National / Crime & Legal

Shikoku court rejects fishermen's appeal over 1954 hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll

JIJI, Kyodo

The Takamatsu High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a claim by former tuna fishermen and bereaved relatives for state compensation over the 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.

In the lawsuit, the 29 plaintiffs demanded a total of about ¥42 million from the Japanese government for hiding records of radiation exposure from the hydrogen bomb tests.

The plaintiffs claimed that the state had deliberately continued to cover up the records until they were disclosed in 2014 and that the fishermen from Kochi Prefecture, who were operating near Bikini Atoll at the time of the tests, lost opportunities to recover their health as a result.

But the high court ruled the government did not deliberately hide documents.

“It is difficult to determine that a policy to hide records regarding radiation exposure had been decided and handed down for 60 years,” presiding Judge Takahisa Masuda said in handing down the ruling.

“It would be difficult to give judicial relief by compensation claims, and there is no other choice but to pin hopes on considerations by the legislative and administrative bodies,” the judge said.

In July last year, the Kochi District Court acknowledged the plaintiffs were exposed to radiation in the tests, but denied the state’s liability, saying it was impossible for the government to hide information about health damage from the tests because it was widely reported by the media at the time.

The lower court also said that, although the documents may have been handled in a sloppy manner by several government agencies in charge of the matter, the state did not intentionally conceal them.

The lower court also deemed the statute of limitations, a 20-year period during which the plaintiffs were entitled to demand compensation under the Civil Code, had expired given there was no conclusive evidence to indicate that the state persistently engaged in illegal activities. The high court did not make any judgment on the subject.

“The high court ruling is extremely regrettable,” Miho Masumoto, 78, one of the bereaved relatives, told a news conference.

The plaintiff group will carefully consider whether to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, taking the plaintiffs’ old age into consideration.

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