The city of Nagasaki in southern Japan is marking the 75th anniversary of the US atomic bombing.

It was the second nuclear bomb dropped by the US, three days after the attack on Hiroshima.

A giant column of smoke rises after the second atomic bomb ever used in warfare explodes over the Japanese port town of Nagasaki
A giant column of smoke rises after the atomic bomb attack over Nagasaki (AP)

Japan surrendered on August 15 1945, ending the Second World War and nearly half a century of aggression against its Asian neighbours.

Dwindling survivors, whose average age exceeds 83, increasingly worry about passing their lessons on to younger generations.

Here are some questions and answers about that fateful event:

– Why was Nagasaki chosen as the target?

Shacks made from scraps of debris from buildings that were levelled in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Nagasaki
Nagasaki was not the initial target (AP)

Nagasaki was not a primary target. Although it was home to weapons production including torpedoes, its hilly topography and a nearby prisoner of war camp for Allies made Nagasaki less desirable. As the B-29 bomber Bockscar headed to its initial target of Kokura on the morning of August 9 1945, thick haze and smoke forced it to switch at the last minute to Nagasaki, a second target. The United States said the bombings hastened Japan’s surrender and prevented the need for a US invasion of Japan. But some historians today note Japan was close to surrendering anyway and question the need to use atomic bombs, especially the second one. There is still debate about this in the US.

– What happened in the attack?

A battered religious figure on a hill above a burn-razed valley in Nagasaki, Japan
A battered religious figure on a hill above a burn-razed valley (US Marines via AP)

Nagasaki’s sky was also hazy, but visibility briefly cleared. At 11.02am, the Bockscar dropped a 4.5-ton (10,000-pound) plutonium bomb dubbed Fat Man from 31,500ft (9,600 metres). About 30 seconds later, the bomb exploded at 1,640ft (500 metres) above a tennis court, hitting the mostly civilian district. Under the mushroom cloud that rose as high as 52,500ft (16,000 metres), the blast destroyed about 70% of the city. Seconds later, the temperature at ground zero rose to 4,000C (7,200F). All wooden houses within one kilometre (0.6 miles) of ground zero were destroyed by the blast and firestorm. About 20 minutes later, a “black rain” of highly radioactive particles started falling on to the city, causing additional radiation exposure.

– How many died?

The Urakami Catholic Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan, in the aftermath of the detonation of the atom bomb
The Urakami Catholic Cathedral in the aftermath of the bomb (Stanley Troutman/AP)

An estimated 74,000 people, including those with radiation-related injuries and illnesses, died through December 31 1945. That accounts for about one-third of the city’s population of about 240,000 before the attack. Those within one kilometre from ground zero were killed instantly. As in Hiroshima, most of the victims were civilians, including many children and elderly. To date, the death toll, including those who died subsequently from radiation-related cancers, totals 182,600. Nagasaki’s population today is about 407,000.

– What about radiation?

Survivors of the atomic bomb attack of Nagasaki, Japan, walk through the destruction as fire rages in the background
Survivors walk through the destruction as fire rages in the background (AP)

Many of those exposed to radiation developed symptoms such as vomiting, hair loss and fatigue. Most of those with severe radiation symptoms died within weeks. Others who lived beyond that also developed health problems related to burns and radiation-induced cancers and other illnesses. Their risk of developing leukaemia is four to five times higher than the general population. About 25,700 people in Nagasaki, who are certified as “hibakusha”, or atomic bombing survivors, are still alive and entitled to free medical checks and treatment. Government support for the survivors began only after their pressure led to the enactment of a law in 1957.

– Who is the boy in a photo distributed by the pope?

All that is left of the Mitsubishi weapons factory is a sagging, skeletal hulk more than a month after the atomic attack of August 9 1945
The remnants of the Mitsubishi weapons factory more than a month after the attack (AP)

A boy in a black-and-white photograph seen carrying on his back his baby brother who had died in the bombing received global attention a few years ago when Pope Francis distributed tens of thousands of copies as greeting cards with the words “The fruit of war” printed on them. The boy in the photo, taken in 1945 by American military photographer Joe O’Donell, has not been found despite continuing searches for him.