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Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Radiations of Nuclear Weapons Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 28th, 2022


Japan experienced severe effects from the atomic bomb (A-bomb) which was dropped by the United States in August 1945 on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities. Plutonium-type was the kind of bomb which exploded in Hiroshima and contained platinum core bounded by high explosives designed to explode at the same time produced a 22 kilotons explosion. The type of bomb which was dropped in Nagasaki was uranium-type and consisted of 140 pounds of uranium and discharged energy of 12.5 kilotons (Kyōko and Selden 34). These types of radiation are expected by many studies to remain in the environment for even more than 800,000 years and this will affect the generation to come. There was recorded raise of temperature during the explosion which was estimated to be millions degrees centigrade. The fireball that was created a few seconds after the incidence was recorded to be 300,000 degrees centigrade and was very dangerous to the environment and humans.

The first experienced effects of the explosion were blinding lights, followed by a massive wave of heat. Dry flammable objects were burned and all the people who were half a mile from the bombsites died instantaneously. Majority of the buildings were destroyed; even some of the buildings in Nagasaki which were designed to severe earthquakes also collapsed. Some of the water lines were destroyed and it was nearly impossible to stop the fires due to water scarcity. One and half months after the explosion, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still experiencing water shortage. In Nagasaki, a small fire together with wind produced a firestorm, causing deaths to the people who survived but were still immobile due to several reasons (Holdstock and Barnaby 4). Some weeks after the bomb explosions, diseases related to the explosions were then noticed and many more deaths were expected within 5 years.

Explosion of the atomic bombs came with severe effects due to some various factors and elements which are caused by the explosion. There were creation of ionization and this Ionizing radiation can be divided into two: photons and particles. Photons consist of x-rays and gamma, while particles consist of neutrons, beta and alpha. These ionizing radiations have great effects on human body where they create compounds which slow down the functions of cell division and metabolism. The extent of effects experienced during the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb attacks relied on the chemical form, length, energy, strength, and kind of radiation. Neutrons exposure originates from different sources just like the one which causes x-rays or gamma radiation exposure. Gamma rays frequently go together with the discharge of beta or alpha particles from a nucleus. Nevertheless, exposure to neutrons from the incidence of A-bomb in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is currently thought to have been the sources of just 1-2% of the entire dose of ionizing radiation. It is easier for gamma rays to pass through human body or observed by human organism, hence, forming a radiation risk for the whole human body (Hunter 34). The A-bomb explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki generated high radiations which were reported immediately after the incidence and up to date.

Almost half of those who survived the radiation exposure live on, together with 90 percent of those who were still below 10 years of age at the time of bomb incidence and who are currently going into their cancer prone years. Actually, 75 percent of the cancers caused by A-bomb emission are expected to emerge in around 2025 (Hunter 34). There were immediate deaths of about 100,000 people which reported in Hiroshima and about 200,000 in the long run. While in Nagasaki, around 50,000 people died immediately and between 80,000 and 140,000 people died finally.

the chart indicates the estimated exposure of radiation
Figure 1: the chart indicates the estimated exposure of radiation (in Sieverts, Sv) regarding an individual’s distance from the bomb scene and offers a comparison with other exposures from radiation (Peterson and Abrahamson 15).

Literature Review

Hiroshima and Nagasaki radioactivity after the bombings

Dose from remaining radioactivity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are currently far lower than the standard annual dose for radiations happening naturally, 0.001–0.003 Sv. Radioactivity reduced by more than 90% after a week of the bombing incidences and this was below the normal annual dose after 12 months (Peterson and Abrahamson 15). Even if the use of current weapons and particular kind of accidents might be a significant radiation cause, these were just like what happen in Japan bombings. Fallout from current bombs can mainly caused by contact with the soil or direct discharges of radiation from the bombs. The kind of bombs which were used in Japan was apparently lower than today’s standards with discharge of around 600 meters from the Earth surface. The only considerable radiation contact from the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in the type of direct neutrons and gamma rays and this was almost instant contact. The neutron elements, which have superior biological impact than gamma rays, were minimal and below 1% (Peterson and Abrahamson 15).

