Radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

My wife, Farida, and I just returned to Las Vegas from an 11-day Japan Explorer Cruise on the Celebrity Millennium with some colleagues, claimed to be the largest cruise vessel in Asia, at 91,000 tons, 965 ft. long, 105 beam, and an occupancy of 2,138. There were more than 300 Filipinos working admirably onboard. We felt at home, and proud of our kababayans.

Besides going to Tokyo, Chiba, Yokohama, and other ports of interest in Japan; we toured Nagasaki, a city of 263,000 (among them 9,000 Japanese soldiers and 400 Allied POWs) when it was devastated by an atomic bomb dropped by American squadron commander and pilot of Bockscar, Major General Charles W. Sweeney, at 2:45 a.m. on August 9, 1945, killing about 80,000.  Three days earlier at 8:15 a.m., the American B-29 bomber “Enola Gay,” piloted by BG Paul W. Tibbets deployed the world’s first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, then Japan’s 7th largest city, with a population of about 420,000.  The bomb plummeted to 137,197 following the nuclear disaster.

The second bombing (Nagasaki) was the final warning that led to the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945, named V-J (Victory over Japan), which ended World War II and saved millions of lives on both sides.

As of 2015, the population of Hiroshima was 1.594 million and Nagasaki, 429,508. Both are thriving cities today — vibrant, booming with millions of tourists visiting from around the world.

Level of radiation mystery

The radioactive particles from the atomic bombs 72 years ago were supposed to render both cities uninhabitable for thousands — and millions — of years.

“Today, the background radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the same as the average amount of natural radiation present anywhere on Earth. It is not enough to affect human health,” according to scientific reports.

But why? What happened? Why are these two cities in Japan safe again, so soon?

Uranium-235 was used for the bomb over Hirsohima and Plutonium-239 over Nagasaki. The half-life of U-235 is 700 million years, the Pu-239, 24,000 years, if they had reach and exploded on the ground.

Information from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Museums provided the answer to the mystery.

Both bombs exploded high up in the air, 1,968 feet for Hiroshima and 1,800 feet for Nagsaaki. They never hit the ground. The 139 pounds of U-235 and the 12 pounds of Pu-239 were pulverized into particles and the plume dissipated by the wind over land and mostly to the sea. Data show there was only a slight increase of leukemia in Nagasaki region but there were no added incidence of cancers in and around Hiroshima. An amazing feat of luck.

I could not find information as to whether these two atomic bombs (Code-named “Little Boy” for Hiroshima and “Fat Man” for Nagasaki) were specifically designed to explode high up in the air to minimize ground contamination.

Those atom bombs are grenades compared to the present day nuclear bombs, which are more sophisticated, more powerful, and greater in their ability to obliterate even an entire nation.

Indeed, 38-year old Kim Jong Un should grow up and realize that he could get burned (and North Korea could disappear from this earth) when he continues to play with fire with bravado and recklessness.

Outbreaks on cruise ships

Thank God, our Japan Explorer cruise was a healthy and totally enjoyable experience. Sometimes, cruises could be marred by an outbreak of illnesses.

On May 9, 2016 CNN reported that, “More than 200 passengers on a British cruise ship have fallen ill with the gastrointestinal condition norovirus. The U.S. Center for Disease Control said 252 of 919 passengers — 27 percent — have gotten sick on the Balmoral, a ship operated by Fred Olsen Cruises and most recently docked in Maine. Eight of 520 crew members have come down with norovirus.”  New reports on May 4, 2017 said cruise ships norovirus outbreaks at a 15-year low in 2017, the lowest since 1994. Nearly 25 million are expected to take a cruise this year. There were outbreaks in 19 cruise ships in 2004, only two as of May this year, like in 2001.

The cruise industry is mandated by law to report to the CDC any outbreak that exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers/crews on onboard. In the case of the Celebrity Millennium we just cruised on, that would mean an outbreak involving at least 43 persons. U.S.-bound ships from foreign ports are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal disease cases, including zero, evaluated by the medical staff 24 hours prior to arrival at U.S. ports.

Norovirus is a common cause of acute gastroenteritis, popularly called the stomach bug or stomach flu, which causes about 20 million illnesses a year in the United States, most often in crowded environments like dormitories, restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, nursing homes, and day care centers. The common cold is higher in incidence than norovirus, but it is more infamous because of the mandatory strict reporting legal requirement.

When exposed to norovirus, it takes about one to three days for symptoms to appear, and it usually lasts for 24 to 48 hours. Victims may be contagious for about two weeks after recovery.

Hygiene is the key

Since the introduction on all cruises of hand sanitizer (70 percent ethyl alcohol which kills 99.9 percent of germs within 15 seconds), the outbreaks of norovirus and other contagious illnesses on cruises have dramatically gone down. As always, the onus is on all crewmembers and guests on board. One single infected person’s virus is enough spread and contaminate the entire ship and cause an epidemic on a cruise or a hospital, household, dormitory, nursing home, restaurant, day care center, etc.

The good old-fashioned handwashing, with or without soap, works wonders anywhere we are, even at home.

Norovirus and common cold viruses could contaminate food, tables, chairs, plates, cups, glasses, utensils, hand rails, door knobs, elevator buttons, dialpads, counters, tables, etc. Those surfaces are “naturally” teeming with microorganisms. This is the reason why frequent handwashing and not touching the face (and those surfaces) are essential habits that significantly lower the risk of acquiring these infections.

While the viruses we commonly encounter cause illnesses and misery, using hand sanitizers after touching handrails and doorknobs, etc., in public areas, and washing hands frequently will greatly protect us. Always be aware that germs, invisible to the naked eyes, are on our skin, especially in our hands, and are swarming, ever-present, all around us. All we have to do is to wash them away, often.


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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