Government gives up idea of final appeal to Supreme Court regarding “black rain” case, Part 3: How to provide relief for damages to non-plaintiffs

Government, as defendant, responsible for quickly providing relief

by Junji Akechi and Koji Higuchi, Staff Writers

On July 27, the day after Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced he would accept the ruling passed down by the Hiroshima High Court in the “black rain” court case, Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui spoke to the media at the Hiroshima City Hall. “We still have to do our homework in terms of holding discussions with the relevant parties on how support should be provided to those who did not join the lawsuit.” Although it is a near certainty that the 84 plaintiffs will receive Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificates, the question going forward is how other victims of black rain will be able to receive relief.

Court battle heavy burden for elderly victims

Only a handful of the people exposed to black rain actually participated in the court case. The long-running lawsuit was a heavy burden for the group of elderly plaintiffs from the perspective of their physical and financial well-being. Many victims were involved from the start in making appeals for damages caused by black rain but did not participate in the legal action. The number of people exposed to black rain but have not received a survivor’s certificate is estimated by the Hiroshima City government to be between 13,000 and 14,000, as of the summer of last year.

One such individual is Tsuyoshi Harada, 83, a resident of the area of Yahata in Hiroshima’s Saeki Ward, who was exposed to the black rain when he was seven years of age. “Although the government is promising it will provide relief to non-plaintiffs, I wonder who exactly will be included in the scope of coverage and how they will be supported,” Mr. Harada said, with skepticism.

After the atomic bomb was dropped, Mr. Harada made it home from school and was exposed to the rain when trying to buy lunch and on his return back home. Both his white shirt and the tofu he had purchased and placed in a colander were blackened by the rain. He later suffered from extreme fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, in addition to an effect on his duodenum.

Mr. Harada has suspected his health problems might have resulted from his exposure to black rain. However, his home is located just outside the area of eligibility for relief as designated by the national government. He has pleaded his situation and worked on efforts calling for the Japanese government to expand the area of eligibility for relief, but the government failed to agree, insisting there was insufficient scientific evidence for the expansion.

Recent decision could affect Nagasaki

The Hiroshima High Court’s ruling, which the government has accepted, acknowledged a broader rain area than currently recognized, judging that all those who were exposed to black rain should be recognized as A-bomb survivors, without recognition limited to those who developed 11 diseases such as cancer and leukemia after exposure to the rain. The court also touched on the possibility of health effects from internal radiation exposure through the intake of food and liquids. Mr. Harada said emphatically, “I used well water on a daily basis and consumed vegetables soaked by the black rain. The high court’s ruling was natural. I think all the residents who lived in our area at that time should be recognized as being A-bomb survivors.”

In the prime minister’s statement released on July 27, the Japanese government clearly indicated it would deliberate on measures to quickly provide relief to those in a situation similar to that of the plaintiffs, regardless of whether or not they had participated in the lawsuit.

How will the government determine the people eligible to receive such support? As explained by Japan’s Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Norihisa Tamura, “We will consult with the Hiroshima Prefectural and City governments to establish guidelines for recognition of such individuals.” Mr. Tamura indicated that the government would individually examine the conditions present at the time the victims were exposed to black rain and their illnesses, and determine recognition based on the guidelines. “We don’t know,” was his response to a question about the scope of those eligible for relief. As for the timing of recognition, he simply stated the government hopes to deal with the issue promptly.

Drawing additional attention is the possible impact of the ruling on people who experienced the atomic bombing in Nagasaki. A system exclusive to Nagasaki provides recognition and relief to those who were outside government-designated areas at the time of the bombing but only for psychological effects. Those who fall under this category in that system filed a lawsuit demanding recognition as A-bomb survivors. In 2017 and 2019, they lost the case by Supreme Court decisions.

Nevertheless, with the Hiroshima High Court’s ruling denying the appropriateness of the borders outlined by the national government for designation of the area of eligibility for relief and the government’s “political decision,” voices in Nagasaki calling for expansion of the area of eligibility for A-bomb survivor recognition might grow more assertive.

Regarding internal exposure mentioned in the Hiroshima High Court’s ruling, the prime minister’s statement emphasized the unacceptability of the decision due to its inconsistency with previous rulings. This cautious reaction by the national government revealed its concern about possible expansion of recognition for damages from black rain.

In accordance with the decrease in numbers of A-bomb survivors, the national government’s budget related to measures for A-bomb victims is being reduced yearly. Some in Japan’s national Diet who are focused on efforts to assist the survivors have explained that “Even if the scope of black rain victims eligible to receive relief were to be expanded, it wouldn’t cost the government hundreds of billions of yen.” As the relevant individuals become more elderly, the national, prefectural, and city governments bear responsibility for realizing as soon as possible relief measures based on the court ruling.

(Originally published on July 29, 2021)