Why Hiroshima, Despite Being Hit with the Atomic Bomb, Isn’t a Nuclear Wasteland Today

Jan Mor­ris vis­it­ed Hiroshi­ma in 1959, four­teen years after its dev­as­ta­tion by the Unit­ed States’ atom­ic bomb. “The city has long been rebuilt, and a new pop­u­la­tion has flood­ed in to replace the vic­tims of the holo­caust,” she wrote, “but for all the bright new build­ings and the broad boule­vards, no Pom­peii is more sure­ly frozen in its atti­tude of dis­as­ter, and no Mont Pelée more per­ma­nent­ly scarred.” Despite the robust urban form and activ­i­ty around her, she felt “for all the world as though the tall new build­ings are not there at all, and the islands of the Ota delta are still black­ened and smok­ing. Assured indeed must be the vis­i­tor who has not, just for a fleet­ing fool­ish moment, won­dered if the stones of Hiroshi­ma were still radioac­tive, or eyed the run­ning water thought­ful­ly.”

Today, the very name of Hiroshi­ma still evokes one thing and one thing only, at least to most for­eign­ers. But if those for­eign­ers actu­al­ly make the trip to that once-destroyed city, it will prob­a­bly strike them as even more incon­gru­ous­ly alive than it did Mor­ris those six decades ago.

Some would imag­ine that, giv­en that the drop­ping of the bomb known as “Lit­tle Boy” remains just with­in liv­ing mem­o­ry — its 78th anniver­sary passed just last Sun­day — Hiroshi­ma would be an aban­doned nuclear waste­land. Here to explain why it flour­ish­es instead is Youtu­ber Kyle Hill, whose new video above explains the dif­fer­ence between the long-term effects of nuclear dev­as­ta­tion on Hiroshi­ma and those on a place like the region of the Cher­nobyl nuclear pow­er plant.

“For all the destruc­tion it caused, the Lit­tle Boy bomb was ter­ri­bly inef­fi­cient,” Hill says. “Of the bom­b’s 64 kilo­grams of ura­ni­um, less than one kilo­gram under­went fis­sion. This means that “every joule of ener­gy that dev­as­tat­ed Hiroshi­ma, a fire­ball so hot it etched ‘neg­a­tives’ of peo­ple into con­crete, a blast wave so intense, it shat­tered win­dows 200 kilo­me­ters away, came from less than a gram of mat­ter con­vert­ed direct­ly into ener­gy.” To the much more pow­er­ful nuclear weapons devel­oped since there can be no com­par­i­son, even con­sid­er­ing that Lit­tle Boy (like “Fat Man,” which hit Nagasa­ki) was det­o­nat­ed high in the air, not on the ground, thus caus­ing rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle last­ing con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. As a result, there’s no need to feel radi­a­tion-relat­ed hes­i­ta­tion about vis­it­ing Hiroshi­ma. If you go, by all means vis­it the Hiroshi­ma Peace Memo­r­i­al Muse­um, but don’t for­get to enjoy an okonomiya­ki or two as well.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

The Sto­ry of Akiko Takaku­ra, One of the Last Sur­vivors of the Hiroshi­ma Bomb­ing, Told in a Short Ani­mat­ed Doc­u­men­tary

This 392-Year-Old Bon­sai Tree Sur­vived the Hiroshi­ma Atom­ic Blast & Still Flour­ish­es Today: The Pow­er of Resilience

The “Shad­ow” of a Hiroshi­ma Vic­tim, Etched into Stone, Is All That Remains After 1945 Atom­ic Blast

A Look Into the Won­drous Life & Expan­sive Work of the Late Jan Mor­ris, Who Wrote the Entire World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • Mark Atteberry says:

    I haven’t stop the arti­cle because the first sen­tence. If the USA com­mit­ted a haulo­cast in Japan to stop them from the kill 50K ser­vice­men to con­vince the fool­ish Emper­or to sur­ren­der, then by all means call it what ever you want to call it. Such an asi­nine word chose!

  • Frank Frivolous says:

    What a curi­ous dis­clo­sure. The Atom bomb does not leave long last­ing con­t­a­m­i­na­tion as com­mer­cial nuclear acci­dents do. Per­haps the prospect of nuclear war isn’t so bad after all, if we under­stand the nar­ra­tive we are being pro­vid­ed. Hav­ing a Holo­caust of civil­ians by incen­di­aries prob­a­bly was­n’t enough to get Japan­ese and Ger­man author­i­ties to sur­ren­der.

  • AJ Padilla says:

    As a war fight­er of the Mid­dle East, I and I know many of my fel­low broth­ers feel the same way, I’d rather face a tooth n nail fight because that’s what we do than to drop dev­as­ta­tion on non fight­ers, chil­dren, etc. But, I’d rather look at my ene­my in the eye…o ly way to find hon­or in war. But, I’m not afraid to die…thats always a pos­si­bil­i­ty.

  • Steven H says:

    I served dur­ing Viet­nam. I love my coun­try. Too many Humans speak of war light­ly. It’s pure hell! Take a hard look at Ukraine. It’s in sham­bles, war atroc­i­ties have and are occur­ring. That’s war!! No-one plays fair. But to use nuclear weapons is insane. Good­bye human­i­ty. Oh Father God, pro­tect us from our­selves. We are a stu­pid race!

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