NAGASAKI -- "I felt miserable and angry when I learned I was used as a human guinea pig," said Yoko Nakano, her voice rising as she addressed a meeting of those exposed to radiation from the Nagasaki A-bomb while they were still in their mothers' wombs. The meeting was held in Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 2016, the 71st anniversary of the bombing of the city.
Nakano, 70, was enrolled in an "atomic bombing class" comprising 20 hibakusha (atomic-bombing survivors) and 20 non-hibakusha when she was a student at Nagasaki Municipal Shiroyama Elementary School. The U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) examined the children's physical and intellectual abilities. She learned from documents she obtained 13 years ago through a freedom of information request that her cells had been examined by the ABCC. She says she still cannot forget the shock she felt at the time.
"I suspect that my data may have been used as reference materials for building nuclear plants," she told the meeting. In fact, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a Japan-U.S. research organization that has taken over the ABCC, played an important role in setting radiation protection standards at nuclear facilities including atomic power stations.
Nakano came to seriously think that "hibakusha should be involved in addressing problems involving nuclear plants" after the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.
At 70, she has never had a serious disease, and her first grandchild was born eight years ago.
"Although I'm a hibakusha, I'm leading an ordinary life like other people," Nakano said. Still, she empathizes with Fukushima people who are worried that their internal exposure to radiation could adversely affect their descendants. Her late mother had been worried throughout her life about the future of her daughter, who was exposed to radiation before even being born.
All the more for that, Nakano cannot keep silent about the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy of reactivating idled nuclear plants and promoting the exports of atomic power plants as part of Japan's growth strategy. On Nov. 16, the extension of operations at the aging No. 3 reactor of the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, which has been in operations for over 40 years, was officially approved.
"The government is yet to clean up after the Fukushima crisis and they say they'll create walls by freezing soil to prevent ground water from flowing in, but such an idea is just a product of people's shallow cleverness. Such facilities could make their own hibakusha even though they're not bombs," Nakano said.
She is outspoken about not only nuclear power but also recent security legislation and other issues because she is worried that the country is moving in the wrong direction.
"I'm not thinking negatively. I'm horrified because I feel that risks are becoming realistic; they're beginning to take shape," she said. (By Emi Aoki, News Department, Kyushu Head Office)
Yoko Nakano was born six months after her mother was exposed to radiation about 3 kilometers away from the Nagasaki atomic bomb's hypocenter on Aug. 9, 1945. After getting married, she moved to Ashiya, Fukuoka Prefecture. While raising her children, she operated a piano school for about 30 years. She is now living with her husband in Fukutsu, Fukuoka Prefecture.