Hiroshima: Then and Now
Hiroshima is a complex city — at once a symbol of the terrifying and unlimited destructive power of mankind and a place of peace and hope. In less than a minute, the city was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever to be used for the purposes of warfare. Within sixty seconds, thousands of people were vaporized, leaving only shadows and rubble to mark the spots where they died. Thousands more died of injuries and radiation exposure in the following months.
The bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima exploded approximately 600 meters (1,968 ft) above the ground, an altitude chosen to minimize fallout. Yet even at this height, radiation was so intense that ground temperatures reached 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 degrees Fahrenheit). The radiation levels quickly dropped, however. Thermal updrafts propelled the smoke and radioactive detritus upwards, forming the infamous “mushroom” cloud. Rains also carried away some of the remaining radioactivity. After 60 days, radiation levels had dropped considerably and people were able to enter the city. Today, Hiroshima is no longer considered radioactive.
Hiroshima suffered one of the most destructive attacks on record, yet people never abandoned the city. By spring of the following year, flowers had started to bloom again and people had begun to rebuild Hiroshima as a city of hope and peace.
The survivors of the attack became known as the Hibakusha, or “explosion-affected people”. Even today, many live in Hiroshima who still bear their physical and mental scars. Sadly, they are often the victims of discrimination, with some people wrongly believing that the radiation sickness suffered by the Hibakusha might be contagious. They are also the subjects of the largest health study ever conducted. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) is carrying out an ongoing study of the long-term effects of the A-Bomb on the human body. Around 90,000 Hibakusha have been involved in the study, with an another 26,000 people in the control group. In addition to studying the link between radiation and cancer, scientists are looking at the effects of radiation on the children of the Hibakusha.
Hiroshima will forever be synonymous with horror. If one bomb could wipe out a city, the possibility of an entire country being destroyed was feasible, and all humankind could be destroyed. However, many saw the bombs as a way to end a war that had dragged on too long. After this, what country would start a new war, knowing that an atomic bomb could so easily be deployed?
A building which survived the attack was the Genbaku Dome. Renamed the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of the few World Heritage Sites with a negative association — preserved as a stark reminder of one of the most powerful forces ever created by humankind. It also serves as a warning to future generations of the deadly power of nuclear warfare. As the Hibakusha say, “We must eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.”