning, Suzuki Shinzo work up early on March 1 and went out onto the deck, spying a very bright light in the distance that became a yellow-red and then a flaming orange in color.

Telling the crew, they rushed up on deck to see... with many thinking it was a light caused by a pika-don... a newly invented 1945 word that refers to 'thunder' and 'flash'... which they feared was another Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing.

Sort of... only much worse.

Seeing enough, the crew returned to its breakfast below deck... then...the entire boat shook as though something had grabbed it... followed by a screaming sound wave the flowed over the boat with two sounds akin to sonic booms.

Kuboyama reported later that it was about seven minutes after the flash that the sound hit, calculating that the boat was about 140 kilometers (87 miles) from the source of the explosion.

The Lucky Dragon 5 in 1954.
Fishing was halted, the lines drawn up, as the day looked dark... two hours later, a sandy ash rained down on the boat and crew - some saying it was salt, some sand, some coral dust... and yes, some actually tasted it... it was tough not to as the dust got on their clothes, hair and lips...

As they hauled up their lines, they had nine more fish, which they gutted, cleaned and froze. Now... just so you know... this operation is done ON the deck... in the open... where the sandy ash fell onto the fish, with the crew noting it was difficult to wash off.

At lunch time, not every one was feeling well... appetites lost, with one barfing up his breakfast.

At dinner time... the lack of appetite continued for many.

On March 2 in the morning, some of the men had their eyes "glued together by a thick yellow discharge which had dried to a hard crust during the night." I hate when that happens, because it means you aren't healthy.

It was around this time, that the US - some 7,000 miles away released a two-sentence announcement of the detonation of 'an atomic device.' The Lucky Dragon apparently never received this message, nor had it received any message warning of a test being conducted near Bikini.

I should note here, that the US figured a 75 mile radius safe zone away from the blast was the safe zone... and therefore, the Lucky Dragon should have been safe.

No one seems to have counted on the winds carrying the ash so far - PLUS, no one realized the magnitude of the actual bomb blast.

They simply didn't figure it would be so powerful.  

The Lucky Dragon wasn't so lucky in that it had slipped between the cracks of the US trying to get everyone out of the expected bomb zone days and weeks earlier.

On Sunday, March 14, 1954, the Lucky Dragon returned home to Japan. During the trek, many of the crew complained of itchy skin on their hands and neck. Others appeared overly dark and sunburned on the face. Some had sores and tender scalps, and one fisherman’s hair had started to fall out.

At no time did the Lucky Dragon ever radio for aid, because they had feared the Americans... not for being so near to their CURRENT bomb test zone, but rather because they feared they were too close to the atomic bomb testing areas of eight years ago. The crew still had no idea they were victims of nuclear fallout.

On March 15, the crew unloaded the total catch of 165 fish, which also includes the last nine fish pulled up after the flash was first seen and gutted and cleaned AFTER the ash had begun to fall on the crew.

Oh yes... the catch... the fish ended up in four major Japanese cities...
Using a geiger counter, tuna from the Lucky Dragon 5 was bested for radioactivity.
Needless to say, it was shortly after this, that the local hospitals began to fill up with the Lucky Dragon crew members.

The Japanese press caught wind of the story by March 17 or so, with a reporter saying one of the men he saw looked like "something from another world”.

The doctors at Tokyo University Hospital - many of whom had worked with victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings - say they had never seen such high levels of radioactivity.

To demonstrate that point, a small sample of a crew member’s hair was placed on a piece of photographic film... causing it to be reproduced on the developed film as a perfect image as though it had been photographed with ordinary light.

Paranoia quickly spread, as reporters thought they had caught the strange disease, and the same with the 'comfort girls' (hookers) some of the crew had hired upon landing - no one realizing exactly what was wrong with the crew.
A crew member of the Lucky Dragon 5 with radioactive burns.
Realizing that the crew was dosed with radioactive fall-out... a biophysicist found the fish caught by the Lucky Dragon highly radioactive... the press, always looking for something cool to name things, called them "crying fish". Needless to say, the Japanese fish markets were all a titter in panic. Consumers were, too, obviously.

American authorities came and visited the fishing crew, and made optimistic statements, and strangely enough, almost all were in good shape and did indeed recover a few weeks later.

But, perhaps to cover up the whole thing, the US claimed they suspected the Lucky Dragon crew of spying for the communists - always a great way to absolve oneself of blame, implying that you get what you deserve if you work with the enemy.

But... that ploy didn't work, as the Japanese, as a nation, vehemently denied such a situation.

And... while the US said there was nothing wrong with the tuna fish caught by the Japanese, the US still set some new standard for all Tuna destined for the American market. Better safe than sorry of you are American... you Japanese commie sympathizers can go ahead and eat your radioactive fish. At least... that's how I see it decades removed.

