Toshiba’s nuclear flagship U.S. Westinghouse goes bust after $10 billion losses

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Where Toshiba’s $10bn nuclear debt came from: the Vogtle AP1000 construction site in Georgia, under inspection by NRC Commissioner Svinicki.

Toshiba’s nuclear flagship goes bust after $10 billion losses

News that one of the world’s biggest nuclear power constructors, Westinghouse, has filed for bankruptcy in with debts of over $10 billion has put the entire sector on notice and issued a dire warning to nuclear investors everywhere, writes Jim Green. Among the likely casualties: the UK’s Moorside nuclear complex in Cumbria.

The rapidly-evolving nuclear power crisis escalated dramatically yesterday when US nuclear giant Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy.

The Chapter 11 filing took place in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in New York City.

Westinghouse and its parent Toshiba are in crisis because of massive cost overruns building four ‘AP1000’ nuclear power reactors in the southern US states of Georgia and South Carolina.

The combined cost overruns for the four reactors now amount to about $1.2 billion and counting. And it has now emerged that they may never be finished at all. Whether the four reactors will be completed is now subject to an “assessment period”, according to Westinghouse.

The corporate mishap may also signal the end of new nuclear power in the US. No other reactors are under construction in the country and there is no likelihood of any new reactors in the foreseeable future. The US reactor fleet is one of the oldest in the world, with 44 out of its 99 reactors having been operated for four decades or more.

A $10 billion financial hole – and it’s getting deeper!

Toshiba says Westinghouse had debts totalling US$9.8 billion. Plans for new Westinghouse reactors in India, the UK and China are in jeopardy and will likely be cancelled. Bloomberg noted yesterday: “Westinghouse Electric Co., once synonymous with America’s industrial might, wagered its future on nuclear power – and lost.”

The same could be said about Toshiba, which is selling profitable businesses to stave off bankruptcy. Toshiba said yesterday it expects to book a net loss of $9.1 billion for the current fiscal year, which ends on Friday – a record loss for a Japanese manufacturer.

That projected loss is also well over double the estimate provided just last month, raising investor fears that the final figure may be greater still. “Every time they put out an estimate, the loss gets bigger and bigger”, said Zuhair Khan, an analyst at Jefferies in Tokyo. “I don’t think this is the last cockroach we have seen coming out of Toshiba.”

The BBC noted that Toshiba’s share-price has been in freefall, losing more than 60% since the company first unveiled the problems in December 2016. Toshiba president Satoshi Tsunakawa said at a news conference yesterday: “We have all but completely pulled out of the nuclear business overseas.”

Westinghouse is the major member of the Nugen consortium that’s set to build a massive three-reactor AP1000 nuclear complex at Moorside in the UK, next to the Sellafield site. The company has already stated that while it intends to progress the project through planning stages, it is unable to take on financing or construction and intends to sell its share.

Nugen’s other member, the French energy company Engie (formerly GDF Suez) has also gone on record as wanting to extricate itself from the Moorside project in favour of the ‘new energy’ economy based on renewable, storage and smart grid technologies.

It’s now looking increasingly probable that the Moorside project, given the state of the Nugen consortium and the massive failure of the AP1000 design, may never progress to construction.

The good news for the nuclear industry? The UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) today – with impeccable timing – accepted the AP1000 design as suitable for construction in the UK and issued Westinghouse a Design Acceptance Certificate.

Is the nuclear game up at last?

A similar crisis is unfolding in France, which has 58 power reactors but just one under construction. French ‘EPR’ reactors under construction in France (Flamanville) and Finland are three times over budget – the combined cost overruns for the two reactors amount to about €12.7 billion and counting.

The French government is selling assets so it can prop up its heavily indebted nuclear utilities Areva and EDF. The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever” according to former EDF director Gérard Magnin.

Meanwhile a simple comparison of decommissioning provision between France and Germany indicates that EDF has massively under-budgetted for its liabilities. Germany has set aside €38 billion to decommission its 17 nuclear reactors (€2.2 billion each), but France has set aside only €23 billion to decommission its 58 reactors (€0.4 billion each).

When the real costs, for which EDF will be liable, come in, they could easily bankrupt the company. This in turn puts the UK’s Hinkley Point double EPR nuclear project, in which EDF is the main partner, in doubt.

The crisis-ridden US, French and Japanese nuclear industries account for half of worldwide nuclear power generation. Other countries with crisis-ridden nuclear programs or nuclear phase-out policies account for more than half of worldwide nuclear power generation.

Meranwhile renewable energy generation doubled over the past decade and strong growth, driven by sharp cost decreases, will continue for the foreseeable future.

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2988820/toshibas_nuclear_flagship_goes_bust_under_10_billion_debt_burden.html

 

Toshiba’s nuclear unit files for bankruptcy, 1 tril. yen loss eyed

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Toshiba Corp. said Wednesday its troubled U.S. nuclear unit Westinghouse Electric Co. has filed for Chapter 11 and it could post a net loss of over 1 trillion yen, the biggest ever for a Japanese manufacturer.

Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, as the Japanese parent company was rushing to limit further losses from the U.S. unit and looking to exit the money-losing overseas nuclear business.

With the do-or-die decision on the filing, Toshiba will make all-out efforts to move out of its financial woes, Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa told a press conference in Tokyo after Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy.

“We are almost risk-free as we are pulling out of overseas nuclear operations, the biggest problem,” he said.

Toshiba said it could post a group net loss of 1.01 trillion yen ($9.13 billion) for the fiscal year ending on Friday, with massive costs related to the Chapter 11 filing. Westinghouse has $9.8 billion in total liabilities, much of which must be shouldered by Toshiba under a debt guarantee for the U.S. unit.

The estimated net loss would eclipse 787.3 billion yen posted by Hitachi Ltd. in the year to March 2009 following the 2008 global financial crisis and would be much worse than the 390 billion yen loss the company projected in February.

The huge loss would put the company in a negative net worth of 620 billion yen at the end of March, Toshiba said, far larger than the 150 billion yen it previously estimated.

Tsunakawa said that he feels responsibility for the company’s crisis but has no intention to step down as chief executive.

He took the helm at the company last June after it had been hit by an accounting scandal in 2015.

The bankruptcy filing will deconsolidate Westinghouse from Toshiba’s financial results for the current fiscal year.

The company has been under pressure to have Westinghouse file for bankruptcy protection, as the unit is the main cause of its massive losses with delays in U.S. plant projects leading to cost overruns, informed sources have said.

The nuclear-to-electronics conglomerate was looking to finalize losses related to the unit within the current fiscal year through the bankruptcy filing.

In February, Toshiba said it was expecting a loss of 712.5 billion yen in its U.S. nuclear business for the nine months through December on an unaudited basis. The company had to delay its earnings announcement twice, saying it needed more time to look into an accounting problem at Westinghouse.

Faced with ballooning losses, Toshiba had been considering a way to separate itself from the debacle at Westinghouse, which it bought in 2006 as a step to tap into overseas markets.

The cash-strapped company has decided to spin off its prized memory chip business and sell a majority stake, or even the whole operation, to raise funds to bolster its financial standing.

Toshiba closed the first round of bids Wednesday for the new semiconductor division that it plans to establish on Saturday. It has likely attracted 10 bidders and will choose the preferred buyer in May, according to sources close to the matter.

Tsunakawa is confident that the bidders have a strong financial standing and the proceeds from the sale will be able to eliminate the company’s liabilities.

He estimates the value of the chip business at 2 trillion yen at least, and said he expects the value to continue to rise.

Toshiba is seeking support from Korea Electric Power Corp. as a sponsor, aiming to sell its Westinghouse shares to the South Korean utility.

“We are focused on developing a plan of reorganization to emerge from Chapter 11 as a stronger company while continuing to be a global nuclear technology leader,” Westinghouse Interim President and Chief Executive Officer Jose Emeterio Gutierrez said in a release.

The company turned the corner in stemming the bleeding for the time being. But the fate of its turnaround remains unclear.

The sale of Westinghouse and the pullout of the overseas nuclear business will leave the company with no core profit-making businesses after it sold its cash-cow medical business and as it plans to sell its chip operation.

The outlook for the sale of the U.S. unit is far from certain. Toshiba may find it difficult to attract a buyer with slowing demand for nuclear power generation after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170330/p2g/00m/0bu/029000c

 

Fukushima radiation has reached U.S. shores

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Tanks holding radiation contaminated water at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on February 25, 2016 in Okuma, Japan.

 

Its official. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has samples of Fukushima-sourced cesium-134 in salmon off the Pacific Coast of Oregon. Given cesium-134 has such a short half-life the source is linked to the on-going leaks from Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster. While the amount is still very, very low, it remains a concern given the Fukushima disaster is still not contained after more than five years.

SALEM, Ore. — For the first time, seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster has been detected on the West Coast of the United States.

Cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima, was measured in seawater samples taken from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon, according to researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Because of its short half-life, cesium-134 can only have come from Fukushima.

For the first time, cesium-134 has also been detected in a Canadian salmon, according to the Fukushima InFORM project, led by University of Victoria chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen.

Should we be worried? In both cases, levels are extremely low, the researchers said, and don’t pose a danger to humans or the environment.

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea.

Woods Hole chemical oceanographer Ken Buesseler runs a crowd-funded, citizen science seawater sampling project that has tracked the radiation plume as it slowly makes its way across the Pacific Ocean.

The Oregon samples, marking the first time cesium-134 has been detected on U.S. shores, were taken in January and February of 2016 and later analyzed. They each measured 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter of cesium-134.

Buesseler’s team previously had found the isotope in a sample of seawater taken from a dock on Vancouver Island, B.C., marking its landfall in North America.

In Canada, Cullen leads the InFORM project to assess radiological risks to that country’s oceans following the nuclear disaster. It is a partnership of a dozen academic, government and non-profit organizations.

