OSAKA -- The number of people who use the central government's counseling and support services for those who claim to have been exposed to radioactive "black rain" that fell on Hiroshima and surrounding areas in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in 1945 is plunging, it has been learned.
The counseling program, which was launched in fiscal 2013, is aimed at providing support for those who say they were exposed to the black rain outside areas subject to public assistance. While the number of users of the program topped 300 in fiscal 2013, the figure dropped to 50 in fiscal 2018. The government assumes that aging among those eligible for the program is one of the factors behind the steep decline.
The Hiroshima Municipal Government and other bodies have demanded that "black rain areas" eligible for public assistance be expanded based on their independent survey results. In the Peace Declaration read out by the mayor of Hiroshima every year on Aug. 6 on the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of the city, Mayor Kazumi Matsui and his predecessors have called for the expansion of the areas for 10 consecutive years. However, the national government has not complied with the request.
Those who experienced black rain are calling for the swift adoption of broader black rain areas as they seek official recognition as A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha, and eligibility for public assistance.
The true state of black rain remains unclear even today. The national government has recognized that an area 11 kilometers wide within 19 kilometers northwest of the Hiroshima hypocenter was affected by heavy black rain and designated the area as subject to public assistance in 1976. Those who were within the area can undergo the same health checkups as those for certified A-bomb survivors and are entitled to survivors' certificates if they develop cancer and other health issues.
As there were many people who complained of health problems stemming from black rain outside the certified areas, however, the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments conducted a survey targeting roughly 37,000 residents in 2008 and concluded that black rain fell on an area some six times larger than recognized.
However, a panel at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare refused to broaden the area by arguing that "There are no clear grounds to say radioactive fallout stemming from the atomic bomb existed."
In October 2013, the health ministry launched the counseling and support program to alleviate anxieties among residents, after concluding that their complaints about health issues were attributable to "psychological fears."
Under the state-funded program, the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments provide health counseling by doctors and others. According to the Hiroshima Municipal Government, a total of 316 people used the program in fiscal 2013 over a six-month period from its launch. The figure has since declined to 150 in fiscal 2014, 104 in fiscal 2015, 98 in fiscal 2016, 73 in fiscal 2017 and 50 in fiscal 2018.
"In addition to a certain number of people having resolved their anxieties, there may also be effects from the declining number of those who experienced black rain due to their advancing age," said an official at the health ministry.
The prefectural and municipal governments have consistently demanded the black rain areas be expanded, and Hiroshima Mayor Matsui referred to the issue in the Peace Declaration on Aug. 6 this year. After the peace memorial ceremony held that day, a participant at a gathering to listen to requests from representatives of hibakusha groups pleaded, "We urge the central government to scramble to provide relief by facing up to reality, instead of waiting for the black rain victims to die." Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Takumi Nemoto, however, did not change his position on the issue.
At the Hiroshima District Court, a lawsuit filed by 88 plaintiffs who claim to have been exposed to black rain is pending as they seek to receive A-bomb survivors' certificates and other assistance. Due to their old age, however, plaintiffs have died one after another.
Masaaki Takano, 81, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefecture Atomic Bomb Black Rain Council, commented on the state's counseling program, saying, "I took part in the first counselling session, but stopped going as I was just told that 'there are no health effects' (from black rain) and that 'you are all right'. I want the central government to admit the fact that black rain did fall, and provide relief to the victims."
(Japanese original by Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department)