Daigo Fukuryū Maru, or (第五福竜丸, or Lucky Dragon 5 – Trusting the Nukers. A lesson.

I have just procured a copy of Ralph Lapp’s “The Voyage of the Lucky Dragon”, 1958. Until I scan the pictures and selected and place them in the blog, this introduction to the issues from Wikipedia will serve as an introduction.


The Daigo Fukuryū Maru encountered the fallout from the U.S. Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, near the Marshall Islands, on 1 March 1954. The boat, along with its 23 fishermen aboard, as well as their catch of fish, were contaminated. They returned to Yaizu, Japan on 14 March. The crew members, suffering from nausea, headaches, burns, pain in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms, were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals. On September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”[1][2]

The sky in the west lit up like a sunrise. Eight minutes later the sound of the explosion arrived, with fallout several hours later. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcinated Bikini Island coral, had absorbed highly radioactive fission products, and fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. With one fisherman, Matashichi Oishi, reporting that he “took a lick” of the dust that fell on his ship, describing it as gritty but with no taste.[3] The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash).

The US government refused to disclose the fallout’s composition due to “national security”, as the isotopic ratios, namely a percentage of uranium-237, could, through a radio-chemical analysis of the fallout, reveal the nature of the device to the Soviet Union, which had, as of 1954 not been successful with thermonuclear staging. Lewis Strauss, the head of the AEC, issued a series of denials; he also hypothesized that the lesions on the fishermen’s bodies were not caused by radiation but by the chemical action of the caustic burnt lime that is produced when coral is calcined, that they were inside the danger zone (while they were 40 miles away), and told President Eisenhower’s press secretary that the Lucky Dragon #5 may have been a “Red spy outfit”, commanded by a Soviet agent intentionally exposing the ship’s crew and catch to embarrass the USA and gain intelligence on the tests device.[4] He also denied the extent of the claimed contamination of the fish caught by Daigo Fukuryu Maru and other ships. The FDA however later imposed rigid restrictions on tuna imports.[5] The United States dispatched two medical scientists to Japan to study the effects of fallout on the ship’s crew and to assist their doctors.[6][7]

Publications of the fallout analysis was a militarily sensitive issue, with Joseph Rotblat deducing the staging nature of the Castle Bravo device by studying the ratio and presence of tell-tale isotopes present in the fallout.[8] With this information having a history of being regarded as potentially revealing the means by which megaton yield nuclear devices achieve their yield.[9]

When the test was held, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru was catching fish outside the danger zone which the U.S. government had declared in advance. However, the test was over twice as powerful as it was predicted to be, and changes in weather patterns blew nuclear fallout, in the form of a fine ash, outside of the danger zone.[2] The fishermen realized the danger, and attempted to escape from the area,[citation needed] but they took time to retrieve fishing gear from the sea, exposing themselves to radioactive fallout for several hours.

Later, the United States expanded the danger zone and it was revealed that in addition to the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, many other fishing boats were in the expanded zone at the time. It is estimated that about one-hundred fishing boats were contaminated to some degree by fallout from the test.[citation needed] Many hundreds of inhabitants of the Marshall Islands were also exposed, and a number of islands had to be evacuated entirely.[2]

After Daigo Fukuryū Maru returned to its homeport of Yaizu, Shizuoka on 14 March 1954, Japanese biophysicist Yasushi Nishiwaki immediately traveled from Osaka to Yaizu to examine the crew and their boat. He quickly concluded that they had been exposed to radioactive fallout and wrote a letter to the chief of the United States Atomic Energy Commission asking for more information on how to treat the crew. The US did not respond to Nishiwaki’s letter or to letters from other Japanese scientists requesting information and help.[10]

The US at first tried to cover up[citation needed] the Lucky Dragon incident, sequestering the victims and declaring them off limits.[citation needed] Later the United States paid Kuboyama’s widow and children the equivalent in yen of about $2,500 ($21,400 in 2013).[11][better source needed]

The tragedy of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru gave rise to a fierce anti-nuclear movement in Japan, rising especially from the fear that the contaminated fish had entered the market.[citation needed] The U.S. government feared this movement would lead to an anti-American movement,[citation needed] and attempted to quickly[citation needed] negotiate a settlement with the Japanese government (led at the time by the Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who was considered to be a pro-U.S. politician[by whom?]). The Japanese and U.S. governments reached a compensation settlement, with the transfer to Japan of a compensation of US $15,300,000,[12] of which it is reported that the fishery received a compensation of US$2 million[citation needed], with the surviving crew receiving about ¥ 2 million each,[13] ($5,550 in 1954, $47,400 in 2013[14]). It was also agreed that the victims would not be given Hibakusha status.[13] The Japanese government also acknowledged that it would not pursue further reparations from the U.S. government.[citation needed]

The Daigo Fukuryū Maru was preserved in 1976 and is now on display in Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall.[15]

A film version of the events, Daigo Fukuryū Maru, was made in 1959, directed and screenwritten by Kaneto Shindo, and produced by Kindai Eiga Kyokai and Shin Seiki Eiga.
end quote

Trust the nukers at your peril.

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