From Victim’s Remains, Scientists Estimate Hiroshima Radiation Doses

By Eric Betz | April 30, 2018 2:06 pm
The mandible of a victim of the Hiroshima bombing. (Credit: Credit: Sergio Mascarenhas (IFSC-USP))

The mandible of a victim of the Hiroshima bombing. (Credit: Credit: Sergio Mascarenhas (IFSC-USP))

Before dropping the first nuclear bomb ever used in combat, American scientists studied Japan looking for a target that could maximize damage. Hiroshima’s flat, open landscape caught their eye – it offered little topography that could slow the blast. Then weapons engineers dialed in the bomb’s settings – they wouldn’t need much pressure to level the city’s thatched roof houses.

Some 70,000 people died on August 6, 1945, as Little Boy struck Hiroshima, wiping out roughly 70 percent of the city. Tens of thousands more died from radiation and injuries in the months ahead. Scientists soon started studying how the radioactive fallout sickened people and impacted their DNA.

Fallout’s Long Shadow

A group of Brazilian scientists followed up on that work in research recently published in the journal PLOS ONE. They managed to deduce the exact radiation dose absorbed into victims’ bones after the bombing. According to the team, this study is unique in using human tissue samples from Hiroshima victims.

The work grew out of research done on shellfish in the 1970s. A Brazilian physicist named Sérgio Mascarenhas was trying to date items found at archeological sites in his country based on how much radiation they’d received from elements like thorium that occur naturally in sand.

But Mascarenhas realized this work had other implications, too. He traveled to Japan and was able to obtain a jawbone from a victim of the Hiroshima bombing. His analysis on the bone proved promising, but with the rudimentary technology and without today’s computers, he wasn’t able to totally separate the background radiation levels from the bomb blast radiation.

Four decades later, Angela Kinoshita of Universidade do Sagrado Coração in São Paulo State, revisited that bone sample using Mascarenhas original approach and modern equipment. Her team was able to see the kinds of detail he couldn’t. The jawbone they looked at registered a radiation dose of 9.46 grays — just half that, 5 grays, can be fatal. That number lines up with data from bricks and other inorganic substances measured near the blast site.

“There were serious doubts about the feasibility of using this methodology to determine the radiation dose deposited in these samples,” Kinoshita said in a press release. However, the team now believes their research points the way to additional forensic research that could better detail the nuclear aftermath. And they’re now looking at ways of drastically improving their accuracy.

The researchers said that there’s been renewed interest in this kind of work because of nuclear terrorism concerns in places like the U.S.

“Imagine someone in New York planting an ordinary bomb with a small amount of radioactive material stuck to the explosive,” said study co-author Oswaldo Baffa of the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto School of Philosophy, Science & Letters. “Techniques like this can help identify who has been exposed to radioactive fallout and needs treatment.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
  • Uncle Al

    Curtis LeMay’s firestorms killed more for far cheaper. Mass dying of radiation poisoning turned the trick. Jim Barden, USMC was in the first wave to land in Hiroshima. Hiroshima deserved far more than it got.

    • Cayce58

      Wrong. Try a little history. The west created the Japan you despise. The japs, they laughed and shook their heads because their 2000 year civilization meant nothing but as soon as they had a modern military and attacked the Russians they were an advanced people.

  • 7eggert

    “Techniques like this can help identify who has been exposed to radioactive fallout and needs treatment.”

    I’d rather use a geiger counter and keep my jawbone.

    • greenpeaceRdale1844coop

      The jawbone doesn´t come from treatment assessment. Your courage in the face of a nuclear weapons blast is “noteworthy.”

  • OWilson

    Whatever possessed a barbarian government to unleash two Nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction on innocent civilians?

    Republicans, right?

    Well, no, not exactly! :)

    • Varika

      *sigh* This is a ridiculously stupid argument, and I’ve seen it again and again. Dropping the nukes was a BIPARTISAN issue. It’s not as if Republicans OBJECTED in any kind of great numbers, honey, so you don’t get out of it that neatly.

      Nukes are horrible. Worse was withholding information that could have helped treat the victims. Putting Japanese people in concentration camps was pretty damned Nazi-like. So was murdering perceived Japanese and Germans in the streets–more for the Japanese than the Germans, since Germans could change their names and nobody could tell the difference. And ALL of this? ALL of it was BIPARTISAN. Republican hands are no cleaner when it comes to the war crimes of World War II than Democrat hands. So don’t start pulling your modern-day “Republicans are lily-white angels!” bullshit on this topic, because you just PROVE that they’re not when you use the suffering of others to try and paint yourself clean this way.

