Yuki Miyamoto believes her mother died of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Miyamoto, a DePaul University religion professor who grew up in Hiroshima, said her mother contracted a blood disease in her 30s and died of breast cancer at age 62.
“I don’t want anyone else to suffer like that,” said Miyamoto, who was among demonstrators who gathered in a North Side park Sunday morning to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
About a dozen people affiliated with Global Zero —which seeks non-proliferation of nuclear weapons —rode their bicycles in a seven-mile loop starting at Oz Park near Lincoln and Webster to highlight the size of the blast zone at Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.
At least 129,000 people were killed in the bombings of Nagasaki and of Hiroshima three days earlier, which led to Japan’s surrender in World War II.
Miyamoto has traveled to Hiroshima with her DePaul students. A memorial park on ground zero in Hiroshima is “a scary place to visit,” she said.
“It’s ghostly. A lot of people died there.”
People now have cookouts in the park, which was “unthinkable” when she was growing up.
“We don’t want people to forget,” Miyamoto said. “We are co-existing with 15,000 nuclear bombs around the world.”
Maxwell Rejman, 11, was with his parents and younger brother at the demonstration Sunday.
He wore a T-shirt decorated with nuclear bombs with red X’s over them.
“We do not want to live in a world with nuclear weapons,” Maxwell said, adding that he’s spoken about the deadly serious topic at school.
Maxwell Rejman, 11, of Chicago prepares to start a bike ride with his parents and younger brother. | Frank Main/Sun-Times
His mom, Gia Biagi, said she joined her parents in a march protesting nuclear armament when she was a girl in 1982 in New York City.
“It is important to keep this tradition,” she said of the demonstration Sunday.
Her husband, Travis Rejman, said the bicyclists would ride past homes, parks and schools —a stark reminder of how many people would be killed in a nuclear bombing.
“None of us would be here anymore,” Rejman said at Oz Park, where people were walking their dogs and playing tennis.
The bicyclists planned to ride east from the park to the lakefront, south to Navy Pier, west to Wells Street and north to Oz Park again.
Kylie Allen, a second-year philosophy student at DePaul, said she and five others at DePaul recently formed a group to rally for a world free of nuclear weapons.
She said they’re encouraged by the pending nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran. It would limit Tehran’s ability to produce radioactive materials used to make atomic bombs in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.
“It is important to support the Iran deal,” Allen said.
“Today we are calling on President Obama and other world leaders to take bold steps to eliminate nuclear weapons,” she said.
Miyamoto said the demonstration was intended not only to mark the anniversary of the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but also to shed light on continuing problems involving radiation from bomb tests and bomb manufacturing.
She said the United States has conducted 1,030 tests of nuclear weapons in the air, water and ground since 1945, polluting the environment with deadly radiation.
And uranium-processing factories, such as one in the St. Louis area, have been linked to elevated cancer risks in their surrounding communities, she said.
St. Louis played a role in building atomic bombs after World War II. The Mallinckrodt chemical plant there extracted uranium and radium from ore. Coldwater Creek nearby was contaminated.
Now health authorities in St. Louis are investigating whether the contamination is linked to a higher-than-normal incidence of leukemia in the area, according to news reports.
“It’s a continuing problem,” Miyamoto said.
On Sunday, similar demonstrations were planned in New York and 15 other U.S. cities and in Pakistan, India, Germany and Cyprus, according to Global Zero.