Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the central government has decided to give up on appealing a recent ruling that recognized 84 people exposed to radioactive “black rain” in Hiroshima Prefecture as eligible for state health care benefits.
The Hiroshima High Court ruled earlier this month that the people are eligible for the aid even though they were exposed to the radiation following the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing outside an area recognized by the state. The deadline for appealing the ruling was set for Wednesday.
“I have reached the conclusion that we should quickly save these people, given that many of them are elderly and some have illnesses,” Suga told reporters.
The prime minister said the government would seek to issue hibakusha certificates to the plaintiffs immediately and consider ways to help other people in a similar situation.
On Monday, the plaintiffs and their lawyers submitted to the Hiroshima prefectural and city governments a petition with 8,440 signatures collected online since July 18 urging the central government not to appeal the ruling.
The local governments were defendants in the trial together with the health ministry as they have been handling certificate applications for atomic bombing survivors, but they have effectively sided with the plaintiffs, urging the state to provide wider support.
In line with a Hiroshima District Court ruling in July last year, the high court recognized all 84 plaintiffs, including deceased individuals succeeded by family members, as hibakusha and ordered the prefectural and city governments of Hiroshima to accept their applications for state health care benefits.
The high court said radioactive rain fell in a wider area beyond the designated zone and that the plaintiffs are hibakusha because it is impossible to rule out the possibility they suffered health damage caused by exposure to radiation.
Residents in the black rain zone are eligible to receive free health checkups and atomic bomb survivors certificates, which entitle them to medical benefits in case they develop any 11 specific illnesses caused by radiation effects.
The plaintiffs had filed applications to receive the health care benefits given to atomic bomb survivors with the Hiroshima prefectural and city governments between 2015 and 2018. But they were rejected as they resided outside the zone, prompting them to sue the governments to seek nullification of their decisions.
Based on previous research, the central government designated an oval-shaped area measuring 19 kilometers in length and 11 km in width stretching northwest of the hypocenter of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, as the zone where black rain fell for an hour or longer.
The local governments, as well as the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, appealed the district court ruling last August, insisting “highly scientific proof” was necessary to determine whether the plaintiffs were in an environment affected by radiation, which is one of the conditions for being recognized as an atomic bomb survivor.
The defendants argued there is no scientific proof that nuclear fallout was prevalent in the plaintiffs’ residential area and that even if they were exposed to radiation, its effects on their health should be insignificant.
The plaintiffs argued they only needed to prove the possibility of health damage caused by radiation, in line with the district court ruling. “In addition to the external radiation exposure due to the rain, there was a possibility of internal exposure by consuming contaminated food and well water,” they said.
Last November, the health ministry launched a review panel comprised of experts to study areas where black rain fell and its health impact after the local governments asked for an expansion of the recognized black rain zone based on the district court’s ruling.
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