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About the Atomic Bomb Disease Recognition Trials

Ken-ichi OHKUBO
Lawyer, Japan
‚PDWhat is Atomic Bomb Disease?:
There is in Japan a system for acknowledging what is called Atomic Bomb Disease. A-bomb Disease is not a term that indicates a special pathology: in fact, it refers to the state of health of an A-bomb sufferer of Hiroshima or Nagasaki (called Hibakusha) who has developed any disease known to be caused by A-bomb radiation and that necessitates medical treatment. When the government acknowledges that a person has A-bomb Disease, that person is entitled to a "Special Medical Allowance" amounting to about 140,000 yen a month. Today, approximately 2,200 Hibakusha are officially recognized by the government as A-bomb Disease sufferers. This signifies that the Japanese government officially admits that A-bomb radiation continues to seriously affect the health of A-bomb survivors. Since the atomic bombs were dropped on the two cities in August 1945, 62 years have elapsed, and despite this, A-bomb radiation continues to make the survivors suffer. Thus, one must understand that the A-bomb damage is not a problem that belongs to the past, but remains a challenge even today.
What is central in this problem is the effect of radiation produced by the atomic bomb explosions of 1945. It is a fact that A-bomb radiation is still causing leukemia and other cancers in survivors. The A-bomb damage should therefore not be seen as limited to that caused by the extremely high heat and the blast that immediately followed the atomic explosion, but also includes the malignant effects of long-term radiation exposure. The atomic bombs are actually inflicting perpetual damage to the A-bomb survivors. For the Hibakusha, the end of the Pacific War did not mean an end to the disastrous war damage. It rather meant a beginning of new suffering from diseases, poverty and discrimination. We can see in this the major difference between war damage and A-bomb damage. This is why we should not disregard the A-bomb damage by adopting a logic that confounds all types of damage, according to which there is no need to favor the Hibakusha in treating war victims since the value of life is equal for all. Instead we all need to re-acknowledge the cruelty and inhumanity of nuclear weapons.
‚QDWhat being a Hibakusha Means:
There are now about 250,000 people acknowledged by the government as A-bomb sufferers of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Of these Hibakusha, only about 2,200 or less than one percent are officially recognized as having A-bomb Disease. Why such a small proportion? We should not claim that all of the 250,000 Hibakusha have their health adversely affected by radiation, but it would be also wrong to say that only 2,200 of them have some health problems. Actually, a large number of Hibakusha are suffering from leukemia or cancer or from disorders or malfunctions of various organs, but the government refuses to acknowledge them as having A-bomb Disease. Why is this? The government claims that "not all Hibakusha have been affected by radiation". They argue that some Hibakusha have been affected by radiation, while others have not.
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To understand the problem, it is necessary to clarify the notion of "Hibakusha" or "A-bomb survivors". First, there are some Hibakusha who died in the atomic bombing. It is estimated that 210,000 people died between August 6th and December 31st, 1945. Of those who survived and are still living today, about 250,000 are legally recognized as "Hibakusha". These legally recognized Hibakusha can be classified into the following four categories: (1) those directly exposed to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima or Nagasaki (direct Hibakusha); (2) those who were outside the city when the bomb was dropped, but entered the city afterwards (entrant Hibakusha); (3) those who provided care to survivors outside the city (rescue worker Hibakusha); (4) those who were in the womb of mothers who belong to one of the three categories above. It is easy to imagine that there are also some people who belong to one of these four categories but have refrained from applying for the official acknowledgment of being Hibakusha. This is because it has been often the case for those who have declared themselves Hibakusha to suffer prejudice that outweighs any special assistance they might get for living in society. Please keep in mind these different meanings of the term "Hibakusha".
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The Japanese government asserts that only those belonging to the first category of Hibakusha, direct Hibakusha, and who were exposed to the explosion within 2 kilometers from ground zero are affected by radiation. According to them, those who were outside this distance (distant Hibakusha) or entered the city some days after the bomb had been dropped (entrant Hibakusha) or those who did not enter the city (rescue worker Hibakusha) cannot possibly be affected by radiation. To support their argument, they invoke the figures obtained from U.S. nuclear tests (including simulations) as well as the results of the studies carried out by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (originally a U.S. institution). According to these studies, radiation cannot have harmful effects on a human body located more than 2 kilometers away and therefore is not likely to cause any disease. This is the view adopted by the government when it established a "scientific criteria" for A-bomb Disease recognition. Due to the criteria, if a Hibakusha develops a disease that can be attributed to radiation exposure, he or she qualifies for A-bomb Disease acknowledgement only if he or she was directly exposed within 2 kilometers from ground zero.
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However, those exposed beyond the limit of 2 kilometers (distant Hibakusha) or entrant Hibakusha also showed acute radiation symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of hair, bleeding from the nose and gums, purple spots appearing on the skin, or developed late symptoms such as extreme weariness. This has been evidenced by the testimonies of the doctors who examined the survivors. Despite this, the government refuses to admit that these symptoms actually observed in Hibakusha who do not meet the official criteria are related to radiation by saying that they are attributable to various factors such as infection, malnutrition and individual differences. Without admitting the fact, the government claims that distant Hibakusha or entrant Hibakusha "cannot be affected" by radiation as if these Hibakusha are telling lies to get "special medical allowances".
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Hibakusha have decided to take their cases to the court to make the government acknowledge that the diseases they are suffering from are caused by A-bomb radiation. The judgments at the District Court level have repeatedly criticized the attitude of the government and questioned the A-bomb Disease recognition criteria, but the government is not willing to change its attitude, and filed appeals to High Courts (cases still pending). In addition, the government is criticized even by a group within the ruling party, but it does not bend to such criticism. In Japan, the government simply defies the court decisions and such dissenting opinion of the ruling party by infinitely prolonging the trials. What is happening in Japan now is unimaginable elsewhere.
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What lies behind such an unreasonable attitude of the government may be its dependence on nuclear weapons. In fact, the Japanese government on one hand has declared that "Japan, as the only nation in the world to suffer the atomic bombing, will endeavor for the elimination of nuclear weapons". On the other hand however, it has adopted a security policy that relies on the "nuclear umbrella" of the United States of America. It says that American nuclear weapons are useful for Japan's security. And as we all know, the U.S. has openly declared that these are weapons essential for its security and that it will not hesitate to use them first when it deems it necessary. They claim that nuclear weapons are necessary. Thus, the governments of these two countries would certainly prefer to hold back the fact that nuclear weapons are cruel weapons which, once used, will have a malignant effect on the human body for many years. For this particular reason, the Japanese government wants to minimize the A-bomb damage as much as possible.
Please understand the legal battles over A-bomb Disease recognition has this particular background and that nuclear weapons have a long lasting effect on human body. This is why nuclear weapons and people cannot coexist.