Last month, the group reported that a single sockeye salmon, sampled from Okanagan Lake in the summer of 2015, had tested positive for cesium-134.

The level was more than 1,000 times lower than the action level set by Health Canada, and is no significant risk to consumers, Cullen said.

Buesseler’s most recent samples off the West Coast also are showing higher-than background levels of cesium-137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world’s oceans because of nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Those results will become more important in tracking the radiation plume, Buesseler said, because the short half-life of cesium-134 makes it harder to detect as time goes on.

Cesium-134 has a half-life of two years, meaning it’s down to a fraction of what it was five years ago, he said. Cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life.

A recent InFORM analysis of Buesseler’s data concluded that concentrations of cesium-137 have increased considerably in the central northeast Pacific, although they still are at levels that pose no concern.

It appears that the plume has spread throughout this vast area from Alaska to California,” the scientists wrote.

They estimated that the plume is moving toward the coast at roughly twice the speed of a garden snail. Radiation levels have not yet peaked.

As the contamination plume progresses towards our coast we expect levels closer to shore to increase over the coming year,” Cullen said.

Even that peak won’t be a health concern, Buesseler said. But the models will help scientists model ocean currents in the future.

That could prove important if there is another disaster or accident at the Fukushima plant, which houses more than a thousand huge steel tanks of contaminated water and where hundreds of tons of molten fuel remain inside the reactors.

In a worst-case scenario, the fuel would melt through steel-reinforced concrete containment vessels into the ground, uncontrollably spreading radiation into the surrounding soil and groundwater and eventually into the sea.

That’s the type of thing where people are still concerned, as am I, about what could happen,” Buesseler said.

Scientists now know it would take four to five years for any further contamination from the plant to reach the West Coast.

Tracking the plume

Scientists are beginning to use an increase in cesium-137 instead of the presence of cesium-134 to track the plume of radioactive contamination from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. These figures show the increase in cesium-137 near the West Coast between 2014 and 2015.

Graphic courtesy Dr. Jonathan Kellogg of InFORM, with data from Dr. John Smith, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Dr. Ken Buesseler, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/fukushima-radiation-has-reached-us-shores/ar-AAlkXUr?li=BBmkt5R&ocid=spartandhp

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Nuclear pact’s future could emerge in Abe-Trump talks, arms remarks to complicate talks on U.S.-Japan deal ending in ’18

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Troops from the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military carry out a joint exercise on Ukibaru Island, Okinawa Prefecture, on Monday.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York next week, both men will size up each other and discuss the bilateral relationship and the challenges that lie ahead.

One challenge, whether it’s on the agenda or not, will be the future direction of Japan’s nuclear power program.

With a key 1988 bilateral agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear power due to expire in July 2018, Tokyo and Washington next year will have to begin addressing the question of what, exactly, Japan’s nuclear policy should be.

Renegotiating the treaty is also sure to raise questions about the possibility of Japan using nuclear materials for military purposes, especially as Trump made contradictory statements about the possibility of arming Japan with nuclear weapons.

In an April TV interview, he suggested that Japan might defend itself from North Korea’s nuclear weapons by way of a nuclear arsenal of its own. That comment came a few weeks after another television interview in which he said that it is time to reconsider America’s policy of not allowing Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons because it is going to happen anyway, and is only a question of time.

Trump later claimed that his opponents were misrepresenting his position. In the weeks before Tuesday’s election, he toned down his rhetoric on nuclear weapons use in general.

Japan’s reply to Trump was that it would continue to maintain its three non-nuclear principles of not manufacturing, possessing, or introducing nuclear weapons.

Now, with the agreement’s extension soon to become an issue in the bilateral relationship, experts are wondering how Trump, when he is president, will handle negotiations.

“I have absolutely no idea what position the Trump administration will adopt. It’s pretty clear their issues team hasn’t thought through things like this,” says James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The U.S. has a long-standing policy against the accumulation of plutonium, but Japan already has about 48 tons stockpiled domestically and in Europe, and how it will consume or disposed of it remains uncertain.

“Japan has plans to produce more plutonium in the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. Given how few MOX-burning reactors will be operating in the foreseeable future, there is a very serious risk of a large imbalance between plutonium supply and demand,” Acton said, using the acronym for mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel. “I suspect the U.S. will use the occasion of the agreement’s renewal to try and address this problem.”

The Rokkasho plant is in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, says Trump has created an unprecedented degree of uncertainty in Japan about nuclear cooperation in general.

“Regardless of what position the new U.S. administration takes with regard to renewing the 1988 agreement, it is Japan, with its 48 tons of separated plutonium and no peaceful use plans, together with the nations of East Asia, that need to take a leadership role in reducing the risks from nuclear power. That includes terminating Rokkasho,” Burnie said.

The 1988 agreement came about after concerns in the U.S. that Japan was pursuing a plutonium program that could lead to proliferation issues, and a desire by Japan to make it easier to obtain U.S. approval for nuclear material shipments to Japan from Europe, as required by a previous agreement. In turn, the U.S. got more say in the inspection and security requirements for nuclear facilities in Japan.

