What is The Hiroshima Syndrome?

What is “The Hiroshima Syndrome”?

The Hiroshima Syndrome is psychological distress which may lead to a mortal fear of nuclear energy. It is based on  fundamental beliefs resulting from one or more of three levels of confusion relative to reactors and bombs...

(1)   Uranium is an explosive, thus a worst-case nuclear reactor accident could conceivably result in a nuclear detonation,

(2)   Nuclear power plant atmospheric releases are the same as bomb fallout,

(3)   There is no safe level of radiation exposure.

All three trace their historical roots to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first two come directly from the bombing itself, and the third from an assumption used to set regulatory standards which were based on an extrapolation made in the 1930s, and Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor data compiled over the decade after WWII. Any and/or all of the three beliefs became widely held in populations around the world, largely due to cold war secrecy. Over the three-plus decades following WWII, the beliefs became paradigm…a foundation of understanding held without question or doubt…in the minds of many. The perceived threat of nuclear energy to human health, based on these paradigms, is routinely presented in apocalyptic terms spawned by nuclear weapon's detonations.

It should be noted that a major factor in the eruption of the Hiroshima Syndrome was the decision to focus entirely on radiation damage  as the criterion for Hiroshima/Nagasaki medical support since it only occurred with the atomic bomb survivors. Subsequently, every successful legal trial aimed at obtaining relief for survivors used health damage caused by radiation as the main justification. In the process, damage due to radiation became universally misunderstood to be the entire damage caused by atomic bombs. This misunderstanding is unquestionably the most profound reason behind the excessive fear of radiation, beginning in Japan and subsequently spreading around the world. (1)

The above are three realms of misconception which were uncorrected for nearly 35 years after Hiroshima in 1945. The first two misconceptions literally erupted into full-blown paranoia with the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, generating fears of a nuclear detonation combined with mental images of the fallout victims of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. TMI also brought the no-safe-radiation exposure concept to the public mind for the first time. Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, have cemented the “unsafe at any dose” misconception firmly into the minds of a large number of people in the world, resulting in “radiophobia” (mortal fear of radiation) infecting millions, if not billions. These three misconceptions have produced a psychological disorder impairing rational judgment, which in its most extreme condition becomes a mortal fear. It generates psychic fear so stark that it consumes the mind. “The Hiroshima Syndrome”  can be thus understood as a mortal fear of nuclear energy. 

Perhaps the single-most misunderstood aspect of the contributions to the Hiroshima Syndrome is radiation. Because of this, our story will start before the beginning of the universe itself...

1. Shigenobu Nagataki; Thoughts on relief for atomic bomb survivors since Obama's visit to Hiroshima; The Lancet; September 25, 2016. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)31728-7/fulltext?elsca1=etoc