In the year 1950 census in Japan, just around 280,000 individuals reported their frequent exposure to atomic radiation. RERF’s study of population perhaps comprises around 50% of the people who were exposed in around 3,000 meters from the bombing sites. These percentages are not accurate since the survey did not record place of exposure in accordance with the bomb hypocenters (Peterson and Abrahamson 15). A study was done again from the areas which were above 2,500 meters from the bombsites and it was reported that there were minimal exposures. In the year 2000, around 50% were still alive, but above 90% of the people who were exposed when they were 10 years of age were still alive. Projections proposed that by 2025 these ratios will be around 25% and 70% respectively (Peterson and Abrahamson 15).

Early Radiation Effects

If exposed to higher dose content, the primary impacts of the exposure will be killing of tissues and cells in the body. The major symptoms and signs of these great exposures is diarrhea as a result of damaged intestines, decreased blood cells and blood loss due to damage to bone marrow, loss of hair because of damage of hair-roots cells, and impermanent male infertility.

From the reports done soon after the bombing incidence, it is approximated that the distance from the scene where 50% were survivors and 1,000 to 1,300 meters in Hiroshima were also 1,000 to 1,400 meters in Nagasaki. After means of approximation was enhanced, the studies afterwards reported that bone marrow dose upon which 50% of survivors (LD50) were around 3.5 to 4.5 Sv (Bodansky 67). The people who were nearer to the bombing sites had more exposure together with serious effects of heat and detonation, and there is no data on categorization of instant deaths.

The immune organism is as well susceptible to radiation instantaneously following exposure. For those who were exposed to higher quantity of A-bomb radiation, both essential sections of the immune organism (bone marrow and lymphocytes stem cells) were greatly affected and they were damaged. Around 8 weeks after, they were exposed, marrow stem cells improved because there was no more infection. Researches in latest years have reported some long-term effects on the immune organism, although to a great extent lesser than aforementioned (Bodansky 67).

X-Rays, Beta and Gamma Radiation

The atomic bombs which were experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 lead to many people being exposed to dangerous gamma rays. There are accessible estimates of 86,570 survivors of the atomic bomb explosion in Japan who were examined as a section of the Life Span Study (Holdstock and Barnaby 4). There were researches carried out by the Effects Research Foundation examining the continuing effects of contact at the time of the bombing. Quantity of neutron and gamma radiations the colon were approximated for the 86,570 survivors, with the quantity estimates based on protection of the organs by the human body, direction, and location during the bombing incidences (Beringer 480). The total dose to the colon was approximated at 24,500 person-Sv and the maximum dose to the colon was approximated to be greater than 2,000mSv.

Beta burns were greatly seen in the Japan explosion incidence but they were low ionizing radiation which was generated from fallout particles. The biggest particles from the fallout were probably to have high activities since they were dropped almost immediately after the explosion and it is probably that the moment they were in contact to the body or the skin they may have caused localized burns.

Gamma burns were also produced from the explosion and they are able to penetrate deeply into the body leading to equal irradiation in the body instead of just a skin burn. In the situation of entire body, gamma irradiation which resulted from the skin injuries was observed within the periods of explosion exposure to the time of death. This incidence of gamma exposure was one of the causes which led to the increase in number of deaths after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions.

Link to Leukemia

Excess leukemia was one of the first effects which were noticed after some months in some people who were exposed to radiation during the bomb incidences in both cities. This was indicated through the research which was done by some Japanese medical doctors in the end of 1940s. Registration of leukemia and other associated disorders were set up to detect cases. Since leukemia is an uncommon illness, the total sum of leukemia cases from those who survived is rather minimal, although the percentage increase in risk is huge. Leukemia makes up merely around 3 percent of all deaths resulting from cancer, even though it currently makes up around 20% of every excess Life Span Study of deaths resulting from cancer (Lambers 75). Since 1990, there were 175 deaths due to leukemia in 51,115 Life Span Study of people who survived with bone marrow dose of no less than 0.005 Sv. There were 86 deaths in the group which was further than estimated deaths from leukemia; this indicates that 49% of the deaths were caused by radiations (Lambers 75).