Here's a video on the bomb, narrated by William Shatner!:
All I can say is that I have watched many videos of nuclear bombs, and while I find them fascinating, I also find them horrifying. A sort of danse macabre (dance of death).

A woman I knew 20 years ago was married to a man who was in the British navy in the 1950s... and I believe he was stationed off Christmas Island on a ship when a thermonuclear device was exploded... They were given sunglasses (of a sort) and told to face away from the blast until after the winds hit them, at which point they could turn around to watch the explosion. Forty years later, he and many of his crew mates died of cancer... bone cancer... that most shrug off as coincidence, but perhaps I am more paranoid than most, chalk it up to the fact there's no such thing as 'coincidence'.

Anyhow... here's a great The Telegraph story about the Brits caught up in the nuclear testing during the 1950s and 1960s HERE.

Hopefully, you will take the time to watch the video above... even if it's just to FF (fast-forward) ahead to the actual explosion... what the hell were we, as people thinking?

Here's a detailed description of the detonation by physicist Ralph E. Lapp, using findings on uranium-237 supplied by Japanese scientists.

Equal to about 15 million tons of TNT exploding at once, Lapp says:
"A quickly expanding ball of fire formed over the edge of the atoll and roared out until it formed a helmet-shaped mass of incandescence three and a quarter miles from edge to edge. Millions of tons of coral were shattered by the immensely powerful and incredibly hot explosion. This was sucked into a raging fire ball, leaving behind a yawning cavity as though some giant had broken off a mile-wide lip of the atoll’s projection from the sea. This coral, shattered into tiny particles, churned itself deep into the heart of the white-hot furnace and mixed intimately with a half ton of uranium fragments produced by the explosion. Each little cluster of split atoms, too small to be seen with a microscope, became attached to a bit of coral ash. The latter, about a millionfold greater in weight, thus became highly radioactive due to this atomic marriage. The fire ball then whooshed upward with express-train speed, forming the characteristic mushroom cloud. An awesome, almost pure white cloud spread out over twenty and then even more miles, hovering over a large section of the Bikini Atoll."

America as a whole, did not learn of the hydrogen bomb test on the Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954 until Reuters broke the story on March 16 about the crew of the Lucky Dragon.

The New York Times got to it on March 17, with the headline: "Japan Gets Radioactive Fish: Nuclear Downpour Hit Ship During Test at Bikini—U.S. Inquiry Asked”.

Japanese police were looking for 5,443 kilograms (12,000 pounds) of shark and tuna with a radioactive count of 7.5 millimeters, according to The New York Times, noting that Tokyo had asked its Washington embassy to request a formal inquiry.

On March 18, 1954, still on the front page, The New York Times said the bomb blast (still not yet identified as a hydrogen bomb) delivered "hundreds of times greater than any previous man-made explosion,” leaving “scientific instruments unable to record the full effects” and pushing radioactivity “beyond the safety zone boundary of the test area.”

Japanese scientists at Tokyo University Hospital discovered strontium-90 in a pinch of dust from the Lucky Dragon and later the presence of uranium-237, and still, no one in the US would confirm the type of  bomb used, but they did offer antibiotics to treat the crew.

And... the Japanese fishermen... the unlucky ones on the Lucky Dragon... they started to get sicker as their white cells, red cells, and bone marrow cell counts dropped, while their sperm count indicated they were now sterile.

By the end of August 1954, Kuboyama reportedly told his wife: "My body feels like it is being burned with electricity.

"Under my body there must be a high-tension wire."

On September 23, 1954 - 206 days after being exposed to the bomb blast's radioactive power, Kuboyama died of radiation sickness... though U.S. experts say he died of "infectious hepatitis brought on by frequent blood transfusions.”

The U.S. Ambassador sent Kuboyama's wife letter of condolence and a check for ¥1-million (in 1954 finances, that would be around US $2,800).

Claiming no responsibility, the US later gave out compensation to the Japanese government, with each surviving member receiving a share.

The 22 surviving members of the Lucky Dragon crew were discharged from hospitals about one year after the incident.

One continued as a fisherman, and a few got married and had kids.. so... no problem... yeesh.

And... Kuboyama... that poor bastard is the first known person to die from the effects of a hydrogen bomb blast.

And... just so you know... the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands is still too hot with radioactivity for anyone to live there... BUT... if you want... and if you are an advanced scuba diver, some 12 people each week from April to November, as part of an organized tour, have a chance to "explore Bikini’s sunken ghost fleet" - 10 ships anchored in the lagoon as part of the test, including the U.S.S. Saratoga and Japanese battleship Nagota.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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