CBC Digital Archives

Hiroshima: Still feeling the fallout

With a blinding flash and a sky-high fireball, the world's first atomic bomb exploded over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The American bomb killed about 70,000 Japanese instantly, and an equal number would soon die of radiation poisoning. The weapon saved American soldiers' lives and ended the Second World War, but it ushered in a new era of nuclear arms. CBC Archives looks at the atomic bomb, its impact on Hiroshima and its legacy.

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Everywhere, there are cranes. Hundreds of the folded origami paper birds are massed on strings in patients' rooms at Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Hospital, tokens of good luck for people who are sick and dying. Fifteen years after the bomb, increasing numbers of people are suffering from leukemia, or cancer of the blood. As CBC reporter Michael Maclear tours the hospital, he learns that between 40 and 50 people are still dying each year of complications from the atomic bomb. 
• In September 1945 a delegation of Americans went to Hiroshima to investigate rumours of mysterious deaths and an "atomic plague" in the city. Composed of military, medical and scientific staff, the group took radiation readings in the air and soil of the city. But they failed to take contamination readings in humans.
• According to the New York Times, the delegation's press conference "denied categorically that the bomb produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity."

• An investigation the following year concluded that 15 to 20 per cent of the deaths at Hiroshima were from radiation.
• To better understand the effects of the atomic bomb, the United States Atomic Energy Commission set up the Atomic Bombing Casualty Commission in 1947. However, many residents resented the centre's policy of not treating patients but merely examining them.
• Hiroshima's A-Bomb Hospital opened with 120 beds in 1956. Fifty more beds were added later.

• Evidence of leukemia in patients did not surface in great numbers until 1949.
• Long-term genetic damage was a serious concern after the bomb. Women who were pregnant when the bomb fell gave birth to abnormally small-headed babies, and the chance of such babies being mentally retarded was four times greater than normal.
• However, children conceived after the bomb proved no worse off than comparable groups elsewhere.

• According to research by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF, the successor of the Atomic Bombing Casualty Commission), exposure to radiation at Hiroshima increased the incidences of nine types of cancer.
• In 1990, RERF concluded that there was no ongoing chromosomal or genetic damage in the offspring of Hiroshima survivors.

• In 1957 the Japanese government introduced the Atomic Bomb Survivors' Support Law to help the hibakusha (pronounced hee-BAK-sha), or "bomb-affected people." The law entitles Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors to health and funeral benefits.
• Survivors were still being tested and treated almost 40 years after the bomb. See an additional clip in which survivors living in Vancouver travel to Seattle for testing by Japanese doctors in 1983.

• According to Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish.

• The story of the cranes was made famous by Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who contracted leukemia in 1955 at age 11. Even when she reached her goal of 1,000 origami cranes, she kept folding. She died on Oct. 25, 1955, and a statue of Sadako with a crane now stands in Hiroshima.

Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: July 31, 1960
Guest: Fumio Shigeto
Host: Norman DePoe
Reporter: Michael Maclear
Duration: 8:01

Last updated: August 12, 2014

Page consulted on August 12, 2014

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