Japan Rethinks Its Relationship With The Atom

Aug 8, 2011
Originally published on August 8, 2011 7:00 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Unidentified group: (Singing) Hiroshima, Hiroshima...

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FRANK LANGFITT: Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Monjuro, Monjuro, Monjuro...

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LANGFITT: Kyoko Kawakami is an art curator in Tokyo. She's attending the Hiroshima commemoration for the first time since childhood. The reason: Fukushima. After the ceremony, she attends a no-nukes rally along the river.

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LANGFITT: The cicadas are so loud, it's hard to hear.

KYOKO KAWAKAMI: (Through translator) I think lots of people in Japan are thinking about nuclear power plants for the first time. I never thought about where the electricity I used came from.

LANGFITT: Although nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors serve different purposes, today, Kawakami sees them as related threats.

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KAWAKAMI: Unidentified Man #2: (Japanese spoken)

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LANGFITT: Kunihiko Okimoto is strolling through Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum. He says this year's disaster has created a new generation of radiation victims, and he fears people from Fukushima will suffer discrimination, just as the people of Hiroshima did.

KUNIHIKO OKIMOTO: (Through translator) I'm worried about the people of Fukushima. They might be okay now, but in the future, when they are asked where are you from, they may not be able to get married. Things like that might happen.

LANGFITT: It all proved remarkably effective, even to survivors of Hiroshima like Keijiro Matsushima, an 82-year-old retired school teacher.

KEIJIRO MATSUSHIMA: I think we ordinary people were very obedient. They said nuclear energy can be used in a safe way, and we had believed it - very naive.

LANGFITT: When radiation first started leaking from Fukushima, Matsushima was shocked.

MATSUSHIMA: Instantly, I felt, oh, Japan has suffered from the third A- bombing

LANGFITT: But he says he's also a realist. Japan relies on nuclear energy for 30 percent of its power. Matsushima says the government should make it safer, not get rid of it.

MATSUSHIMA: Right now, we need nuclear energy every day. So seems to be a necessary evil.

LANGFITT: Keiji Nakazawa disagrees. Six years old at the time, he too survived the bombing here. He grew up to become a famous cartoonist. Nakazawa created an alter-ego named Barefoot Gen, who wanders the ruins of Hiroshima, trying to rebuild his life. He says after Fukushima, Japan's choice is obvious.

KEIJI NAKAZAWA: (Through Translator) We should never stop trying to abolish nuclear power. We should make our country one, where our descendants can live safely. I want to stick to this problem until I die.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Hiroshima. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.