Columbus, OH (TFC) – On August 6, 1945 at approximately 8:15 am the United States detonated a 15 kiloton fission bomb—code named Little Boy— 1,900 feet over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. At the moment of detonation one 26kg U235 uranium bullet was shot at a uranium target weighing 38kg at a velocity of 300 meters per second. The impact caused a chain reaction that created a massive explosion releasing gamma rays and neutrons (nuclear radiation), as well as ultraviolet, infra-red and light rays (thermal radiation) raising temperatures near the hypo-center to around 6,000 degrees Celsius (10,832 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat was comparable to the interior of the sun and vaporized everyone and everything near ground zero.
Tens of thousands perished instantly. Many others within the city were killed as a result from the shock wave and the after effects such as a raging firestorm with hurricane strength winds, radiation poisoning, contaminated water, severe burns and the lack of emergency personnel & supplies. Akiko Takakura, twenty years old at the time, and one of the few to survive within three hundred feet of the hypo-center of the explosion, described her experience and stated the following:
“…The whirlpool of fire that was covering the entire street approached us from Ote-machi. So, everyone just tried so hard to keep away from the fire. It was just like a living hell. After a while, it began to rain. The fire and the smoke made us so thirsty and there was nothing to drink, no water, and the smoke even disturbed our eyes. As it began to rain, people opened their mouths and turned their faces towards the sky and try to drink the rain, but it wasn’t easy to catch the rain drops in our mouths. It was a black rain with big drops…Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers. A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers.”
For those who survived the explosion, the nightmare would only get worse. Most of those who were exposed to the heat were severely burned. Meanwhile others suffered from radiation poisoning as a result of consuming radiated rain water and nuclear radiation within the blast zone. There are accounts—from that day and many that followed—describing peeling & blistering skin, flash blindness, cooked organs, diarrhea, vomiting, hair loss and individuals who had appeared to be uninjured dropping dead days and even weeks after the attack.
There are two types of nuclear radiation from which the victims suffered and died:
Initial radiation– Known as prompt radiation, consists of gamma rays and neutrons produced within a minute of the detonation. Beta particles (free electrons) and a small proportion of alpha particles (helium nuclei, i.e., two protons and two neutrons bound together) are also produced, but these particles have short ranges and typically will not reach the Earth’s surface if the weapon is detonated high enough above ground. Gamma rays and neutrons can produce harmful effects in living organisms, a hazard that persists over considerable distances because of their ability to penetrate most structures. Though their energy is only about 3 percent of the total released in a nuclear explosion, they can cause a considerable proportion of the casualties.
Residual radiation– Radiation emitted more than one minute after the detonation. If the fission explosion is an airburst, the residual radiation will come mainly from the weapon debris. If the explosion is on or near the surface, the soil, water, and other materials in the vicinity will be sucked upward by the rising cloud, causing early (local) and delayed (worldwide) fallout. Early fallout settles to the ground during the first 24 hours; it may contaminate large areas and be an immediate and extreme biological hazard. Delayed fallout, which arrives after the first day, consists of microscopic particles that are dispersed by prevailing winds and settle in low concentrations over possibly extensive portions of the Earth’s surface.
High levels of residual radiation produced after the detonation above Hiroshima remained on the ground within 2 km (1.24 mi) for about two weeks after. The effects of residual radiation include birth defects, many forms of cancer, and other physical effects such as blood disorders, Cataracts, Keloids, Leukemia, colorectal cancer and cancers of the stomach, breast and lungs.
Many people bore responsibility for the death and suffering of those affected by the dropping of the two bombs, but the order to use the bombs could only come from President Harry Truman, successor of Franklin D. Roosevelt who died on April 12, 1945. The truth is, no one really knows why Truman made the decision to unleash what Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson described as “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history.”
Many considered the dropping of both “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”—the 21 kiloton plutonium bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945—as an unnecessary act. In April of 1945 Japanese emperor Hirohito called for a swift end to the war. Two months later, after the fall of Okinawa, he sent his personal representative to Moscow to seek terms with the Allies that would not include an unconditional surrender.
During that same period the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented a program to President Truman which included the air bombardment and blockade of Japan, an assault on Kyushu and the invasion of the Japanese mainland. The Soviets entrance into the war with Japan was also believed to be a major factor in securing a surrender without opening Pandora’s box.