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U.S. pressured Japan to drop radiation tests, letter says

The Yomiuri Shimbun

TOKYO – A document in the U.S. National Archives shows the United States exerted pressure on Japan to drop research on radioactive contamination of tuna after a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test that irradiated a Japanese trawler in the South Pacific.

The finding was reported Saturday by Hiroko Takahashi, an expert on U.S. history at Hiroshima City University’s Hiroshima Peace Institute. About nine months after the test, the Health and Welfare Ministry suddenly discontinued research on tuna caught in waters off Bikini Atoll, where the test was conducted.

Twenty-three crewmen aboard the 140-ton Fukuryu Maru No. 5, known as the Lucky Dragon, were irradiated during the test on March 1, 1954.

According to Takahashi, the document, dated Jan. 5, 1955, was written by the U.S. tuna investigation association and addressed to Dr. W.R. Boss of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The letter mentioned a Japan-U.S. conference on effects of radioactive substances in Tokyo in November 1954. The letter said the conference influenced Japan to halt research into radiation and tuna.

The Health and Welfare Ministry had confirmed the tuna caught by the Lucky Dragon was contaminated by radioactivity and ordered it destroyed.

The ministry confirmed a wide area around the atoll was radioactive after the United States dropped a hydrogen bomb on it. About a month later, the ministry stopped its research, saying while internal organs of tuna caught in the area were radioactive, the flesh of the tuna was safe for consumption.

The United States settled the incident by paying Japan $2 million in compensation while not acknowledging responsibility for the incident.

The relationship between the death of Aikichi Kuboyama, chief radio operator of the Lucky Dragon, and his exposure to radioactivity apparently was never properly investigated.

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