The private notes of the head of a U.S. cultural center in Hiroshima revealed that Washington targeted the city’s residents with pro-nuclear propaganda in the mid-1950s after deciding a swing in their opinions was vital to promoting the use of civil nuclear power in Japan and across the world.
The organizers of a U.S.-backed exhibition that toured 11 major Japanese cities from November 1955 to September 1957 initially considered opening the first exhibition in Hiroshima.
According to the private papers of Abol Fazl Fotouhi, former president of the American Cultural Center in Hiroshima, the idea of choosing the city was proposed at a meeting of officials of the U.S. Information Service in December 1954.
The proposal was dropped because officials were worried that it would link nuclear energy too closely with nuclear bombs. Tokyo was chosen to open the tour and three other cities were visited before the exhibition opened at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which commemorates the 1945 bombing, on May 27, 1956.
However, the city remained at the heart of Washington’s drive to directly intervene in the Japanese debate on nuclear energy at a critical time in the relationship between the two nations and the Cold War.
Anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan had been aggravated by the contamination of the crew of the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru by fallout from the Bikini Atoll nuclear test early in 1954.
The previous year, successful hydrogen bomb tests by the Soviet Union had prompted the United States to shift its policy from keeping close control of nuclear technology to bolstering relations with friendly countries by sharing its expertise. The campaign in Japan was just one part of an international effort to promote nuclear energy’s peaceful use.
Yuka Tsuchiya, a professor of Ehime University and an expert on U.S. public diplomacy, said the U.S. government decided acceptance by Hiroshima residents of peaceful nuclear use would have a major impact on Japanese and world public opinion.
A note, sent by a U.S. Embassy official to Washington in June 1955, said Hiroshima was “the most challenging area of Japan for promoting peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
Fotouhi, who was in charge of organizing the Hiroshima event, launched an intensive campaign to win over locals.
His daughter, who came to Japan with him in 1952 and went to a local elementary school in Hiroshima, said her father invited nearly 100 people to his house to explain its aims. He gathered the support of the city government, the prefectural government, Hiroshima University and local newspapers and managed to stop protests by convincing activists of the event’s importance to the peaceful use of nuclear power.
The exhibition attracted long lines. A remotely operated machine for handling hazardous materials, called Magic Hand, was among the most popular attractions. One 74-year-old woman who had been a victim of the 1945 bombing asked one of the exhibition staff if the machine posed any harm to human health. The staff member said nuclear power could be of great value to human life if used for the public good, according to the woman.
On June 18, 1956, the day after the Hiroshima event closed, the U.S. Embassy in Japan reported to Washington that 120,000 visitors had attended over its three-week run.
A senior official of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission said in another report that the event had swayed the Japanese public’s views of nuclear energy. No other country was as supportive of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s promotion of the peaceful use of nuclear power as Japan, the official said.
In total, 2.7 million people visited the exhibitions in the 11 major cities. A scaled-down version of the exhibition later toured rural areas of Japan.
Japan’s first nuclear reactor, imported from the United States, began operating in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in August 1957, the month before the end of the exhibition tour.