Lucky Dragon ?

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2011 by Charles Glassmire


July 26, 2011

 Lucky Dragon?

           Operation Castle, is to detonate what is to be the second test of a new Hydrogen Bomb weapon on 1 March 1954. This test, code named Bravo Shot, is predicted to be a smaller version of an earlier 1952 first test of a Hydrogen Bomb design. This earlier test had been designated Mike shot of Operation Ivy. Mike was measured at about 10 Megatons yield, equal to 750 Hiroshima Atom Bombs in size. Bravo is expected to be less than half of that yield, and so the exclusion zone for safety is set at about 20 miles surrounding Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific.

          Weather predictions on 28 February are downgraded to “unfavorable” to the test. Winds aloft at 20,000 feet are observed to be strong and moving towards Rongelap Atoll, a lightly populated area. Nevertheless, the decision is made to proceed. The Scientific Director of Operation Castle, Dr. Alvin C. Graves, has final authority over the military commander. Fallout predictions still indicate that the islanders will not receive a dangerous radiation dose. He makes the decision to continue the test. Joint Task Force 7 directs several observation ships to be relocated southward to accommodate the weather and avoid potential fallout.

          At 06:45 hours in the pre-dawn darkness of March 1, Bravo Shot is detonated. Quickly the size of the fireball and rising cloud of debris

Bravo Detonation - Operation Castle

exceed all expectations of size and nuclear yield. Within milliseconds, Bravo assumes a destructive energy of unknown ferocity to the test designers.  Within 10 minutes the cloud has topped 130,000 feet in height with a diameter of 62 miles.

          A few weeks earlier, in mid-February 1954, in the Japanese port of Yaizu, Shinzuoka, a tuna fishing boat prepares to set out to sea. Her name is Daigo Fukuryū Maru, (The Lucky Dragon No. 5), and her crew of 23 rapidly readies for her excursion into the seas of the South Pacific. In the ensuing weeks, she then sails to a position about 40 miles to the east of Bikini Atoll, and, at dawn of March 1st, her crew is working at their nets, positioned well to the east of the announced test exclusion zone around Bikini.  

          Suddenly, the western sky lights up with a flash intensity brighter than the sun. Her crew shields their eyes in wonder at this unearthly event; some place their hands before their eyes, and are amazed that, in the flash brightness, they can see the bones of their fingers inside their flesh. Some nine minutes later the shock front arrives, traveling with a velocity of hundreds of miles per hour. The boat is lifted and shaken to its core. Frantically the crew clings to whatever rigging is available until the storm finally passes on. Somehow all survive and the boat seems able to navigate.

          As they work, several hours later a white snow begins to drift from the sky. It is a fine white flaky dust (calcified choral) which tenaciously clings to everything; hair, arms, fingernails, the boat deck, nets, fish. Somewhat alarmed, the crew scoops it up with their bare hands and puts it into bags. The fallout continues for some three hours, as the crew recovers their nets and heads for home port, a journey which will take two weeks. The ash cannot be completely removed from the ship surfaces, and some remains for the length of the journey. The crew lives, breathes and eats with the white ash as a constant companion. One crew member puts some under his pillow and sleeps with it

          Within a few hours some of the crew begin to experience nausea and loss of appetite, followed soon by vomiting. (The Gastro- Intestinal reaction is an early symptom of the Acute Radiation Syndrome.) Some experience headaches, and eyes begin to itch. Their skin and hands slowly itch and redden as if burned, throats swell and gums bleed. Later, the crew will refer to the white material as shi no hai – the death ash.

          On March 14, Lucky Dragon arrives in port at Yaizu. Doctors are summoned and the crew is diagnosed with Acute Radiation Syndrome. They are rushed to two separate Tokyo hospitals. As weeks pass, some develop skin sores and experience temporary sterility. Reddened skin begins to turn dark from Beta burns, eyes and ears develop a runny discharge, some jaundice with swollen livers, red and white cell counts drop, as do platelets. Ship’s radioman Aikichi Kuboyama has an especially difficult time with breathing.

          The nine ton fish catch from Lucky Dragon is shipped to market and consumed. Later catches from the area are found to be radioactive, and it is noted that the fallout into ocean waters provides a method for tracking ocean currents. A movement of outrage arises among the Japanese as they cry out against a “second Hiroshima”.

          On September 23, 1954 radioman Aikichi Kuboyama dies of lung failure despite all efforts to save him. By this time, many of the crew are suffering from contracted Hepatitis due to transfusions of tainted blood. Scientists later calculate that crew doses ranged from 750 rem down to 200 rem. (A dose of 450 rem is sufficient to kill half of the exposed population.) However, some fourteen months later, all 22 members of Lucky Dragon are released from the hospitals. They face a future of increased likelihood of cancer.

          Aikichi Kuboyama writes in his will that he hopes to be the last victim of Atomic and Hydrogen bombs. He became the first and hopefully the only Japanese to die from Hydrogen Bomb effects.

          Castle Bravo shot is later measured at 15 megatons, the largest nuclear weapon ever exploded by the U.S. Later on, the Soviets will detonate a monster at 50 megatons, in a relentless cold-war battle of one-upmanship.

          But the story of Castle Bravo does not end here. While the Lucky Dragon is enduring fallout, the cloud of radioactive fission products is drifting further into the Pacific, towards a native population living on Rongelap Atoll, a more distant part of the Marshalls. We continue their story next…

 (to be continued …)



2 Responses to “Lucky Dragon ?”


    you need to read the book

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    Lucky Dragon ? | Tales from the Nuclear Age

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