July 28, 2021 at 16:25 JST
Men walk in heavy rain near the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima on July 15. (AP Photo)
A court has ruled that all individuals who were exposed to the radioactive "black rain" should be recognized as hibakusha, irrespective of whether they were within or outside a government-designated zone around ground zero at the time.
This recognition also applies to the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima regardless of whether or not they have had radiation-related health problems.
The government must bring full and swift relief to everyone.
The lawsuit was brought by Hiroshima residents and others who were denied recognition as hibakusha even though they were in the city in August 1945.
Last summer, the Hiroshima District Court ordered the government to issue "hibakusha kenko techo" (a booklet that entitles the holder to free medical treatment and other benefits) to the plaintiffs.
When the Hiroshima High Court upheld this decision on July 14, the health ministry urged the government to take the case to the Supreme Court.
But under stiff resistance from the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments that are in charge of issuing the hibakusha booklet, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided not to appeal, allowing the High Court verdict to be finalized.
Suga announced that in addition to expediting the issuance of the booklet to all 84 plaintiffs, he would officially recognize as hibakusha all other individuals in the same circumstances as the plaintiffs, so they will also qualify for various benefits.
According to the Hiroshima prefectural government, an estimated 13,000 residents today were exposed to the black rain 76 years ago.
To enable everyone to register themselves belatedly as hibakusha, it is vital that the government set up consultation and citizen service counters without delay.
But the most urgent task now is to fundamentally review the nation's hibakusha aid policy. The government needs to fully realize that it must outgrow its rigid mindset of limiting the recipients of benefits to only those who not only happened to be in a narrowly defined zone at the time, but also developed specific health problems.
And we were bothered by Suga's statement to the effect that some parts of the high court ruling were "unacceptable."
Referring to cases of internal exposure to radiation through the ingestion of contaminated water and food, he noted that he could not "accept" the court's acknowledgment of the negative effects on health that it caused.
However, Suga also promised in his statement to "return to the spirit of the Atomic Bomb Victims' Relief Law that holds the government responsible for supporting hibakusha."
He needs to fulfill his promise. With the inexorable aging of atomic bomb survivors, creating new rules and delaying the implementation of relief measures is not an option.
Our other concern has to do with an experts' panel that was set up within the health ministry after the district court ruled against the government last summer.
The panel claimed to be considering expanding the areas where the survivors were in August 1945 to qualify for benefits, but discussions have stalled because the panel is too obsessed with "scientific consistency" even though the passage of 76 years has vastly shrunk the availability of new data.
The health ministry intends to keep the panel in place, but we don't know how the ministry is going to run it.
Black rain also fell in the other atomic bomb victim city of Nagasaki. And there, too, people have taken the government to court for denying them aid just because they were outside a qualifying zone. It goes without saying that these Nagasaki plaintiffs should be accorded the same treatment as their Hiroshima peers.
Ignored by the government for years after the war, hibakusha have challenged the government through numerous lawsuits, which resulted in the enactment of the Atomic Bomb Victims' Relief Law, which holds the government responsible for their welfare.
It is time for the government to finally live up to the spirit of this law.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28
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