The Lives of Two A-bomb Scientists, Part 2

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

A turning point

Shoji Sawada, who has been engaged in campaigns against atomic and hydrogen bombs for more than half a century and now serves as director of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo), is often posed the question: “Did you become a physicist as a result of your experience of the atomic bombing?”

“No,” he replies.

Dr. Sawada has enjoyed science and mathematics ever since he was a small boy and he often read children’s science magazines. In particular, he became captivated by articles introducing research by Hideki Yukawa and Shoichi Sakata, who contributed to the development of particle physics.

He graduated from Hiroshima Prefectural Fukuyama Seishinkan High School in the city of Fukuyama, outside his hometown of Hiroshima. After graduation, he began to work for a hardware wholesaler in Osaka Prefecture. Dr. Sawada, though, could not abandon his passion for physics and he spent most of his wages on thick specialized books on the subject. By teaching himself, he was able to enter the Physics Department of the Faculty of Science at Hiroshima University in 1951.

Even after he returned to the city of Hiroshima, where there were many atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha), he did not put special emphasis on his A-bomb experience or speak out about it.

A turning point came in March 1954 at the end of his third year at the university. The United States conducted a hydrogen bomb test at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands that is believed to have been 1,000 times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (the Lucky Dragon No. 5), a tuna fishing boat based in Shizuoka Prefecture, were exposed to the radioactive fallout produced by the test.

Dr. Sawada was struck by a sense of crisis. “If nothing is done,” he thought, “the subject of my studies, physics, will annihilate the human race.”

He was part of a student association at the time and he wondered: “Isn’t there anything we can do as students?” Calling on other universities in the Hiroshima area, he set up the Hiroshima Student Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and became chair of the council. The group was formed in May 1954, two months after the nuclear test.

On August 6 of the same year, Dr. Sawada held an exhibition to convey the dangers of atomic and hydrogen bombs at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima. To stage this exhibition, he and his fellow students walked around the center of the city, still bearing scars inflicted by the atomic bombing, and interviewed hibakusha about their distress. Based on these interviews, they created panels and displayed these panels at the exhibition. He also prepared a poster that explained the mechanisms of atomic and hydrogen bombs and the principle of radiation.

In those days, Hiroshima University professors, such as Ichiro Moritaki, Seiji Imahori, and Kiyoshi Sakuma, provided philosophical support for campaigns waged against atomic and hydrogen bombs. Dr. Sawada was exposed to their views and was also strongly influenced by physicists like Dr. Yukawa, Professor Sakata, and Shinichiro Tomonaga, who had openly denounced nuclear weapons and war.

Moreover, the words of his mother, whom he was forced to leave behind in the fire on the day of the atomic bombing, still rang in his ears: “Be a good man.” To fulfill her appeal for his life, as well as his role as a physicist, Dr. Sawada felt that he had “a dual responsibility.” Throughout his lifelong efforts, his tone of voice has been restrained but instilled with conviction.

Meanwhile, Hiromi Hasai stayed in Hiroshima. He entered Hiroshima University in 1950, a year earlier than Dr. Sawada. He chose the Electrical Engineering Department of the Faculty of Engineering, a popular field of study back then. But in 1954, just before graduating and embarking on his career, he was forced to take a leave of absence.

Having contracted tuberculosis, he underwent surgery to remove his left lung. The operation happened to be performed in the same year the U.S. hydrogen bomb test was conducted at the Bikini Atoll. But Dr. Hasai had no time for the campaign Dr. Sawada had initiated. When he returned to the university after two years of convalescence, he simply wanted to catch up on his studies.

It would be more than 20 years after that until Dr. Hasai began his own efforts to convey the devastation of Hiroshima as a consequence of the atomic bombing.

Campaigns against atomic and hydrogen bombs
The radioactive fallout that beset the Daigo Fukuryu Maru as a result of the U.S. hydrogen bomb test at the Bikini Atoll took the life of Aikichi Kuboyama, the chief radio operator. In the wake of this incident, campaigns against nuclear weapons and nuclear tests sprang up on a nationwide scale, leading to the first meeting of the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in the city of Hiroshima in April 1955. Later, a rivalry among political parties split the organization into two, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs.

(Originally published on July 3, 2009)