Link to Solid Cancers

By around1956, studies carried out established a raise in rates for solid cancers (those excluding leukemia). This increase evidently showed the significant late effects of contact to emission observed in survivors of atomic bomb. Since 1990, 4,560 solid cancer deaths existed in the 51,115 LSS survivors with doses of bone marrow, 0.005 Sv or more, which there were more than 340 solid cancer deaths than what were estimated in the same people who were not exposed, around 8 percent attributable to radiations (Lambers 75). Major excess risks are observed for the majority of main kinds of cancer, comprising cancers of skin, ovary, lungs, liver, and other kinds of cancers. Studies have experience some challenges in providing accurate number of people who have cancer which are related to the radiations since cancer is one of the common disease which affect most people especially the older people.

For the majority of solid cancers, severe contact to radiation in every age raises somebody’s cancer risk throughout his or her life. Since the people who were exposed are currently old, excess rates have raised in reference to backdrop rates, even though rather less fast. In the standard radiation dose of victims in 2,500 meters, which is around 0.2Sv, there is approximation of a 10 percent raise over standard age-precise rates (Lambers 75).

Solid cancers which were associated with A-bomb showed the characteristics listed below:

  • As the dose increases, the possibility of solid cancer also increases.
  • There was greater increase in possibility of solid cancer for those children who were exposed at least in the beginning section of the follow-up (Holdstock and Barnaby 5).
  • There was no reduction in the increase possibility of solid cancers, however remained all through generation. There is a noticeable radiation impact when those exposed are at the age in which there is greater chance of obtaining cancer (Lambers 75).
the epidemiological differences of radiation-related cancer
Figure 2: the epidemiological differences of radiation-related cancer, leukemia and non-cancer illnesses are shown in this graph indicating approximated previous and future radiation-related mortality annually

Non-Cancer Effects of Radiation

Medical examiners carrying out the Adult Health Study, the division of the LSS group which obtains biennial clinical assessments, have evaluated the association between radiation exposure and some of chosen non-cancer disorders. A number of effects due to radiations have been established in the Life Span Study population. In this population, there were numerically major excess risks for non-malignant thyroid, respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular diseases. Even though means for these effects are not currently unstated, efficient epidemiological examination has reported that these seem to be definite effects of radiation (Cram 54).

Researches which were done to examine radiation effects also concluded that there were observed retardation in pattern of growth for those exposed to the emissions from the bombs in their early years. Early analyses of potential accelerated aging have mainly been displaced by assessment of more precise non-cancer diseases, even though there are still several concerns in generalized aging. Of all the illnesses which are related to aging, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, senile cataract, and arteriosclerosis, the most evidently observed increased risk with emission contact is for arteriosclerosis.

The significant epidemiological distinctions among diseases which as a result of radiation like solid cancer, non-cancer, and leukemia are demonstrated in Figure 2.

Effects of Fetal Exposure

Radiation exposure greatly affects the fetal brains, at least at rather high doses. RERF’s assessment of the effects of radiations in utero study population (around 3,000 people) has indicated a relationship between exposure due to emission and both microcephaly (smaller head size) and mental retardation. Just about 1,200 expectant women are considered to have experienced radiation emissions within 2km from the scenes of bomb explosion, getting a dose of above 0.005 Sv (Hunter 32). Approximately 155 of them obtained doses more than 0.5 Sv. The rate of extreme mental retardation was depending on the survivors’ extent of exposure before they were born at either 2-4 or 5-6 months in the pregnancy period, with effects particularly noticeable in the previous group. School performance and IQ scores was greatly affected by the radiation dose where there were noticeable decrease, this was seen in the utero group after exclusion of brutally mentally retarded kids.

