Reflections on Hiroshima Day 2014
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Today, August 6th 2014 marks the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Three days later on August 9th, Nagasaki met with a similar horrific fate. News reports tell us that since early morning hundreds and thousands of people have gathered in Hiroshima for peace ceremonies. More than three hundred thousand people were killed and thousands more were maimed for life in one of the deadliest attacks on humankind. The world will never forget this!
Today, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become symbols for the anti-nuclear movement, the world over. In 2011, an earthquake-sparked tsunami left more than 19,000 dead around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan. The reactor melt-down spread radiation over a significant area and forced thousands of Japanese to leave their homes in the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl. The Chernobyl disaster (in today’s Ukraine) on 26th April 1986 apparently killed less than hundred people, but affected more than five hundred thousand with all kinds of radiation – related illnesses particularly cancer and other physical deformities.
The lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from Chernobyl and Fukushima are amply clear: nuclear energy is not safe; that hundreds and thousands of people are not only killed but have also been affected for life by radiation. The land and the waters around nuclear plants are not able to sustain life; livelihoods of the poor and the marginalized are destroyed.
Closer home, a massive People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) attempted to shut down the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, South India. Inspite of this people’s movement, and much other opposition to this plant, Kudankulam, had the go-ahead from the Supreme Court and the Governments of the day; to top it all, in June 2014, an Intelligence Report targeted among others, several of the anti-nuclear activists both in Kudankulam and other parts in India.
On this day, we need to ask ourselves how safe is nuclear energy? Can we not learn from the lessons of the past? It is true that our world today needs and consumes more energy and on this we need to ask ourselves, why do we not tap and harness more efficiently other sources of energy like wind, solar, bio-mass? These are safer and cleaner. Could we take a cue from the German Government which announced that by 2022, it would close down all its nuclear plants? In other parts of the world, anti-nuclear activists are neither hounded nor threatened. Governments respect the legitimate rights of people to take a stand on what they believe would be harmful to them.
In 1979, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus spoke to hundreds of youth gathered in Assisi, Italy. In 1946, he was the Novice master of the Jesuits in Hiroshima. This is what he shared, “the atomic bomb had exploded at 8:10 on August 6, destroying the whole of Hiroshima, reducing it to ashes and killing at one blow eighty thousand people. Our house was one of the few that remained standing, even though it was badly damaged. There were no windows or doors left, all had been torn away by the violent wind caused by the explosion. We turned our house into a hospital and assembled there around two hundred who were injured in order to nurse and assist them. On the following day, the seventh, at five in the morning before beginning the work of helping the wounded and burying the dead, I celebrated Mass in our house. It is certain that in the most tragic moments we feel nearest to God and the importance of his assistance. Actually, the external surroundings were not much adapted for fostering devotion during the celebration of the Mass. The chapel, half destroyed was fully packed with those who had been injured. They were lying on the floor close to each other and they were obviously suffering from the torments of their pains. I began the Mass as best I could in the midst of that crowd which did not have the least idea of what was taking place upon the altar. I cannot forget the frightful impression I had when I turned towards them at the “The Lord be with you” (Mass was then said with one’s back to the congregation) and saw that sight from the altar. I was unable to move and remained as if I were paralyzed with my arms stretched out as I contemplated that human tragedy: human knowledge, technical advance used for the destruction of the human race. All looked at me with eyes filled with anxiety, with desperation, as though expecting that some consolation would come to them from the altar. It was a frightful scene!”
Do we have the courage to learn from the blunders of the past? Today, as we commemorate the pain and suffering visited on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on Chernobyl and Fukushima, we all need to pledge and act in whatever way we can, to make our world safer for the generations to come.
6th August, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052