LETTER : Fifty years on and still in denial about the bomb

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The Independent Online
BRIAN CATHCART reports the letter from Rudolph Peierls and Otto Frisch in which they advised the British government that the "super- bomb" "would spread deadly radioactivity over a large area, a characteristic that would reduce its usefulness as a battlefield weapon" ("One man and his bomb", Review, 9 July).

But, as I document in Hotspots: the Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to be published next month, this was not the view of the American scientific and military command responsible for the bombings. To them, these two bombs were "air bursts" which would disperse their radioactivity into the atmosphere and leave little residual radiation or fall-out on the ground. Norman Ramsay, chief scientist at Tinian Airbase when the Enola Gay took off to bomb Hiroshima, has said: "The people who made the decision to drop the bomb thought that all casualties would be standard explosion casualties." The first reports that there was mass radia- tion sickness in the cities, a fortnight after the detonations, were dismissed in Washington as a hoax.

The bombs were detonated at the height of the Empire State building, yet as recently as 1993 the American director of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima wrote: "As is expected for such heights, the fireball did not touch the ground or deposit material directly on the city." Myths such as this - that it is possible to detonate a 12 or 20 kiloton device over a densely populated city at the height of a building without irradiating the citizens or occupation soldiers - have been the basis for denial of compensation for radiation-induced injuries ever since. On the 50th anniversary of the first atomic explosion (16 July 1945), surely it is time to redress these injustices.

Sue Rabbitt Roff

Centre for Medical Education,

University of Dundee