The central government and Hiroshima local governments appealed Wednesday a landmark ruling last month by the Hiroshima District Court that had recognized more victims of radioactive “black rain,” caused by fallout from the atomic bombing of the city, as eligible for support.

But the central government also said it would discuss expanding designated areas of support for the victims so that they would be able to receive assistance.

It was not immediately clear what kind of assistance would be offered or whether it would be the same as that received by victims in the current designated area.

The July 29 verdict by the district court, the first of its kind, recognized the 84 plaintiffs who had suffered due to black rain after the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing as atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, making them entitled to free health benefits.

The plaintiffs had lived outside of a zone, officially designated by central government, in which people had to reside to be considered hibakusha. Because of that, the court’s decision, if it stands, could rewrite how Japan officially identifies such people, and expand the number of those eligible for benefits.

“Since the (Hiroshima court’s) decision is different from successive Supreme Court rulings, the decision was made to appeal,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“We can’t say the court’s decision was based on sufficient scientific evidence,” health minister Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday after announcing the government’s decision.

With the appeal, there are concerns about how much longer the elderly plaintiffs, many of whom are in failing health, can wait.

In Hiroshima, plaintiffs and their lawyers criticized the decision to appeal.

“It’s clear that the health of the plaintiffs has been damaged by the effects of the atomic bomb. An appeal based on a political judgement, using (insufficient) scientific evidence as an excuse, tramples on the feelings of the aging people who suffered from black rain,” they said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments were reportedly reluctant to push for an appeal but went along with the central government after it said it would review the areas of support.

“The central government is picking on the judicial judgement. The appeal is extremely regrettable, but we’ll continue to fight to win,” said Masaaki Takano, 82, head of the plaintiffs’ group.

Health minister Katsunobu Kato speaks to the press Wednesday. | KYODO 
Health minister Katsunobu Kato speaks to the press Wednesday. | KYODO 

Kato said the ministry would start discussions with experts, while looking at how to expand the officially designated zone in Hiroshima for hibakusha victims so the plaintiffs may receive some form of assistance.

The case began in November 2015 when 64 people in the city of Hiroshima and several surrounding areas filed a suit against the city and prefecture. Though the local governments, who are entrusted with the administrative duty of screening applicants for A-bomb health care aid, have been sued, the central government is also participating in the legal battle, as it designed the policy.

The plaintiffs claimed they suffered due to the black rain and other radioactive fallout that spread across Hiroshima after the United States dropped the atomic bomb.

But their applications to receive official hibakusha certificates were rejected because they were living outside the area officially designated for hibakusha status.

Without official recognition, they were not eligible to receive health and welfare benefits under a national law governing hibakusha and their families.

The lawsuit was seen as a direct challenge to the way the central government determines who is an official hibakusha and who is not.

Some of the plaintiffs suffer from serious illnesses, including cancer. Not all are direct survivors of the bombing — some are family members of original plaintiffs who died after 2015. The original plaintiffs were between four months and 21 years old when the attack occurred.

A white wall with streaks of black rain is displayed in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. | KYODO
A white wall with streaks of black rain is displayed in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. | KYODO

The plaintiffs asserted that rejection of their applications was illegal because their health was impacted by the radioactive black rain despite the fact that they were outside the government’s prescribed heavy black rain zone.

A related law established by the central government in 1976 applies to those living within a roughly 19-kilometer-long, 11-kilometer-wide zone, mostly to the northwest of the hypocenter near the current Atomic Bomb Dome.

The government’s position was that only people within the designated area, which had been drawn up by local meteorologists, were eligible for benefits under the 1976 law.

The zone was based on a meteorological study conducted in 1945 after consulting local residents. It concluded that black rain fell in an area roughly 15 kilometers east to west and 29 kilometers north to south from the epicenter.

Within that region, however, was an area 11 kilometers to the east and 19 kilometers north of ground zero, where rainfall was considered to have been heavier.

It was that smaller, heavy rain region that became the area designated for recognition as hibakusha. Everything outside of its limits was judged to have seen less significant rainfall and, therefore, ineligible for support.

The plaintiffs, some of who lived just outside the heavy rain zone, argued this old definition was too arbitrary, too narrow and not based on the latest available science concerning the black rain. They called for the zone to be expanded, and for the central government to retract its rejection of their certificate applications.

In the July 29 decision, the court ruled that government standards for recognizing hibakusha were irrational because the definition of such people was based only on where they were on Aug. 6, 1945, and the length of time during which the black rain fell in that area.

The standards for definition did not, the court said, take into account people who were not only externally poisoned directly by radiation that fell as black rain but also later internally poisoned by drinking radiation-contaminated food and water.

The court took the position that who is hibakusha should be determined based on not only where people were when the black rain fell but also the distance they were from the area where it fell, and the reliability of their testimony about where they were at the time. It ordered the plaintiffs to submit medical records and testimony of their location. The court ruled there was nothing unnatural or irrational about testimonies of those who said they were outside working that day.

As to the 1945 meteorological study used to formulate the 1976 law for compensating the victims, the court said it was an important document. But it also acknowledged testimony from other experts who challenged the study’s scientific validity and said the area of heavy black rainfall was much wider than the official standard.

All 84 plaintiffs, the district court said, should be officially recognized as hibakusha.

Information from Kyodo added

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.