Unhealed scars and Keloids

The people who experienced thermal burns within 1000 to 2000 meters from the bombsites experienced severe flames and direct burns as well as moderate flash burns, which brought about permanent or temporary scar formation. Most of the thermal injuries in the range of 2000 to 3000 meters from the bombsites were flash burns which placed simple scars initially (Bodansky 145). But the flash burns eventually grew by thickening to turn into keloids after 12 to 16 weeks. Therefore, it is considered to be as a result of primary thermal burns. Most of the people who experience this burns had to undergo surgery so as to remove the scars, although, the possibility of the scars to reappear was very high. These scars are still evident in some victims which are still alive.

Chromosome changes

The number of chromosomes in the human body is a constant 46. Chromosome abnormalities were initially observed in the victims of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The studies which were done later showed a high rate of abnormalities in lymphocytes and blood cells in fetuses which experienced huge quantity of radiation within the pregnancy period or immediately after birth. Though chromosome abnormalities raised with superior radiation doses, rate of abnormalities was constantly high at every dose ranges. Even in 1985, chromosome abnormalities in human body cells continued among people who were exposed (Lambers 13).

Environmental Effects

The bombing incidences of August 6 and 9 are considered to have brought about environmental effects, short-tem and long-term effects. The explosion resulted in air pollution from dust elements and radioactive fragments which occupied the air and from the smokes caused by burning structures. Most of the plants and animals died in the explosion or were killed some days after the explosions due to continuous radiations. Radioactive sand blocked boreholes used as sources of drinking water, therefore, leading to water problem which was hard to be solved. There was contamination of surface water, especially through radioactive waste. Farming was also affected where agriculture products were severely destroyed; damaged stalks of rice could be seen from around six miles from the bombsites. In Hiroshima, the effect of bomb were evident within a six miles radius around the town and a one mile radius in Nagasaki (Poolos 76).

Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima are located near the oceans and the A-bomb radiations contaminated the water and, hence, killing animals and reduced their populations. These animals moved to other parts of the oceans and to the nearby countries and, later, causing them to breed with unaffected animals resulting in odd cross-breeds which do not have predators and consumed everything, hence, dominating the area. Some of the radioactive particles are left in the soil for many years as they gradually decompose, hence, created soil contamination which makes it hard for crops to grow. These negatively affected the economy of Japan. When there is explosion of atomic bombs in the air, the nearby air is exposed to immense heat, accompanied by comparatively rapid cooling. This setting is ideal for generating nitric oxides, which later enter into ozone layer and decreases the ozone layer’s concentration that are needed for protection from direct rays from the atmosphere, may remain there for a longer time, mostly years. It may spread all over the globe, hence, could harm the tropical forests or the United States, or England. This is actually hazardous since it is awful enough for Japan and it can extend all over if immediate interventions are not done. ‘Nuclear winter’ also occurred due to the explosion, signifying that the atomic detonation brought about adequate fires to produce huge, black clouds in the atmosphere and caused black out for extensive period of time. All of these severe environmental changes affected the economy and the people’s lives since the time of explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Clancey 32).

Induced radioactivity

When there is explosion of atomic bomb, the effects on the immediate environment are destructive. The atomic bomb incidences in Japan presented insight into the immediate and long-term effects of emission and thermonuclear explosion on the surroundings. These explosions created some large areas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki uninhabitable due to the continuous ionizing radiation.

Water, soil, and other immediate materials were irradiated in the bombsites. Neutrons absorption by every sort of materials generated new isotopes which later discharged ionizing radiation. Finally, a range of unusual radioactive components were observed in soil, tarmac, and concrete near the bombsites in both cities. Animals and plants were also affected by radiation.

During the A-bomb explosion, platinum in the gadget goes through fission, discharging massive sum of energy. The first explosion generated a blinding flash, then accompanied by excessive heat. Temperature was 300,000 degrees centigrade and this increase in temperature caused massive deaths in the area. An enormously strong, devastating wind is also resulted from the first explosion. In Hiroshima, only a single bomb, 15 kiloton, was dropped in the middle of the city and everything which was inside 1mile radius was entirely damaged (Holdstock and Barnaby 49). The effect of A-bomb on the immediate surroundings is one of the greatest destruction.

