8. Parallels with Hiroshima

Chapter 6: Brazil and Namibia
Part 1: Cesium Contamination in Goiânia

During our stay in Goiania we spoke to Yokoyama Toshiyuki, a survivor of the Hiroshima A-bomb.

"When I read about the accident in the paper, Hiroshima immediately sprang to mind. I said to my wife that I could just imagine the terrible things that would be happening. The article said that some of the victims were taken to the naval hospital in Rio with skin conditions and hair loss--that's just how it was in Hiroshima. The papers also said they would be cured in three days, but we know that radiation is not that easy to get rid of."

In August 1945, Yokoyama was a junior high school student who, like his classmates, had been mobilized for the war effort and was working in a factory. When the bomb exploded above Hiroshima he was saved from death by crawling under his workbench, but his back and arms were hit by flying glass, covering him in blood. As he fled from the factory he noticed swollen bodies floating in the nearby river. A month later his father died, having lost all his hair.

In 1953 Yokoyama emigrated to Brazil, where for many years he supported his seven children by growing vegetables. He is currently employed by the city. "I'd like to do something for the cesium victims in the city, but being first-generation immigrants it's hard enough just trying to give the children a decent life," he said, his shoulders drooping in a gesture of resignation.

In October 1988, Yokoyama traveled to Sao Paulo to be examined by a group of doctors from Hiroshima including Kuramoto Kiyoshi, vice director of the Hiroshima Red Cross and Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital. Yokoyama invited the group to come out to Goiânia to examine the cesium sufferers there, but unfortunately the team was not able to fit a visit into its schedule. Yokoyama has not lost hope of getting a medical team from Hiroshima to visit the stricken city, however.

"Judging by the photos my relatives have sent me, Hiroshima has made a remarkable recovery. It would be marvelous if it could establish a sister-city relationship with Goiânia and do something to help the cesium victims... People here don't even know what radiation is."

One doctor from Hiroshima who did visit Goiânia after the accident is Hirofuji Michio, who worked for eleven years from 1952 at the Hiroshima Memorial Hospital. We interviewed Dr. Hirofuji on our return to Japan:

"I read about the accident in the paper and sent some information on the treatment of radiation-related illnesses to the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo. They replied by asking me to go out to Goiânia to help the people there."

Dr. Hirofuji left for Brazil three months after the accident in December 1987, and stayed there three weeks. "The symptoms of the cesium victims in Goiânia are basically the same as those observed in Hiroshima after the bomb, except without the effects of the heat and blast. When I told the local doctors this, they pressed me for methods of treatment. There aren't any particular methods, and I wished I could have told them more. As it was, I taught them what I did know, about stimulating the patient's cells by electrotherapy and the kind of illnesses which were likely to appear a few years after exposure to radiation."

Although radioactive materials are used for medical treatment all over the world, we are still a long way from having a fail-safe cure for people affected in this type of accident. Prevention is better than cure and my experiences in Brazil have convinced me that the proper management of these substances is by far the best way to prevent further tragedies of this kind."