Japanese scholars searching for dispersed A-bomb health records

TOKYO — Japanese scholars are trying to locate records of early research on the health impact of radiation from the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the aim of creating a digital archive accessible from around the world.

The group of scholars began by searching for photos, records of medical treatment and other materials mainly from the 1940s to 1970s in the United States and Japan, said Masahito Ando, professor of archival science at Gakushuin University’s graduate school who is leading the state-funded, four-year research program that began in April, in a recent interview.

“Although nearly 70 years have passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the whole picture regarding records of atomic-bomb damage is not really clear,” he said.”

Ando said much of the material is believed to have been taken to the United States and it is not known how many records still exist or how many are publicly accessible.

Hironobu Ochiba, a curator at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said he thinks there has been no such archive to date. “If it is developed, it would greatly help our research for exhibitions and I think it would be significant.”

The atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later flattened and scorched the cities, and are estimated to have killed 214,000 people by the end of that year.

Rescue and relief activities as well as medical treatment by a few surviving doctors and nurses began soon after the bombings. Military, university and other research teams also arrived in the cities.

The United States sent research teams after Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 in World War II, and in 1947 set up the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission for research on the long-term health effects of the bombings, which was aided by a Japanese health research institution from 1948.
The ABCC was the predecessor of the current Radiation Effects Research Foundation which has laboratories in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is jointly operated by the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Ando said a large part of Japan’s early research materials on the impact of radiation likely came into the possession of U.S. researchers, with some records believed to have been compiled by Japanese researchers found in recent years in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington and other U.S. institutions.

“A thorough research from the perspective of archival science is required,” Ando said.

Many of the documents related to early U.S. research are believed to have been stored at the National Archives and Records Administration, while the ABCC’s political documents are stored at the National Academy of Sciences.

He said the Texas Medical Center Library has been collecting private documents, such as diaries and drafts written by U.S. scientists who worked for the ABCC and the RERF, but other records are likely being held by U.S. universities and research institutions.

Referring to specimens from atomic bomb victims that were returned to Japan in around the 1970s after being collected by the ABCC and stored at the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Ando said the group’s investigation “does not represent a demand to ‘give us back the records.’“

“Materials on the atomic bombings should be shared by all human beings,” Ando said.

“I think it is very necessary to set up a system to make it easier to share information beyond countries’ borders, beyond historical perceptions,” he said.

Ando said the team will search the National Archives and other institutions to determine if there are any related materials and consult with U.S. institutions that have already disclosed their records with the aim of compiling an integrated catalog.

“We are considering setting up a system that enables cross-searching by connecting public data, mainly through cooperation with U.S. institutions,” he said, adding the team has already established cooperation with some of them.

Although the envisaged system is still to be worked out, Ando said, “I aim to announce digitalized records four years from now” while addressing privacy issues related to the records, which include “really tragic photos of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).”

Relevant records in Japan are stored at the RERF, Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University, but may also be elsewhere and in other countries as well, including those among the World War II Allies, he added.

In the future, Ando said he would also like to embark on research on personal testimonies, such as those of Koreans who returned to the Korean Peninsula after being affected by the bombings.

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