More than forty-five years have passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. Since the end of the Second World War, nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare once. Unfortunately, it cannot be said with the same certainty that man and his environment have not been in any danger from exposure to radiation from nuclear materials. In reality, unregulated nuclear testing, the manufacture of nuclear weapons, uranium mining, and accidents at nuclear power plants have caused a steady increase in the number of victims of radiation, or hibakusha, during the postwar period.

It is a common mistake to believe that radiation poses a threat only to those who come into direct contact with it. However, the environment the world over is beginning to feel the effects of radioactive contamination. Although the dangers of global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain have been well publicized over the last few years, the issue of radioactive contamination has, for some reason, not played any major role in discussions on the environment so far, despite being an essential element of the debate.

Recognizing that radioactive contamination was rapidly becoming a global problem, the Chugoku Shimbun sent a team of reporters from its base in Hiroshima to all corners of the world to gather information concerning the many unknown victims of radiation. By publicizing their stories, the Chugoku hoped that their suffering would be somewhat alleviated and that attention would be drawn to the extensive damage done to the environment.

The reporters’ investigations took them to fifteen countries in all, including the Soviet Union, Brazil, the United States, French Polynesia, India, Namibia, and South Korea. Much of the material they unearthed had never been reported before, or only in a very superficial manner. The leaking of radioactive material used in medical equipment in Brazil; thorium contamination from a Japanese refinery in Malaysia; radioactive contamination from a nuclear power plant in India; high incidences of disease caused by uranium mining in Namibia; the tragic effects of nuclear weapons testing in the Semipalatinsk region of the Soviet Union: all these incidents caused great suffering, yet they have received little attention from the press.

The publication of this series of articles brought a widespread response from the paper’s readership in Japan. Correspondence poured in from readers expressing shock at the existence of so many radiation victims other than those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, anger at the irresponsibility of governments that violate the human rights of their own citizens in such a blatant manner, and yet more anger at the continued destruction of the environment. The articles were pasted up in libraries and public halls and used in peace studies classes in schools all over the country.

Largely as a result of the articles’ success in bringing the public’s attention to the dangers of radiation, a number of victims of radioactive contamination from areas as far-flung as Chernobyl and Bikini Atoll were able to participate in the world convention held in Hiroshima by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in October 1989. In addition to demands for a nuclear-free world and appeals for aid for victims of radiation, the convention heard details concerning the damage caused by nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, which until then had been shrouded in secrecy. In turn, this disclosure of widespread destruction of the environment prompted the Chugoku Shimbun to instigate the first-ever investigation of the testing area.

At the same time, the articles served to emphasize the role that Japan could play to help radiation victims around the world. The fact that the articles have prompted the exchange of information concerning the treatment of radiation victims in Japan to help those in a similar plight in other countries is a great source of satisfaction to us at the Chugoku Shimbun. We hope that, in the future, Japan will become known as an information center for radiation victims and the treatment of their illnesses.

The series “Hibakusha of the World,” which started on May 21, 1989, and continued through to May 29, 1990, totaled 134 articles in all. The series went on to win the 1990 Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association award, the third received by the paper for work relating to nuclear power. The paper had previously been recognized for the articles “Hiroshima Twenty Years On” in 1965 and “Hiroshima Forty Years On” in 1985.

Responsible for the series were the following journalists: Shimazu Kunihiro, Kawamoto Kazuyuki, Okatani Yoshinori, Tashiro Akira, Yabui Kazuo, Nishimoto Masami, and Tochiyabu Keita.

We would be very happy if this series could contribute in some way to a greater awareness and understanding of radioactive contamination and the detrimental effects of radioactive substances on the environment. We also hope that the publication of these articles may in some way be instrumental in bringing relief to those hibakusha who continue to live in fear and uncertainty about their futures.

Ogata Yukio
Executive Editor
The Chugoku Shimbun