More former fishermen who developed cancer after sailing near a 1954 United States hydrogen bomb test site at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean are planning to seek worker's compensation, it has been learned.
The nuclear tests, of which there were six, took place from March 1 through May 14 in 1954 primarily at the atoll, located in the Marshall Islands. After the first test, the 23-crew Daigo Fukuryu Maru, located about 160 kilometers east and outside of the designated danger zone, was exposed to radioactive fallout. The ship's head radio operator, 40-year-old Aikichi Kuboyama, died half a year later. Other ships were also affected across a large area, and were forced to throw away their fish catches.
Until now only crew members aboard the Daigo Fukuryu Maru tuna boat have been compensated, and should the seamen's insurance payments be granted to others, it will raise hopes for yet further aid.
A citizens' group, "Taiheiyo Kakuhisai Shien Center" (Pacific Ocean nuclear disaster support center), is supporting the former fishermen newly seeking compensation. According to the center, around 10 people in Kochi Prefecture, including bereaved family members of former fishermen who died after developing cancer, are expected to apply to the Japan Health Insurance Association's seamen's insurance department in February or March this year for recognition of their radiation exposure as an on-the-job injury. They will argue for a causal relationship between their exposure and their illnesses, and seek monetary compensation.
From Jan. 10, staff from the center, three Kochi Prefecture organizations and doctor Hajime Kikima, 71, who was involved with the application of former crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru for insurance compensation, visited the former fishermen who are considering the new applications and confirmed their intentions about whether or not to seek compensation. On Jan. 11, members of the three Kochi Prefecture organizations met together with lawyers in the city of Kochi, where they created a support team for the former fishermen.
In 1955, the U.S. gave Japan 2 million dollars (worth about 720 million yen at the time) in "consolation money" and ended the issue at a political level. The crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru were each given 2 million yen, but for people aboard the other nearby ships, there has not been a true investigation of their circumstances.
In September 2014, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, in response to a demand from the center, did release, for the first time, documents on a survey of the radioactive exposure of ships apart from that of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. However, it held that the ship crews, other than that of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, were only exposed to tiny amounts of radiation, which it said fell short of the amount that international standards deem would affect a person's health.
However, after professor Shin Toyoda of the Okayama University of Science, who specializes in measuring radiation, and others examined the tooth enamel of former seamen who were around 1,300 kilometers east of the nuclear test site, they reported finding up to 414 millisieverts in the enamel. This is about equal to the exposure of people some 1.6 kilometers from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Under the Atomic Bomb Survivors' Assistance Act, people who were within 3.5 kilometers of a nuclear bomb hypocenter and who develop certain ailments such as cancer are recognized as eligible to receive medical allowances. While no such system exists for the former crew members who were near the Bikini Atoll test site, the crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru received compensation through the application of seamen's insurance. Part of the plan for the former crew members newly seeking compensation is to use the results of the survey by professor Toyoda's group when applying for the compensation.
Yutaka Kuwano, 83, who was aboard the Daini Kosei Maru tuna boat when the test occurred and developed stomach cancer, says, "The Japanese government has held that it is unrelated to the issue. I didn't know there was a way for us to receive compensation, and I had mostly given up. I want to work together (with the effort to acquire aid) also in order to keep the (Bikini Atoll nuclear exposure) incident from disappearing from the public's memory."