The agreement also clearly emphasized it was only for the peaceful uses of power.

Article 8 of the agreement specifically bans the transfer of nuclear material to Japan (or from Japan to the U.S.) for use in nuclear explosive devices, for research specifically on, or development of, nuclear devices, and for military purposes.

“The U.S. does not think that Japan is looking to possess nuclear weapons. But holding so much plutonium, like Japan does, sets a very bad example for other countries and creates great concerns in the U.S. about the problem of nuclear terrorism,” wrote Tetsuya Endo, former deputy chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission in a March article for the Tokyo-based Institute for Peace Policies.

Nuclear pact’s future could emerge in Abe-Trump talks

Radiation-absorption tests under development could save lives in nuclear explosion

Direct measurement (like Becquerels) via blood samples described in the article sounds like the way to go.

The key to understand is that this is something that has never existed and we hope it never gets used,” Josh LaBaer, principal investigator and director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, told Homeland Preparedness News.

The tests could also have civilian applications as well, LaBaer said, such as in the event of industrial accidents at a nuclear power plant or in medical situations when people are exposed to excessive radiation.

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The U.S. government is funding the late-stage development of tests that would quickly determine how much radiation a person has absorbed in the event of a catastrophic nuclear explosion.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is sponsoring the development of tests that go beyond detecting whether radiation is on a person’s skin to determining the amount of radiation that has been absorbed into a person’s body.

The key to understand is that this is something that has never existed and we hope it never gets used,” Josh LaBaer, principal investigator and director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, told Homeland Preparedness News.

ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide more than $21.3 million over four years to develop the tests. Kansas City, Missouri-based MRIGlobal said in a written statement the contract could be extended for up to $100 million over 10 years.

MRIGlobal is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific and Arizona State University to lead the development of the program for BARDA. The agency also will provide more than $22.4 million in funding over two years to DxTerity Diagnostics based near Los Angeles.

The challenge was that in the event of a nuclear bomb in a major American city, there is an instantaneous release of high doses of gamma radiation, which is the type of radiation that travels through the air over large distances,” LaBaer said. “In that type of mass casualty event there would be lots of people who would need to be evaluated.”

The task for researchers was to develop a device that could quickly measure how much radiation large numbers of people had potentially absorbed into their organs and blood cells during a nuclear emergency. Devices currently available today can only detect radiation on the skin.

The amount of radiation that gets absorbed into the body has a direct implication on how that person gets triaged and managed,” LaBaer said. Absorption of a small or moderate dose of radiation could require medication, while a larger dose could require hospitalization and a potential bone marrow transplant.

BARDA is supporting development of the tests with the goal of potentially purchasing them from one or more of the companies for the Strategic National Stockpile.

After a six-year effort, the university has developed the ASU radiation (ARad) biodosimetry test, which would generate results in about eight hours and could be used on people who were exposed to radiation up to seven days after the event. HHS said the potential exists where 400,000 or more tests could be processed a week.

In the test, a blood sample is taken to isolate the white blood cells in order to collect the genes that have been exposed to radiation. Certain genes are more predictive when it comes to determining the amount of radiation the body was exposed to.

We were looking for the smallest number of genes we could use but that still were accurate in predicting dose depending on the time after the event,” LaBaer said.

Work to date has been based on animal studies and developing conversion factors to transfer to humans.

The tests could also have civilian applications as well, LaBaer said, such as in the event of industrial accidents at a nuclear power plant or in medical situations when people are exposed to excessive radiation.

https://homelandprepnews.com/featured/20018-radiation-absorption-tests-development-save-lives-nuclear-explosion/

Carlsbad, CA News Conference on the US sailors’ lawsuit against TEPCO

In March of 2011 as the still-ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster began, the US Navy sent a fleet of ships led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to participate in an humanitarian earthquake and tsunami relief effort called Operation Tomadachi (‘friendship’ in Japanese).

Fleet commanders were not informed by either TEPCO, the nuclear plant operator, or by the Japanese government about the plume of radioactive fallout being blown out to sea from what was eventually admitted to be a triple meltdown.

US navel personnel and their ships and aircraft were repeatedly doused with radiation from the rapidly shifting plume, which contaminated equipment, the ships’ air & ventilation systems, as well as drinking and bathing water.

Today, over 400 of those irradiated personnel have joined in a lawsuit against TEPCO seeking medical costs and compensation for the serious health effects they are experiencing, including cancers, miscarriages and loss of multiple bodily functions. At least 7 so far have died of their radiation-induced illnesses.

The suit, filed in the US court in California by attorneys Charles and Cabral Bonner and Paul Garner, charges that TEPCO withheld information from the Navy that would have prevented the mass radiation exposure and is therefore responsible to pay reparations.

TEPCO’s army of high-priced lawyers have been fighting to block the suit for over 5 years, and the merits of the case have yet to be addressed by the court as plaintiffs continue to die.

