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Former fishermen file for workers' comp over 1954 Bikini nuclear tests

KOCHI -- A group of 10 people including former fishermen who developed cancer after sailing near a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test site on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean have filed a workers' compensation claim.

    The plaintiffs -- six former fishermen in their 80s and four bereaved family members of former fishermen, all from Kochi Prefecture -- filed the claim with the Japan Health Insurance Association on Feb. 26, seeking coverage under mariners' insurance.

    The six H-bomb tests took place from March 1 through May 14, 1954, primarily on the atoll in the Marshall Islands. After the first test, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru tuna fishing boat, based in Shizuoka Prefecture, was exposed to radioactive fallout. The vessel's head radio operator, 40-year-old Aikichi Kuboyama, died six months later.

    Other fishing boats operating across a large area around the atoll were also affected, but the some 10,000 crew on those vessels have not been granted any relief to date. The Feb. 26 filing of the mariners' insurance benefit applications marked the first such submission by former fishermen other than those aboard the Daigo Fukuryu Maru.

    The former fishermen from Kochi Prefecture were on board seven tuna boats, including Daini Kosei Maru, Daigo Myoga Maru, and Dainana Dai Maru. If the plaintiffs' applications are accepted, they will be granted medical expenses and bereaved family pensions.

    In January this year, Masatoshi Yamashita, 71, secretary-general of the Kochi Prefecture-based citizens group "Taiheiyo Kakuhisai Shien Center" (Pacific Ocean nuclear disaster support center), visited the former fishermen to confirm their intentions. The Kochi Prefectural Government also lent a helping hand, querying hospitals in and outside the prefecture that keep surgery and other records of the former fishermen, and checking the procedures for claiming necessary documents.

    Out of the approximately 10,000 fishermen believed to have been affected by the Bikini nuclear test fallout, several hundred are apparently living in Kochi Prefecture -- home to many of the fishing boats that were exposed to radiation.

    Meanwhile, a research group set up by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in January last year is expected to release results of research into the issue by the end of May. A representative of the Japan Health Insurance Association said, "We would like to wait for the labor ministry's research results first. We will then make a decision by the end of the year while referencing opinions from doctors and other experts."

    On Feb. 26, the plaintiffs' representatives and supporters including Yamashita visited the Kochi branch of the Japan Health Insurance Association and submitted the application papers, the copies of mariners' pocket ledgers, and death certificates, among other documents.

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