Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to review contentious government criteria to determine if survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are suffering from illnesses caused by radiation from the bombings. As survivors are aged, the government should start the review process as soon as possible.

What prompted the decision was the government's defeat in six consecutive lawsuits that survivors filed against the government's decision not to recognize them as sufferers of illnesses caused by radiation from the bombings. A total of 266 survivors have filed these and other lawsuits across the nation.

As of March 31, 251,834 people had "hibakusha" health books — in principle entitling them to free medical checkups and services. But only 2,242 have been recognized as having illnesses caused by radiation. Recognized sufferers receive a monthly special medical allowance of about ¥137,000. To decide if an applicant is a victim of radiation-caused illness, the government uses the DS86 dosimetry system while considering other factors such as the applicant's sex and age at the time of exposure to radiation. DS86 determines the radiation dose on the basis of a person's distance from ground zero.

In the latest ruling, on July 30, the Kumamoto District Court said that the criteria should be just one factor in the screening process and noted the possibility that radiation doses at and beyond 1.3 km from ground zero are underestimated. It referred to acute symptoms such as hair loss and vomiting among those who were far away from ground zero and those who entered the cities after the bombings. It denounced the criteria's failure to consider exposure to internal radiation caused by contaminated dirt and dust.

The ruling coalition and the health ministry must quickly move to establish special panels to review the criteria.