Last May, when former Japanese Prime Minister heard of the sailors’ plight, he insisted on coming to the US to interview some of the victims himself.

After several days of face-to-face private conversations with a sampling of suit’s plaintiffs and their affected family members, Mr. Koizumi held a news conference announcing his support of the lawsuit. Fighting back tears, he described what he had learned in the interviews, and stated his intention to establish a fund to help with the plaintiffs’ medical expenses.

Pt. 1 Mr. Koizumi’s Statement

This is the first of three segments of a May 17, 2016 news conference held in Carlsbad, CA by Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the US sailors’ lawsuit against TEPCO.

 

Pt. 2 – Q&A
This is the second of three segments of a May 17, 2016 news conference held in Carlsbad, CA by Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the US sailors’ lawsuit against TEPCO.

 

Pt. 3 – A soldiers story – This is the third of three segments of a May 17, 2016 news conference held in Carlsbad, CA by Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the US sailors’ lawsuit against TEPCO.

 

 

 

 

Tepco telling California 9th Circ. To Send Sailors’ $1B Fukushima Suit To Japan

TEPCO trying to block the hearing of this case in California under US law.

 

Watch recording for case: Lindsay Cooper v. Tokyo Electric Power Co., No. 15-56424

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000010155

 

9th Circ. Told To Send Sailors’ $1B Fukushima Suit To Japan

Law360, Los Angeles (September 1, 2016, 5:47 PM ET) — Tokyo Electric Power Co. urged the Ninth Circuit on Thursday to dismiss a $1 billion putative class action on behalf of 70,000 U.S. sailors allegedly exposed to radiation while responding to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, arguing the claims belong in Japan.

During oral arguments in Pasadena, California, Daniel Collins of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP, representing Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., the owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant, urged a three-judge panel to reverse U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino’s refusal to dismiss the suit….

http://www.law360.com/articles/835597/9th-circ-told-to-send-sailors-1b-fukushima-suit-to-japan

 

Lesson from Nagasaki: Lighten up on Dark Tourism

“I see those people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the news every year and I wonder why they just can’t let it go. Hasn’t it been long enough already?”

These words were spoken to my wife recently by a Japanese co-worker when we returned from Nagasaki. This attitude might seem startling to peace activists in Japan and throughout the world who participate in memorial events every year on August 6th and 9th, but it is a sobering reminder that many people in Japan and throughout the world have let the memory fade, not even knowing what they don’t know about the perils of nuclear weapons as they exist in today’s world.

In a consumer society based on employment in a military economy, the institutions people pass through in their formative years do very little to teach history, political consciousness or the meaning of citizenship. Whatever lessons exist are delivered as tedious, obligatory lectures, followed by multiple choice tests. Lessons might also have come from elders in the form of scoldings about how tough things were during the war, how “you youngsters” have no idea and so on. The only thing worse than no history lessons is bad history lessons. Japanese people, in particular, may be inured to them because of an overdose of obligatory exposure to the rituals of remembrance.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki also invoke uncomfortable feelings of shame about losing the war, and shame about responsibility for it. The hibakusha and all the memorials in the two bombed cities evoke these conflicted feelings, so many Japanese would rather turn away, just as many Americans would rather turn away for inverse reasons.

While living in Japan I have met people who talked about visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they never mentioned the atom bomb. The only thing they wanted to talk about was the local foods they ate, or maybe a visit to Dejima, the old Dutch and Portuguese trading post in Nagasaki that used to be the most famous thing about the city. They talked about these visits like they would talk about a visit to any other place. Likewise, residents of the two cities have millions of good reasons to appreciate everything that happened before the war and after it, all the things that make their cities just like other cities. No one wants their city to be just about that one traumatic thing that happened one day long ago.

I had lived in Japan for many years before I visited either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, partly because I had other priorities, and partly because it just felt a little strange to visit a place just for that. I knew the history quite well, but I still questioned my motives. I finally went when I had someone to visit there, someone who just happened to be a historian who specialized in the cultural impacts of nuclear technology.

That was Robert Jacobs, who was interviewed on a local Hiroshima English language podcast shortly after President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016. During the interview he shed some light on why people are becoming less reluctant to visit traumatized places and engage in what has recently become known as “dark tourism:”

I met a religious studies scholar… who said… dark tourism has replaced religious pilgrimage… Going to places where history happened, especially traumatic history happened… gives your life more authenticity… This has been on the rise, and it’s partly a way to infuse our lives with meaning and connection to a world that is often at a distance from us…  to infuse your own life with a deeper sense of the importance of peace because you’ve been to some place where peace is so important. It’s an emotional and a spiritual renewal to go to places like that, and the use of the word “dark” doesn’t mean that there is a dark meaning. It just means that it’s sites of historical trauma. People go there not to gawk at trauma or death but because these are the sites that resonate in our mythology of the world we live in. Religious sites don’t resonate so much the way that they used to, but people like to visit places that give their lives a sense of being connected to mythic things. In our lives the mythic things are often large historical tragedies, and in coming to a place like Hiroshima… “dark” just implies a place where a dark thing happened, but the motives of the people who come here is to increase their sense of connectedness and their sense of meaning… People will invoke having been to Hiroshima as a means of having authority. They will say, “I’ve been to Hiroshima… I can tell you about how bad nuclear weapons are…” These are empowering reasons that people visit… The phrase “dark tourism” certainly doesn’t imply that the motives of people are in any way dark. [1]

