Atomic Bomb survivors are referred to in Japanese as hibakusha, which translates literally as “bomb-affected-people”. According to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, there are certain recognized categories of hibakusha: people exposed directly to the bomb and its immediate aftermath; people exposed within a 2 kilometer radius who entered the sphere of destruction within two weeks of the explosion; people exposed to radioactive fallout generally; and those exposed in utero, whose mothers were pregnant and belonging to any of these defined categories.
The Japanese Government, after much insistence and activism on the part of hibakusha, was forced to offer financial and medical assistance to atomic bomb survivors who have received official status. In 1956, Nihon Hidankyo (the Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers) was formed. Hidankyo members, all of whom are hibakusha, fought for and won the enactment of two laws: the “A-bomb Victims Medical Care Law” (1956) and the “Law on Special Measures for Sufferers” (1967). Thanks to the dedication and persistence of many hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors residing in Japan as well as those living in other countries, receive a monthly allowance.
Many hibakusha not only suffered ill health due to radiation exposure and surviving a nuclear bomb, but also were subjected to discrimination at the hands of fellow Japanese. In 1945, little was known about the effects of radioactive contamination, and rumors spread that radiation exposure was akin to an infectious disease. Already traumatized by their experience of the “unforgettable fire” they fell victim to discrimination and were often found ineligible for work and marriage. Sadly, discrimination against hibakusha continues to this day and has been compounded or perhaps renewed by the on-going radiological catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex.
The word of Hibakusha has grown to encompass any person exposed to radiation from the nuclear fuel trajectory through the use, production and testing of nuclear weapons as well as the processes that create and produce nuclear power, and nuclear waste. With the passing of our beloved Sandra Parker, Youth Arts New York’s Vice President, we are initiating a new project dedicated to her courageous, generous spirit. Nuclear Narratives: Stories Untold will highlight lesser known tales, that identify and honor those who are affected by radioactive violence. Our first spotlight will be on Sandy’s friend and fellow Oklahoma resident — Pam Kingfisher member of the Bird Clan of the Cherokee Nation. Pam is a “daughter of plutonium.” Her father worked at Hanford in Richland, Washington from 1943 to develop one of three secret atomic cities that formed the Manhattan Project. The plutonium produced at Hanford was used in the bomb that destroyed the City of Nagasaki.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons includes in its preamble the disproportionate effect of radioactive violence on Indigenous Peoples. Through the lens of Pam’s story from childhood to her professional career as a consultant for environmental justice, students will learn about the Manhattan Project from a personal point of view. Nuclear Narratives will also highlight the unique role and responsibility of New York City as the administrative home to the top-secret project that developed the world’s first nuclear weapons. For this new project dedicated to Sandy, we have developed the Nuclear NYC Map that illustrates our city’s role in both nuclear proliferation and nuclear abolition. This project is a collaboration with NYCAN the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.