December 2, 2021 at 16:32 JST
A lawyer for the plaintiffs holds up a sign proclaiming total victory shortly after the Hiroshima High Court handed down a ruling over hibakusha recognition on July 14, 2021. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
We urge the state to take swift action in line with a high court ruling that all individuals exposed to radioactive “black rain” in the aftermath of Hiroshima’s 1945 atomic bombing should be recognized as hibakusha. The government has a clear obligation to expedite the process.
But the way the government is handling the issue raises doubts about its commitment to bring full and swift relief to victims.
The health ministry met Nov. 30 with Hiroshima and Nagasaki prefectural and municipal authorities to craft new guidelines for the issuance of “hibakusha kenko techo” booklets that entitle the holder, who must be officially recognized as an atomic bomb survivor, to free medical treatment and other benefits.
It was the first official meeting on this issue in four months following former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s decision not to contest the Hiroshima High Court ruling.
The ruling upheld a 2020 Hiroshima District Court that said those exposed to radioactive “black rain” outside a state-recognized zone following the city’s Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing are entitled to the same benefits as those given to hibakusha who were in the zone.
This latest meeting marked the belated start of talks for administrative measures based on the ruling.
But the ministry did not offer specific proposals during the one-hour meeting. All it did, aside from listening to what the local administrations had to say, was enumerate what the 84 plaintiffs had in common: exposure to radioactive rainfall and illnesses that make them eligible for health care benefits paid by the central government.
When Suga decided against appealing the high court ruling, he said that in addition to expediting the issuance of the benefits booklet to all 84 plaintiffs, he would quickly consider measures to ensure that all other individuals in the same boat as the plaintiffs would receive relief.
The health ministry denied that the shared circumstances of the 84 plaintiffs it cited in the meeting were intended as “draft guidelines.” But that didn’t erase suspicions the government is moving to limit the scope of black rain victims newly certified as atomic bomb survivors.
Policymakers must not forget the Hiroshima High Court ruling in July, which the government has accepted. The ruling rejected the government’s policy of limiting black rain victims eligible for public health care benefits to those who happened to be in a narrowly defined zone around the ground zero, citing a lack of reliable scientific grounds, and recognized all the plaintiffs as hibakusha.
The court argued that all black rain victims should be listed as hibakusha if there is no clear reason for disputing their health was affected by exposure to radiation.
The high court ruling went a step further in easing the conditions for the official certification from the lower court decision, which still supported the criterion that applicants must have developed any of the 11 illnesses designated by the government for eligibility to benefits.
The government has a duty to act swiftly in line with the high court ruling and provide relief to all individuals who were exposed to black rain, irrespective of whether or not they suffer from radiation-related health problems.
After the high court ruling was finalized, all the plaintiffs were recognized by the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments as hibakusha and received the booklet. They were recognized in the category of those who found themselves “in a situation where exposure to radiation was likely,” one of the existing criteria for certification. As a result, they can now receive free health care and other benefits.
The Hiroshima prefectural and municipal administrations have already been inundated with more than 1,100 applications for the state aid program from potential black rain victims. The central government needs to quickly certify all the applicants who faced similar circumstances to the plaintiffs. It should understand it is running out of time to provide relief to these people, whose average age is presumably over 80.
The health ministry says it will develop the new guidelines by the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through March, with an eye to implementing them from the next fiscal year. But that would be too slow.
The areas where people suffered from the effects of radiation from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki are also unclear. Many people in the city claim they were exposed to radioactive ash. The government needs to work out relief measures for these individuals as well.
Seventy-six years after the nuclear attacks on the two cities, the issue stands as a key test of the political leadership of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who likes to stress that he is elected from Hiroshima.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 2
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