      You’re disgusting.

      • OWilson

        I can think of quite a few options off hand, to end the conflict quickly, without dropping Atomic Bombs on innocent men women and children in cities!

        • Cayce58

          Afghanistan….Iraq……GW Bush…..100,000 dead Let he who wallows in sin try making glass arguments.

          • OWilson

            Progressives make the dictators of the last century look like pikers!

            60,000,000 babies faced the “final solution” since Roe vs Wade.

            Another 60,000,000 (mostly children) have died from Malaria after they screamed for the banning of DDT in the 70’s.

            Then there’s the little matter of dropping Atom Bombs on innocent civilians.

            Like bulls in china shops! :)

            Progressives, “we kill children to save them”!

          • Cayce58

            Conservatives-“Let them be born to starve.” Global warming…desertification…..Trump and no to food stamps

          • OWilson

            Weirdest justification for infanticide yet! Lol!

            We must kill them in the womb to prevent them from starving?

            That about right? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Have I misquoted your extremist viewpoints here? Nope, your words are exactly as I quoted, and way off topic. By the way, whatever one’s position on abortion, “infanticide” is the killing of a newborn child , not an unborn fetus or embryo. But why let facts get in the way of your fake moral outrage, when they never have in the past.

          • OWilson

            Why let a couple inches separate commercial murder, infanticide, on a phenomenally large scale from “inconvenient” fetal tissue.

            Viabilty is life. The ability to survive if taken away from the mother.

            (No smilies this time for you, Mikey!)

          • Mike Richardson

            Awww, I don’t get an insincere emoticon denoting goodwill from someone who has so precious little to spare for anyone who disagrees with him, much less corrects his disregard of facts. Somehow, I think I’ll get over it. 😏

            But I suppose it’s a nice deflection from having to address the fact that you’ve yet again diverted a discussion from the topic of an article to your own moral posturing on an issue that has no relationship to it.

          • OWilson

            Relax, Mikey!

            We should all be thankful that our particular mothers didn’t want to get rid of us!

          • Mike Richardson

            “You, like the troller you are, posted nothing on topic, just insults and… ” droned the King of Trolls, after himself posting nothing on topic in the entire thread, instead trolling the entire conversation with self-righteous condemnation of the use of atom bombs to end WWII and a bizarre segue into abortion. Your case must have been that earlier point about those living in glass houses casting stones, in which case you proved it brilliantly — just not in the way think. 😉

            And Wilson, given the lack of self control, maturity, and judgment you display — despite your advanced age — I think it’s safe to say that neither your presence nor absence affects the total number of actual adults in a room.

          • OWilson

            Bye, Mikey.

            (Don’t forget to turn out the lights, as usual. The adults have left the building!)


          • Mike Richardson

            Repeating yourself like a broken record in a vain attempt to have the last word isn’t the behavior of an “adult,” you know. Bye, Wilson. ; )

          • OWilson

            Aw you “new” pals disappeared again. Mikey?

            If I didn’t talk to you, no one would!

            You’re SO needy!


          • Mike Richardson

            Glass arguments are the only kind you’ll get from a true ideologue incapable of self moderation. Just look at the extremist nonsense in his last response to you.

          • OWilson

            Anything on topic to add today Mikey?

            (You’re potential new friend, laid 100,000 dead at the feet of George Bush. I reminded him of previous Administration policies, is all.)

            Or just the usual: spell checking my posts, and desperately trolling for a new friend to give you a little attention?

            What a sad way to live! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            “Anything on topic to add…?”

            You mean, such as these wild tangents off the topic of estimating radiation doses:

            “Progressives make the dictators of the last century look like pikers!

            60,000,000 babies faced the ‘final solution ‘ since Roe vs Wade.”

            For a self-proclaimed atheist, you sound an awful lot like a religious fundamentalist there. Remember what you said about glass houses? 😉

  • John C

    Apparently, it took Nagasaki for the Japanese government to finally get the point.

    • 7eggert

      They were preparing to surrender, but wanted to appear strong in order to bargain. On the other side, the US needed to act fast before the USSR’s soldiers, after winning against Germany, would reach the Japanese border.


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