There could be a downside to claiming authority just because one has visited a place where something bad happened. It depends on what one learns about the entire context of the traumatic event. Visitors to Hiroshima could leave with widely divergent interpretations of what happened there in 1945. In the end there is much to be said for a pilgrimage to a local library in order to connect and infuse one’s life with a deeper connection to history.

I can say that my visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki achieved something that was missing in all that I knew about what happened there in August 1945. No matter how much I had learned from books and films and second-hand reports, it didn’t become fully real in a certain sense until I could confirm it with my own senses, when I stood at ground zero, walked through the cities, visited the museums, and talked to eyewitnesses to the events. That’s what is meant by “connection.”

One of the great things about both cities is the streetcars. They still run down the routes that existed in 1945, and though they must have been rebuilt and refurbished many times since then, they haven’t been modernized. They look, and feel, and sound just like the streetcars of old, and they are the means by which most visitors get from the central train stations to the atomic bomb memorial sites.

nagasaki-streetcars

On August 8th I rode the streetcar in Nagasaki with my wife and son, from downtown to the Urakami district where the museum and hypocenter are located. As we got closer the streetcar became very crowded, as groups of students were in town to attend the annual memorial the next day. I was standing, and my wife and son were sitting. A white-haired woman in her late eighties got on. She was stooping over a cane, but she pushed her way through the crowded aisle with considerable force. I tapped my son and told him to give up his seat. She took it with quick smile of gratitude then immediately began to talk to my wife:

Everyone’s going to the Peace Park today. That’s good. Good to see so many young people here… I wasn’t here that day. I was living down the line in Sasebo, but I had been called up to work in a factory here. For some reason I didn’t have to go to work that day. But then later I was told to get to Nagasaki and report for work. I got down to Sasebo station, and when that train from Nagasaki came in, people just fell out of it and collapsed right there on the platform, never got up again. Piles of them, blackened and sick. They just spilled out of the train car. I’ve never seen people in such a horrid state. Every city was getting bombed. We expected it, but obviously something very strange had happened in Nagasaki. I didn’t ride the train that day, but I went later… Sorry, I’m talking a lot, but I have to. Tomorrow the prime minister will come and make his speech again. So useless. We are really disappointed in him. I never used to talk to strangers like this, but now I talk to everyone because we have to. There are so few of us left.

Obviously, this is a translation and a paraphrase of a conversation recalled by my wife and related to me when we got off the streetcar. The reader may think I’ve embellished it, but this was the gist of it: the determination to tell the story, the need to condemn the present direction of the country, and thus the loss of all concern about what anyone might think about the unsolicited sharing of these stories with strangers on a streetcar. Looking back on it now, it seems to be the best way to explain to that smug, ignorant co-worker why people can’t and don’t have to “just get over it.” The experience also taught me why people should dare to be “dark tourists” and take in everything they see and hear when they visit places of historical trauma, whether it’s Auschwitz, Hiroshima or Wounded Knee. In this case, there was nothing like getting the story firsthand on a Nagasaki streetcar.

Our short visit to the city had other highlights. I was invited to join a study tour led by the historian of American University, Peter Kuznick (co-author of The Untold History of the United States), and there I met his students and others from Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University. A famous spokesperson for the  hibakusha community was also there, 71-year-old Koko Tanimoto Kondo, who has devoted her life to speaking about the atomic bombings in both Japanese and English. Her father was Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, [2] a Methodist minister who was portrayed in John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the first report that exposed American audiences to the horror of what had happened on the ground on August 6th, 1945. [3][4] Reverend Tanimoto began a campaign to have nations dedicate August 6th as World Peace Day, and Koko, who was only eight months old at the end of the war, continued her father’s mission as she grew older.

Another hibakusha, Kazutoshi Otsuka, spoke to the study group about the life he has devoted to telling the world about the necessity of abolishing nuclear weapons. He was ten years old at the time of the blast, and survived because he was at the edge of the zone of worst damage and was indoors at the time. He emerged from the debris that had fallen over him to find the city in ruins, utterly transformed from what it had been just a short time ago. The downtown area had been spared, but in Urakami almost all the buildings and thousands of people had just vanished. The last human voice he heard before the blast was his friend calling from outside, “The cicadas are singing. Let’s go catch some.” Did he die instantly in the blast? Did he run home and get caught in the fires? Did he die more slowly from radiation? Mr. Otsuka searched for his friend for a long time afterward, but it became obvious that he had vanished on the wind just like the last words he had spoken. For seventy-one years, while he has told his story to all who will listen, Mr. Otsuka has carried with him those simple words of invitation from his friend to enjoy a summer day.

