Accepting A-bomb ‘black rain’ ruling should be 1st step toward supporting victims

The victims of atomic bombings are aging rapidly and they may not have much time left. The central government must review the existing support system and provide relief as soon as possible.

Regarding a lawsuit over radioactive “black rain” that fell following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced that the government will accept the Hiroshima High Court’s ruling that recognized all 84 plaintiffs as hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, and will not appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In a statement, the prime minister said that some aspects of the high court ruling were unacceptable, but he would take measures to support the plaintiffs because “many of them are elderly and have illnesses.”

Both the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments had requested the central government to give up appealing to the top court. The prime minister’s decision may have been based in part on his intention to demonstrate his humanitarian stance in view of the upcoming House of Representatives election, which will be held by autumn.

So far, the central government has recognized as hibakusha people who were exposed to black rain in a state-designated “relief zone” and suffered from cancer and other diseases suspected to be caused by radiation, issuing an atomic bomb survivor’s certificate that entitles recipients to free medical care. As the plaintiffs and others, who were outside the zone, were not eligible to receive the certificates, they demanded in the lawsuit that the hibakusha certificates be issued to them.

The Hiroshima District Court ruled last year that all the plaintiffs were victims of the atomic bombing by expanding the boundaries of areas where black rain is believed to have fallen beyond the state-designated relief zone. The central government, however, appealed the ruling in spite of opposition from the prefectural and municipal governments, saying “the ruling cannot be said to be based on scientific knowledge.”

But the high court also did not acknowledge the central government’s claim.

The atomic bomb survivors relief law is a system that imposes on the central government the responsibility to provide compensation and relief for the special war damage caused by the atomic bombings. The average age of the plaintiffs exceeds 80, and some have died since the lawsuit was filed. It is hoped that the prefectural and municipal governments, which are commissioned by the central government to issue the hibakusha certificates, will proceed with the procedures as soon as possible.

In the statement, the prime minister expressed his intention to recognize as hibakusha those who suffered similar harm to the plaintiffs and provide them with relief even if they did not participate in the suit with the plaintiffs.

The black rain area authorized by the high court ruling is six times larger than the current state-designated relief zone. It is believed that about 13,000 people survived in the extended area. The central government needs to decide as soon as possible how to recognize those eligible for relief.

Since autumn last year, the central government has been holding meetings to review the state-designated relief zone. It aims to estimate the rainfall areas based on meteorological data, among other factors. However, with little data available 76 years after the atomic bombing, some people question if sufficient verification will be possible.

If the central government tries to narrow down people eligible for relief by sticking to strict scientific evidence, actual relief will be further delayed.

The central government should work together with the prefectural and municipal governments to establish a system to recognize people eligible for support based on their individual conditions, rather than focusing merely on identifying areas affected by black rain.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 28, 2021.