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Editorial: New ‘black rain’ guidelines leave atomic-bombed cities divided

  • December 28, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 4:25 p.m.
  • English Press

Draft guidelines for recognizing victims exposed to radioactive “black rain” from the 1945 atomic bombings fall short of the goal of offering full relief to all “hibakusha” survivors.


The government’s policy would draw a new line to distinguish between people who are eligible for benefits and those who are not, an approach that has been struck down by the judiciary.


It could also create a chasm between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


We urge the government to reconsider the guidelines.


The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Dec. 23 presented the draft guidelines to prefectural and municipal authorities in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


The guidelines define the eligibility requirements for receiving atomic bomb survivors certificates and public health care benefits. The focus is on the treatment of black rain victims.


The Hiroshima prefectural and municipal authorities accepted the proposal, but their Nagasaki counterparts did not.


The relief program limits eligibility to individuals who were in areas specified under the Atomic Bomb Victims Relief Law at the time of the attacks.


It has focused mainly on individuals who were within a certain radius of ground zero and those who entered the zone within a defined period after the event.

In Hiroshima, relief has also been provided under a special ordinance to those who were in areas where black rain fell.


However, the precise location of such areas has long been an issue of contention.


In one notable change, the new guidelines would cover cases where it is impossible to rule out exposure to rain containing radioactive dust and ash.


This would help determine whether applicants met the conditions that likely exposed them to the effects of radiation, which is one of the criteria for certifying hibakusha.


This revision represents a step forward since it signals a departure from the traditional relief policy rooted in geographical zoning.


But the guidelines still require that applicants must have developed any of the 11 illnesses designated by the central government to become eligible for benefits.

Has the central government forgotten the Hiroshima High Court ruling this summer?


The court stated that all black rain victims should be listed as hibakusha, regardless of whether they developed illnesses, if no clear reason exists for disputing whether their health was affected by exposure to radiation.


The court recognized all 84 plaintiffs as hibakusha. The ruling was finalized as the government decided not to lodge an appeal.


Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister at the time, said he would quickly consider measures to ensure that all other individuals in the same boat as the plaintiffs would receive relief.


But the guidelines are not in line with the spirit of the ruling. They are based solely on what the 84 plaintiffs had in common, including illnesses.


It is estimated that more than 10,000 atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima alone fell outside the parameters for receiving relief, including those who did not develop any of the designated illnesses.


Despite their opposition to the illness criterion, prefectural and municipal authorities in Hiroshima accepted the proposal on grounds that priority must be given on providing early relief to victims.


Still, it is hardly surprising that their decision was roundly criticized by the plaintiffs and organizations supporting hibakusha.


They are dead set against accepting the proposed guidelines, contending that they would only create a new line of eligibility.


Unlike in Hiroshima, there are no officially recognized black rain areas in Nagasaki.


There are 2,000 or testimonials that black rain or ash also fell outside the zone designated for the relief program. Many individuals are still seeking to receive relief through legal means.


Prefectural and municipal authorities in Nagasaki denounced the health ministry’s decision to apply the new guidelines only to Hiroshima.


The ministry has agreed to continue talks on the issue with Nagasaki.


The government must not forget that the hibakusha relief law calls for providing relief equally to victims in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


It should seriously take note of Nagasaki’s criticism that the guidelines would create a division between the two cities.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged that his administration will tackle this issue with speed.


As the only nation to have experienced wartime nuclear attacks, Japan has an obligation to provide relief to all hibakusha and ensure that no one is left behind.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 28


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