As the price of gasoline soared and the national elections neared, political candidates of all hues were touting nuclear energy as the panacea. Little did I know or understand about nuclear energy, until I began taking a class on environmental science. A surge of energy is released every time the nucleus of an atom splits in to two. By harnessing that energy, the nation can light its homes, run its factories and even transport people and goods on its electrified railway tracks. What is there not to like? There was a passing mention of the Chernobyl nuclear accident that sent a cloud of radioactive waste from Ukraine to Western Europe in 1986. I had traveled to Europe in early 2000 and had not seen anything to raise an alarm, so I took it as if nuclear radiation is like car emission that dissipates leaving no trace. That was until this summer when I visited Nagasaki. I knew that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed with atomic weapons during WWII but not much else.
When I first disembarked in Nagasaki from the Kyushu Railway Company Train, I was astonished by the splendor of the conurbation that reinforced my earlier notions about radiation. My mother and I walked to the tourist center and asked the woman at the front desk about sights to visit in Nagasaki. The lady with her hair neatly pinned smiled and handed us a map, circling the main tourist attractions with a pen. We bought visitors travel passes and headed off to see Nagasaki.
Our first stop was the Atomic Bomb Museum. As I perused samples of destroyed artifacts and passed by the pictures in the museum, I found myself horrified by the catastrophe which occurred only 65 years ago. When I read the events preceding the bombing, I experienced mixed emotions. I understood the military argument but cringed to learn that President Roosevelt had suppressed information about the effects of nuclear bombing from the public and ignored plea from the scientists who had helped design the bomb against using it in large population centers. The allied forces avoided bombing Hiroshima with conventional bombs so that they could study the impact of nuclear bomb. This made it look more like a scientific experiment and minimized the argument for military necessity. The imagery was horrific and the videos I watched made me sob. What struck me the most was how newborns and old are suffering today from what happened 65 years ago. When I read the testimonies, I was completely heartbroken and my view on nuclear radiation was altered forever. When we read a textbook, death is merely a number but this experience showed the fragility of human life close personal.
Later, I visited the Ukrami Cathedral, Sojukuji Temple, Oaru Cathedral and Kofukuji Temple. While most buildings have been restored, some aspects were deliberately left the same to remind the humanity about what must never happen again.
When I first landed at Nagasaki station, I expected to be a photo clicking tourist. As I departed Nagasaki, I had a heavy heart and a lump in my throat. The images are permanently engraved in my mind and my view on nuclear energy is altered forever.
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