The most famous icon of the atomic attacks is the Hiroshima Dome, one of the few structures left standing, but one which was almost demolished in the rush to rebuild the city and erase all signs of what had happened there. Those who wanted it saved had a hard time convincing city hall that it would be worthwhile to preserve it. There is nothing similar in Nagasaki, except for some portions of the walls of Shiroyama Elementary School near the hypocenter. Like the dome in Hiroshima, its position directly under the blast allowed it to be not completely demolished by the lateral blast force. After the fires were out, the remnants of the school on a small hill stood as the only desolate reminder of all that had been in this section of the city called Urakami. However, it wasn’t as photogenic as the Hiroshima Dome, and Nagasaki is more out of the way and receives fewer visitors, so it never became an iconic symbol of the atom bomb. In any case, the rebuilt school still functions as a school, so it wouldn’t be able to deal with a constant stream of visitors.

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The original wall with the new school built around it.

We learned that every year on August 9th the school holds a remembrance ceremony for students, the community, and any visitors who wish to attend. The students all come back for a day from their summer vacations and dress up in formal attire in the 30-degree humidity. It is a mourning ceremony, so the adults wear black funeral suits and dresses.

My wife and I decided to get up early on the 9th and take our son to the ceremony. We had attended many Japanese school ceremonies with our children before, and this one was just like all the rest, but so different from all others as well.

A steep staircase leads up to the school, and Koko Tanimoto was already there at the top, beaming a welcoming smile to us. There was something from her father in that smile because she made it feel like we were being welcomed to church on a Sunday morning. We walked around the grounds and looked inside the restored section that holds artifacts and memorials for the disappeared. In a grove of trees just off the sports ground they still sometimes find bone chips a few inches down in the soil.

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After the ceremony, a teacher talks to a group of students about the grove. 

In his speech at the ceremony, the principal said everything one would expect at such an occasion, going over the events of that day and the weeks and months that followed, and the eventual rebuilding of the school and the city. Several times he mentioned “passing the baton,” stressing to the children their heavy responsibility to carry on the memory that all other graduates of the school have carried into their adult lives.

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Shiroyama Elementary School, in the days after the bombing.

Around the third time I heard that word baton, I began to feel uneasy about it. I started to wonder how many people had gone through that school wondering “Why us?” They didn’t drop the bomb. They didn’t ask for this burden, and they must wonder why the whole country and the whole world is not doing more to pass this baton to future generations. I didn’t visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or make friends in the peace movement, suffering from any delusions that it is easy to change the world. I think most of my fellow travelers and the hibakusha feel the same. We know what we are up against, and we know how badly the masters of war have betrayed us. The hibakusha’s commitment to peace makes for a paradoxical taboo against expressing anger and rage, but I suspect the survivors have reached old age bitterly aware that the world has done far too little to act on their call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It must feel like cruel mockery as they reach their later years. There were many hopeful periods, such as the thaw between Khrushchev and Kennedy that was emerging just before JFK’s assassination, or the end of the Warsaw Pact in the late 1980s, but each time, to borrow a line from Leonard Cohen, the holy dove was caught again, bought and sold, and bought again. [5]

There must have been very many angry hibakusha over the decades, people who kept their rage contained within them, people who drank, people who became outcasts or extremists, but the openly angry people never got invited to official ceremonies. One can only speculate about the motives of the anonymous person who threatened to bomb Shiroyama Elementary School and other schools in Nagasaki in August 2016 (at least there was an advance warning), but it speaks to a very perverse disdain that exists in some people toward the victims rather than the perpetrators. [6]

Overt anger has been kept out of sight, but an acceptable outlet for covert anger is mainstream politics, where those in the ruling party dream of restoring the glory of the empire and their notion of “national honor” while accumulating plutonium from “the peaceful atom” and biding their time under American subservience. This is how contemporary Japanese society developed its neurotic ambivalence about its history and place in the world.

The various forms of anger have been reported by other writers who know the experiences of hibakusha well. Shortly after President Obama’s speech in Hiroshima, the journalist and filmmaker John Pilger had this to say:

… the cynicism of great power and great reckless power, in many respects is expressed at Hiroshima where… all the evidence shows that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as America’s first expressions of violent power in the Cold War that was then underway. So for Obama to go and talk about the atomic bombs as if God dropped them… He used the passive voice… and really quite vomitus language like “we must have the courage to care.” So [according to Obama] no one dropped the atomic bombs. The United States certainly didn’t kill all those hundreds of thousands of people. It didn’t cause all that suffering. It’s something that we should all express sympathy to. It was like a kind of high mass and the great divinity was there, but not the United States. That [the US] is not to blame. That’s been Obama’s role as a PR man extraordinaire, and he came into power and people fell on their knees… This was a kind of second coming. There was a problem for the last few years with re-igniting Afghanistan and Iraq, and destroying Libya and so on, but the fawning has begun again as Obama’s time in office nears an end, and for people, for journalists to report–as I say the deeply cynical action of Obama and the United States in Hiroshima the other day–to report it without the context of all those survivors–and I’ve interviewed many of them–of how angry they were… they’re polite people and they’re very elderly… but they were angry. [7]

