The Japanese government has decided not to appeal the Hiroshima High Court's ruling recognizing as hibakusha -- A-bomb survivors -- all 84 plaintiffs exposed to "black rain" that fell after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. military.
Until now the government had used "scientific findings" as an excuse to limit the range certifying hibakusha. With the government choosing not to appeal the high court decision, it will finally move toward providing relief to plaintiffs based on the ill effects they suffered.
The plaintiffs were 84 Hiroshima Prefecture residents exposed to black rain outside the zone the government recognized as eligible for assistance. With the high court ruling finalized, all plaintiffs will be given the hibakusha health handbooks that grant them special benefits.
"We would like to consider offering relief to people in similar circumstances," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said when announcing the government's decision not to appeal. Referring to the Hiroshima High Court decision, however, he said, "As the government, parts of the ruling are difficult to accept."
The high court ruling was a groundbreaking judicial decision recognizing a broader range of hibakusha than had been in the past.
The ruling acknowledged that black rain fell outside zones that until now had been recognized by the government as eligible for assistance, and that people living outside those areas suffered not only external radiation exposure, but also internal exposure. It concluded that those exposed to black rain are hibakusha.
When the government lost the first trial at the Hiroshima District Court, it set up a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare expert panel which is debating how far it should expand special-benefits eligible zones. But simply drawing new borders is meaningless.
Instead, the government must, based on the two court rulings, offer relief benefits to all people exposed to black rain that are appropriate to their circumstances, not locations.
This issue doesn't only affect Hiroshima. In Nagasaki, residents who were outside government-set zones eligible for assistance are suing for recognition as hibakusha. The provision of relief to these people must be addressed, too.
The Atomic Bomb Survivors' Assistance Act stipulates health damage from atomic bombs as "specialized damage that differs from other types of wartime damage." It is only natural that the government take responsibility and compensate for damages.
Seventy-six years will have passed next month since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The average age of hibakusha is nearing 84. Of the 84 who were plaintiffs in the latest case, 15 have already died. The time left to survivors is limited.
The government must promptly create a broad mechanism that will provide relief to all those who were exposed to black rain.