The scars that still mark Sunao Tsuboi's face from the wartime bombing of Hiroshima are a grim reminder of the power of the atom as a wave of nuclear wariness sweeps post-Fukushima Japan.
Around 140,000 people perished instantly in the searing heat from the radiation after a US plane unleashed the deadliest weapon ever used on Japan and ushered the nuclear age.
Nearly seven decades later, Tsuboi, one of the dwindling number of survivors of the first ever atomic attack is raising his voice against nuclear power in a country still reeling from the tsunami-sparked catastrophe of March 2011.
“In terms of being nuclear victims, we are the same,” Tsuboi, 87, said of those affected by the Fukushima crisis.
He was on his way to university on August 6, 1945 when ina flash of blinding light and intense heat, the bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Apart from his burns, Tsuboi has also suffered from intestinal cancer that may be linked to radiation exposure. He believes that there is little difference in the dangers posed by atomic weapons and atomic power.
“Nuclear technology is beyond human wisdom...I still want to see a nuclear-free world while I'm alive,” he said.
Tsuboi's appeal comes as bitter debates swirl over the future of Japan's 50 remaining reactors that once met about a third of the country's electricity needs, but were shuttered following the meltdowns at Fukushima. Fears of electricity shortages have led the government to order restarts at two reactors despite an increasingly vocal anti-nuclear movement in a country largely unused to public protest.
Those who experienced the World War II bombing in Hiroshima and a similar attack on the port city of Nagasaki three days later said television images of the Fukushima crisis brought back terrible memories.” The TV reminded me of the dreadful scenes,” said a sobbing Misako Katani, 82, one of just a few living victims who survived both bombings.
No one has been officially recorded as having died as a result of the Fukushima disaster, but many who fled the area and those who remain, including workers decommissioning the crippled plant, worry about the long-term effects.
The earthquake sparked tsunami knocked out the reactors' cooling systems, causing meltdowns that spread radiation over a large area and forced thousands to evacuate.
Scientists have warned it could be decades before it is safe for some people to return to their homes.
“In my mind, Fukushima is like a third nuclear victim following Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Atom bomb survivor Toshiyuki Mimaki, 70, added: “We want to work together with people in Fukushima and join our voices in calling for no more nuclear victims.” However for some ageing victims, there are few parallels between 1945 and 2011.
“There is nothing to compare to what I experienced,” said Shigeji Yonekura, 79, who was at Hiroshima.
Despite his own experience, Yonekura is resigned to the possibility that resource-poor Japan may not be able to abandon atomic power altogether.” Nuclear power may be a necessary evil,” he said.
Miyako Jodai, a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, which killed 70,000 people, said the Fukushima accident and the way the crisis was managed had turned her against atomic energy. Several reports on the accident have heaped criticism on government and plant officials, with one parliamentary probe calling Fukushima a “man-made disaster.”