Published On: May 11, 2016

Nuclear Bomb Survivors in Brazil

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Seventy years ago, in August 1945, the United States used atomic weapons against Japan. On August 6 and August 9 a bomb fell on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is the only time atomic weapons have ever been used.

The power of the two bombs was so devastating that both cities were completely destroyed, with hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children killed. Amazingly, there were a few survivors from those two horrible days, and some of them are still alive today.

Those survivors – known in Japanese as hibakusha – were among a wave of 20th-century migrants who moved across the world in search of a better life after Japan surrendered to the US to end World War II. Some of those survivors came to live in Brazil. There are believed to be more than 1.5 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil.

Nagasaki, Japan, August 1945

Nagasaki, Japan, August 1945

Today, more than 100 Japanese survivors of the atomic devastation in 1945 are living in Brazil. Many of those hundred, despite their advanced age – some are in their 90s – are campaigning for a nuclear-free world.

This year they have stepped up their anti-nuclear activities for two reasons: First, to draw attention to the 70th anniversary of the US attacks; and second, to oppose the Brazilian government’s plans to increase its use of nuclear power, which would more than double nuclear power generation in the country. Whether nuclear power is used for power generation or making bombs, the same technology is utilized, which requires radioactive elements or radiation.

Takashi Morita was 21 years old when the bomb the Americans named Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. He was burned and injured by debris, but recovered and 10 years later took a boat to start a new life in Brazil, which relaxed restrictions on Asian immigrants in the late 1950s.

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Takashi Morita shows a picture album of his youth in Hiroshima at his grocery store in São Paulo.      Credit: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Like many of the other survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, he and others formed a peace association dedicated to banning nuclear weapons and closing nuclear power plants. In the 1970s and 80s, Brazil’s military dictatorship – in competition with Argentina – launched an atomic weapons program, starting with construction of two pressurized water nuclear energy reactors at Angra dos Reis in Rio de Janeiro state to produce electricity.

However, public fear of nuclear radiation hit a peak in 1987 in Brazil when a capsule of Caesium 137 from a radiotherapy device was taken from an abandoned hospital and lead to widespread contamination and the death of at least four people.

Takashi Morita has worked with victims’ groups like the one in 1987 as well as other contamination cases to raise public awareness of radiation risks posed by nuclear power plants, waste dumps, mines, factories, medical devices and mineral dumps – including more than a thousand tons of uranium and thorium residues, which are still held at a former Nuclemon site in a densely populated neighborhood of São Paulo.


“Many people don’t know that radiation is so close to our lives. People must be aware of it, what radiations are and what kind of effect they have in our body,” said Junko Kosumo, another Hiroshima survivor who lives in São Paulo. “We must pass on what we have seen of the risks to future generations.”

Brazil’s anti-nuclear campaigners achieved a major victory in 1990, when the post-military government under Fernando Collor renounced its nuclear weapons ambitions, declaring nuclear weapons would never be produced in Brazil or purchased by the Brazilian military.

Today, Brazil has two functioning nuclear energy reactors, which generate about 3 percent of the country’s electricity. However, recently the government has resurrected the nuclear energy program as a back-up to hydroelectric dams that become costly and problematic during a severe drought, as happened last year.


Angra 3 under construction.      Credit: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Thus, the state-owned nuclear operator, Electronuclear, has resumed construction of a third reactor at Angra, which is due for completion in 2019 after a two-decade delay. Earlier this year, the energy minister, Eduardo Braga, announced that he was looking for private sector investment for another long-delayed plan to build four new nuclear plants in addition to Angra 3.

Nuclear energy opponents, however, question the wisdom of any expansion of Brazil’s nuclear energy program, considering the nuclear industry has been hit by a succession of accidents and scandals. For example, in February of this year, Angra 1 had to be shut down after a cooling system problem. Last month, Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, a retired admiral who heads Electronuclear, was arrested for allegedly taking 4.5 million reais in bribes from engineering firms working on Angra 3.

Last month, anti-nuclear groups attended an exhibition in Angra on the nuclear fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “We have to warn the population of the danger. I believe that Brazil, being a country that is close to the equator with a tropical climate has no need for nuclear energy,” said André Lopes Loula, a teacher who works with the hibakusha.

Takashi Morita, meanwhile, went to his hometown of Hiroshima to attend 70th anniversary commemorations. Speaking by phone, he said that after he returns to Brazil, he will continue the work that has defined his life. “I experienced the bomb. I saw many die. I have lived until now with a spirit dedicated to ensuring humanity never again sees such a terrible thing.”

{For more information, there is a video posted on The Guardian website of Takashi Morita and Junko Kosumo, two Hiroshima survivors who moved to Brazil, discussing their experience and anti-nuclear campaign work.}



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