Two months later The Mainichi reported more precisely on this anger in describing how the secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations regretted his initial praise of Obama’s speech when he had time to read an accurate translation the next day:

Terumi Tanaka, 84, was in attendance on May 27 this year when Obama was making what was the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima…

There was an interpreter for Obama’s speech, but the speech was not handed out on paper… Sentences from the latter part of the speech, such as his reference to a future in which “Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known … as the start of our own moral awakening,” had stuck with him, and he praised the sentence as “excellent words.” He noted, however, that he was “disappointed” that Obama had said, “We may not realize this goal (of a world without nuclear weapons) in my lifetime.” The next morning… Tanaka opened a page containing the Japanese translation of the speech. It began, “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.” Tanaka was stunned. “Death did not ‘fall from the sky.’ This is making the death abstract. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Tanaka thought. While on board the train he opened his laptop and began to write his “Essay of Regret.” As he typed, erased and retyped, he says, “I began to get angry and stopped midway. They ‘created’ the death. As a sign of apology, I want them to eliminate nuclear weapons,” he says. [8]

Another expression of this anger came from Setsuko Thurlow, a hibakusha who has lived for many years in Toronto. She was received at the White House in June, where she met the man who wrote the Hiroshima speech and hand-delivered a message for the president in which she listed the concrete measures that need to be taken to make the speech amount to more than aspirational fluff:

  1. Stop the U.S. boycott of international nuclear disarmament meetings and join the 127 countries that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge to create a new legal instrument and new norms for a nuclear weapons ban treaty as a first step in their elimination and prohibition.
  2. Stop spending money to modernize the US nuclear arsenal, a staggering $1 trillion over the next three decades, and use this money to meet human needs and protect our environment.
  3. Take nuclear weapons off high alert and review the aging command and control systems that have been the subject of recent research exposing a culture of neglect and the alarming regularity of accidents involving nuclear weapons. [9]

Much more could be said by the hibakusha community about issues not relating directly to disarmament, such as the worsening mistrust between the nuclear powers and the proliferation of conventional military power that leads so many nations to favor the “cheap and easy” asymmetrical nuclear deterrent. [10] The obstacles to peace are stacked high, and anger seems to be the only logical response. But I will hold onto the memory of  Koko Tanimoto smiling at the top of those stairs at Shiroyama, greeting the late pilgrims like me who’ve finally decided to make this simple journey.

Notes

[1] J.J. Walsh, interviewer, “Professor Bo Jacobs on the Obama Visit,” Get Hiroshima, May 30, 2016, 18:00~

[2] “Hiroshima Survivor Meets Enola Gay Pilot,” This is Your Life, 1955. The full interview with Reverend Tanimoto can be viewed on YouTube.

[3] Robert Jacobs, “Reconstructing the Perpetrator’s Soul by Reconstructing the Victim’s Body: The Portrayal of the ‘Hiroshima Maidens’ by the Mainstream Media in the United States,” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 24, June 2010.

[4] Tadatoshi Akiba, L. Wittner and T. Taue, “Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day Events Matter,” Asia Pacific Journal, August 1, 2007.

[5] Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future, Columbia Records, 1992.

[6] “‘Hibakusha’ talks scrapped after Nagasaki bomb threat,” Asahi Shinbun, August 18, 2016.

[7] Afshin Rattansi, interviewer, “ISIS in Fallujah & World War III with John Pilger (Episode 350 of Going Underground),” Russia Today, June 4, 2016. What John Pilger described as a “passive voice” construction could more accurately be called a usage of an intransitive verb which conceals the agent of the action. The speech writer had various syntactical choices available: President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped or The crew of the Enola Gay dropped the bomb, The bomb fell or, at the level of greatest possible abstraction, Death fell from the sky.

[8] Terumi Tanaka, “Hibakusha: A-bomb sufferers’ group official regrets praising Obama speech,” The Mainichi, August 2, 2016.

[9] To Barack Obama from Setsuko Thurlow, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, August 6, 2016.

[10] Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 101. Many who favor nuclear deterrence believe that it has prevented a third world war that would have been fought with a massive arsenal of conventional weapons, with millions of casualties. In this argument, a nuclear arsenal is preferable, and it comes at a bargain price for nations large and small. Rhodes’ book argues for abolition of nuclear arms, but he noted how their “low cost” (not considering what economists call “externalities”) became a rationale for their development: “Nuclear warheads cost the United States about $250,000 each: less than a fighter bomber, less than a missile, less than a patrol boat, less than a tank.”

Source:

Nuclear Free by 2045?

https://nf2045.blogspot.fr/2016/08/lesson-from-nagasaki-lighten-up-on-dark.html