OSAKA -- Nearly 2,000 people have been recognized as "hibakusha" atomic bombing survivors since relief was expanded to those exposed to radioactive "black rain" just after the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima outside areas originally deemed eligible for benefits.
The 1,940 people, including 110 residents of 24 local governments outside Hiroshima, were granted the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate, meaning they have been officially recognized as hibakusha, according to a recent survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun.
The new recipients of the A-bomb survivor's certificates were among 3,653 people nationwide who filed for recognition over the six-month period after the new eligibility system was introduced in April. Under the previous system, only 24 people were eligible for the relief measures over the same period up to late September, indicating that the new initiative covers a considerable number of people previously left unrecognized as hibakusha.
The Japanese government launched the new scheme in response to a July 2021 Hiroshima High Court ruling. The ruling recognized all 84 plaintiffs as hibakusha after they claimed exposure to black rain from the Aug. 6, 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing outside what later became a government-designated relief zone.
Under the new initiative, people who meet two requirements are granted the A-bomb survivor's certificate: those who were, or may have been, exposed to the black rain; and those who have developed diseases including 11 specified illnesses.
The Mainichi Shimbun questionnaire was conducted in October targeting 49 local bodies nationwide that have screened applications for the survivor's certificates -- the governments of Japan's 47 prefectures as well as the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- and received responses from all of them.
Of them, 26 local bodies from the Tohoku region in the north to Kyushu in the south have issued survivor's certificates under the new measure. Among the recipients, residents of the city of Hiroshima formed the largest group with 1,283 individuals, followed by 547 living in Hiroshima Prefecture (excluding the city of Hiroshima). Outside Hiroshima, 25 residents in Osaka Prefecture were given the certificates, followed by 12 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, 11 in Hyogo Prefecture, nine in Kanagawa Prefecture and eight in Aichi Prefecture.
As the central government has refused to acknowledge that radioactive black rain fell in the wake of the Aug. 9, 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombing, those who were exposed to the rain in Nagasaki are not covered by the new program. Consequently, only one Nagasaki Prefecture resident was granted the survivor's certificate under the new initiative, while none were recognized in the city of Nagasaki.
As of the end of September 2022, or as of the end of March for Tokyo and Fukuoka Prefecture and as of late October for Hiroshima Prefecture, there were 116,913 people across the country known to hold the survivor's certificates by their local governments. The newly recognized hibakusha make up about 1.7% of them.
Kazuyuki Tamura, a professor emeritus of administrative law at Hiroshima University and an expert in A-bomb survivor relief measures, commented, "Survivors of the black rain had long been left unaddressed, and a benefits safety net has finally been established. The new scheme was long overdue, but obviously it's better than nothing."
About the number of people who were newly issued survivor's certificates, Tamura said, "It's not a large number at all." According to a survey by the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments, as of 2020 there were an estimated 13,000 survivors of the black rain. "If you hear 'some 2,000 people were newly recognized as hibakusha,' you may feel that's a lot, but considering less than one-third of the people impacted applied for recognition, the number is not that high."
(Japanese original by Chinatsu Ide, Osaka Regional News Department)