The Ashes of Death

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The awesome effects of the March 1 thermonuclear explosion (TIME, March 22) continued to reverberate around the world. By last week the big blast had touched off an investigation in Washington, spread panic through Japan and strained U.S.-Japanese relations. The latest bad news came from a Japanese fishing boat, the Fukuryu Maru (Fortunate Dragon), which churned into its home port of Yaizu last week with more than 16,500 lbs. of radioactive tuna and shark and 23 terrified crewmen. They had reason to be frightened: all had been burned by radioactive ash, and the most severely injured men were showing a telltale decline in their white-corpuscle count, which, if not arrested, will inevitably kill them.

"Iron Cooling . . ." Crewman Sanjiro Masuda, 29, one of the most seriously injured, told what had happened. On the morning of March 1, the Fortunate Dragon rode at anchor 71 miles east of Bikini, and well outside the announced danger limits of the U.S. atomic proving grounds. Masuda and seven of his mates were pulling in the nets when the explosion went off. Said Masuda: "We saw strange sparkles and flashes of fire, sparks and fire as bright as the sun itself. The sky around them glowed fiery red and yellow. The glow went on for several minutes—perhaps two or three—and then the yellow seemed to fade away. It left a dull red, like a piece of iron cooling in the air. The blast came about five minutes later [with] the sound of many thunders rolled into one. Next we saw a pyramid-shaped cloud rising, and the sky began to cloud over most curiously. The thought of pikadon flashed through my mind, I think, but we were busy and went back to our nets."

An Ambassador's Apologies. Two hours later a fine ash began to fall on the Fortunate Dragon and her crew. It descended for several hours, and when the seamen bathed, they found that it was hard to scrub off. Very soon the men experienced loss of appetite, depression and other first symptoms of radiation.

By the time Japanese medical authorities were aware of what had happened, the fish in the Fortunate Dragon's hold had been sold to markets all over Japan. As the government tried to track down the dangerous fish, a wave of alarm and anger spread over Japan. The bottom dropped out of the fish market. Shops sold out their supplies of Geiger counters, and all incoming fishing boats were checked for radiation. The highly radioactive Fortunate Dragon was quarantined and the entire crew hospitalized. U.S. Ambassador John Allison offered profound official apologies, promised restitution if "the facts so warrant." Meanwhile, there were other aftereffects of the blast:

In Washington, Representative Sterling Cole, head of the Joint Congressional Atomic Energy Committee, began an investigation of the March 1 explosion and announced that the U.S. now has a deliverable thermonuclear weapon. The AEC enlarged the danger zone around the atomic-test site in the Marshalls to 20 times its original area. The Food & Drug Administration ordered a Geiger check on all shiploads of tuna and shark coming into West Coast ports from the test area.

At the end of April, it was reported, the AEC will wind up its atomic tests with an explosion which may reach a force of about 50 million tons of TNT—equal to 2,400 Hiroshimas or four times more powerful than the March 1 test.

-Japanese slang for atom bomb.