Do we need to change how we recount the Lucky Dragon incident?

Inspecting tuna from the
Inspecting tuna from the “Lucky Dragon,” 1954. Source: The Asahi Shimbun.

In “Beyond the Lucky Dragon,” Linda M. Richards and I make the case that we need to tell the story of thermonuclear testing a bit differently than in the past. The essay focuses on the influence of Japanese scientists upon a few key Americans in the aftermath of the 1954 Bravo shot (an American hydrogen bomb test), which famously blanketed a Japanese fishing boat (the Lucky Dragon) with radioactive dust.  The premise of the essay is that focusing narrowly on the victims on the boat, while important, actually removes several important voices from story — including Japanese scientists who made claims about contamination over time and space, and who questioned anyone’s right to expose others.

Writing this essay was the first time I have collaborated with another author, and the process was a fascinating journey of mutual influences.  In addition, Linda and I circulated drafts via email among our Japanese colleagues who were writing on closely-related subjects (the essay is part of a special issue on radiation studies and Japanese scientists in the 1950s, and it appeared in Historia Scientiarum, the premier history of science Journal in Japan). I learned a tremendous amount, and was especially grateful for the opportunity to work with Masakatsu Yamazaki, Hiroshi Ichikawa, and Toshihiro Higuchi!

Click here for the full essay.

Here are the abstract and key words for our essay, and a table of contents for the whole special issue.

Abstract: In the history of the 1950s fallout controversy, associated with the first hydrogen bomb tests, scholars often focus on the plight of the Japanese crew of the Fukuryū Maru, or as it was called in English-language newspapers, the Lucky Dragon. Doing so silences the Japanese who tried to show that fallout was not simply about one ship, one part of the ocean, or even one generation of humans. In this essay we show how Japanese perspectives influenced several American scientists to think differently about the implications of nuclear tests for humans and the natural environment. We propose three fundamental conceptual points about fallout that already were present in Japanese scientific discourse in the mid-1950s. One was spatial; one was temporal; one was legal. The Japanese ideas, from a range of scientists, informed the views of American scientists during the fallout controversy of the 1950s, not just providing data but shaping both scientific and political discourse in the West.

Key words: Lucky Dragon, radiation effects, Yasushi Nishiwaki, Jane Nishiwaki, Ava Helen Pauling, Linus Pauling



Special Issue

Nuclear Peril in International Contexts



Introduction: Transnational Origins of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the Radiological Dimensions of the Nuclear Arms Race

Toshihiro HIGUCHI and Masakatsu YAMAZAKI


Yasushi Nishiwaki, Radiation Biophysics, and Peril and Hope in the Nuclear Age

Maika NAKAO, Takeshi KURIHARA, and Masakatsu YAMAZAKI


Beyond the Lucky Dragon: Japanese Scientists and Fallout Discourse in the 1950s

Jacob Darwin HAMBLIN and Linda M. RICHARDS


The Strange Career of Dr. Fish:

Yoshio Hiyama, Radioactive Fallout, and Nuclear Fear Management in Japan, 1954-1958

Toshihiro HIGUCHI


Radiation Studies and the Soviet Scientists in the Second Half of the 1950’s