Proposed draft amendment expands relief measures to include those exposed to “black rain” with history of cataract surgery

by Koji Higuchi, Staff Writer

On December 23, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare proposed to the Hiroshima Prefectural and City governments an amended draft of guidelines for official recognition of A-bomb survivors, scheduled for implementation in April 2022. The aim of the amended draft is to expand access to relief measures for people exposed to the so-called “black rain” that fell soon after the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The revised guidelines will ensure recognition of people as being A-bomb survivors when “the possibility cannot be denied they were exposed to black rain,” based on their accounts of that time or student registration records. While the revised guidelines maintain the requirement for 11 diseases, such as cancer and cataracts, those with a history of cataract surgery will also qualify for relief. Both the prefecture and city withheld their response at the time and indicated they would inform the ministry of their decision whether or not to accept the revised guidelines by December 27.

The ministry handed over the draft at the time of a third closed-door meeting held online with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Prefectural and City governments. Following the Hiroshima High Court decision last July that resulted in recognition as A-bomb survivors all 84 plaintiffs who sought damages caused by the black rain, the revised guidelines offer such recognition if confirmation is possible that applicants were in the same vicinity at around the same time as the plaintiffs in the court case because, with that condition met, the possibility they were exposed to black rain cannot be denied. The ministry expects to confirm the actual circumstances of applicants’ lives at that time through documents related to their formal testimonies or student registration records.

While 11 diseases, such as cancer and hematopoietic disorders, are still considered to be a requirement for recognition, the revised guidelines recognize those who had cataract surgery as being A-bomb survivors even if they do not suffer from cataracts at the present time. The Hiroshima High Court ruled that people who had been exposed to black rain should be recognized in that way regardless of whether or not they suffer from the 11 diseases.

According to a related source, the ministry has made the analysis that more than 10,000 people will be newly certified if the revised guidelines go into effect. Necessary expenses, such as medical costs, are expected to be incorporated into the national government budget for fiscal 2022.

A staff member in charge of the issue at the ministry explained after the talks that, “We want to expand access to relief measures for survivors by reducing their burden of proof.” Although the revised draft of the guidelines was met favorably by the Hiroshima Prefectural and City governments, their response indicated the need for the ministry to “reconsider the disease requirement.” The local governments indicated that the impetus for the revised guidelines extending support to people with a history of cataract surgery was the legal court ruling that recognized as being A-bomb survivors all plaintiffs in the Hiroshima court case, including those who had undergone the same cataract surgery.

As to support for survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, the ministry concluded that “it would be difficult to treat them as equal to victims of the Hiroshima bombing,” considering the fact that the government emerged victorious in relevant lawsuits in Nagasaki. The ministry requested that the Nagasaki Prefectural and City governments, both unconvinced by the ministry’s explanation, continue engaging in deliberations on the issue.

(Originally published on December 24, 2021)