Water and Forest Contamination

Radioactive particles may have moved from the bombsites to the other parts and polluted water bodies and this killed animals living in water such as fish. Animals in some parts which were affected by radiations still contain some levels of cesium and studies are claiming that the number may stay the same for a longer time (Lambers 65). The fallout from the explosion of very strong atomic bombs in both cities led to contamination of plants which are in the nearby regions and forests. Some of the hereditary diseases and mutations will exist for along time in humans and animals that were exposed to the radiations. Radiations often affect the plants seeds which may make them infertile or making them unable to reproduce, these have been observed in some parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Due to the location of both cities, radiations produced may have caused severe effects to the reproduction cycle of marine life, for instance the periods of plants flowering which can lead to change in pollination sequence.

Despite the evident and noticeable effects of the atomic bombs which were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of the researchers have been against the conclusion that all health and environmental effects in Japan were only caused by atomic bombs. Some have claimed that earthquakes and floods which often occur in Japan are other major factors which caused these effects. In 1923, there were historical earthquake which was recorded in Japan that induced several environmental and health concerns and issues. Most of the studies are concerned about unsafe radiations which are released by industries for a long time, since Japan is one of the leading manufactures and producers of cars, and other materials (Clancey 56). The tsunami, produced after the strong earthquake, was also responsible for evident deaths of birds and some studies claimed that the same effects may have occurred to humans. Clancey (56) stated that just about 2,000 Layson albatross were covered or drowned by the onslaught of fragments carried by the tsunami.

There was severe earthquake and successive firestorms demolition in the Tokyo, Yokohama region, which destroyed about 700,000 houses. Some people argued that these example of many earthquakes which occur in Japan may have led to some of the detected environmental and health effects. Floods which commonly occur near the oceans and some parts of Japan may contribute to flood-related diseases (Clancey 56). Floods and earthquakes which are common in Japan have contributed to destruction of buildings in addition to deaths. Floods contributed a lot to the pollution of surface waters and also air pollution and explosions which were occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may not be the only causes of the environmental and heath issues which most of the studies support. Some researchers claimed that various studies have overextimated the effects hence influencing their findings (Clancey 56).


Exposure to ionizing radiation brought about two wide classifications of effects, stochastic and deterministic. Deterministic effects comprise losing of blood, skin burning and cataracts and possess a specific threshold dose where the harshness of the effect raises with the rising dose. Stochastic effects comprise genetic and cancer effects and often occur randomly and do not have specific threshold dose. Whereas the likelihood of a stochastic effect rises with dose, there will be no change of harshness of the effect in a person.

It appears almost certain from different assessments that the highest recorded number of deaths were those which took place instantly after the atomic bombs explosions. The causes of deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may only be deduced and certainly several people who were closer to the bombsites experienced severe injuries from two or more effects of the bomb explosion. The effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb attacks can be classified into three main types, burns, mechanical injuries and gamma radiation.

Works Cited

Beringer, Paul. Remington: the science and practice of pharmacy. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005. Print.

Bodansky, David. Nuclear energy: principles, practices, and prospects. New York, NY: Springer, 2004. Print.

Clancey, Gregory. Earthquake nation: the cultural politics of Japanese seismicity, 1868-1930. California: University of California Press, 2006. Print.

Cram, Willies. “Health Effects of Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation.” Commission on Life Sciences (CLS) (1990): 6:65-134. Print.

Holdstock, Douglas and Frank Barnaby. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: retrospect and prospect. New York: Routledg, 1995. Print.

Hunter, david. A Bombing Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Print.

Kyōko, Selden and Mark Selden. The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 1989. Print.

Lambers, William. Nuclear Weapons. New York: Springer, 2006. Print.

Peterson, Leif and Seymour Abrahamson. Effects of ionizing radiation. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 1998. Print.

Poolos, J. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.

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