Japan: A Nuclear History

The Japanese shelter themselves from deady nuclear rain in 1957

As Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan gravely admits that this is the time of greatest hardship for the Japanese since World War II,  a sizeable part of the British media has focused its coverage on the growing nuclear crisis as two Japanese reactors’ cooling systems have failed, leaving both in danger of melting down, and severe hydrogen explosions occurring over the weekend.

So what is Japan’s history and story when it comes to nuclear energy?

The British Pathé film archive has a lot of footage related to the part that Japan played in the Atomic Age. We thought these reels would interest you, including a Japanese prime minister Kishi being shown around a British nuclear plant in the 1950s.


This 1957 newsreel shows 15,000 Japanese students protesting after warm acid rain strikes Tokyo following a nuclear explosion. It isn’t clear who the ‘culprits’ are of these nuclear explosions, with some confusion between Russian nuclear tests, American nuclear tests and British hydrogen bomb research taking place in the Pacific.

The British Pathé narrator suggests the Japanese protest against the British embassy is ludicrous on account for the British nuclear tests occurring over 4000 miles away from Japan.


“A small but noisy group of left wing students. The mob numbers less than 60 but they are a kingsize headache to Japanese authorities because of their fanatic leftwing zeal” The demonstration took place outside the American Embassy in Tokyo, and was against President Kennedy’s decision to continue nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.

This 1959 video shows the then Japanese president Nobusuke Kishi visiting the then half-built nuclear site in Bradwell, Essex, a British nuclear power station.


Washington marks the 20th anniversary of the nuclear age. An atom fair in the clip focuses on the positive uses of atomic energy. President John F. Kennedy is presented with a cube of uranium. The clip also shows how “large scale earth moving by nuclear explosion is a major part of Operation Plowshare, the AEC program for developing peaceful application of this overwhelming force.”

Operation Plowshare stopped in 1973, after over twenty nuclear tests had been carried out in the Nevada dessert. These tests where in addition to nuclear weapons tests carried out by America during the same period.

This 1957 video shows men on the Yucca Flats in the Nevada dessert conducting a nuclear test.


This 1962 newsreel focuses on the construction of British atomic power stations, such as Bradwell in Essex. The shots inside the power station are great, including the magazine loading stage.


This video takes us inside a 1960s nuclear shelter in Maryland

Do have a rummage on www.britishpathe.com for more newsreels and archived videos, including out of space nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, nuclear energy plants in France, Holland, Russia, America and of course Britain and dramatic nuclear air raid drills.

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