1. Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs, Hibakusha Lawsuits
(1) Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs
The atomic bombs exploded at a height of 600 meters above Hiroshima and 500 meters above Nagasaki. The explosion produced a small fireball, which, one second later, had expanded to become a large fireball of 280 meters diameter. It is said that the temperature was over 1 million degrees Celsius at the moment of explosion and 300,000 degrees one ten thousandth of a second after the explosion, and that one second later the surface temperature of the fireball was 5,000 degrees. The atomic bomb was like a little sun. The incredible heat rays, blast and radiation which were produced hit the Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and destroyed them in a mere ten seconds. Hoards of people were severely burnt, blown about by the blast and irradiated before they knew it. The chief special characteristic of the atomic bomb was the radiation.
It is believed that there were between 340,000 and 350,000 victims of the Hiroshima bomb and about 270,000 victims of the Nagasaki bomb. There are no precise figures of the number of people killed, but it is estimated that by December 1945 140,000 people had died as a result of the Hiroshima bomb and 70,000 had died from the Nagasaki bomb. In addition, more than 100,000 people who entered the cities later to search for family members, rescue survivors and rebuild the cities were exposed to residual radiation. Some Hibakusha in this latter group also experienced symptoms of acute radiation and died.
As a result of the surprise attacks on these two cities, military personal and civilians, old and young, men and women (indiscriminate), human and non-human, natural environment and man-made structures were wiped out (total) in an instant (instantaneous). Those who survived were damaged in all aspects of their lives, physically and psychologically (comprehensive) and the damage continued without end, in some cases increasing as time went by (continuous increase).
It is said that during World-War II 2.2 million Japanese military personal and civilians employed by the military were killed. By comparison, 210,000 people, or one tenth of the military figure, were killed by the two atomic bombs. This fact alone clearly testifies to the fact that nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction, totally different in nature from all previous weapons.
(2) System for Certification of Atomic Bomb Sickness
Japan has a system for certifying people as sufferers of atomic bomb sickness. The system provides a special medical allowance (1,400 USD per month) for Hibakusha who the government certifies as having radiation-induced illnesses which require medical treatment and which were caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
As at the end of March 2007, the government had recognized 250,000 people as being Hiroshima or Nagasaki Hibakusha. However, only about 2,200 of these Hibakusha (fewer than 1%) were certified as suffering from atomic bomb-related sickness (mainly malignant cancers).
Why was this so? The reason was that the Japanese Government claimed that people were only affected by radiation from the atomic bombs if they were exposed to direct radiation within two kilometers of the hypocenter. Furthermore, it restricted its classification of radiation-induced sickness to a limited range of malignant neoplasm (including leukemia) and cataracts. In other words, it took the view that people who were over two kilometers from the hypocenter (distant Hibakusha), people who entered the cities after the explosion (entrant Hibakusha) and people who provided care to Hibakusha outside the cities (rescue worker Hibakusha) should not be affected by radiation.
2. The Hibakusha's Battle in the Courts
(1) Facts Revealed by Lawsuits for Certification of Atomic Bomb Sickness
Starting in April 2003, over 300 Hibakusha, angry at the government's unreasonable implementation of the system for the certification of atomic bomb sickness, and responding to a proposal by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo), launched lawsuits against the government in 17 district courts around Japan. The result of these lawsuits was that by March 2010 the Hibakusha had won successive victories in 22 courts (15 district courts and 7 high courts).
The important thing was that the lawsuits showed that the effect of the radiation was far more extensive and caused suffering for much longer than the government had claimed. In so doing, the lawsuits revealed the incomparable cruelty of the atomic bomb.
The first point is that the lawsuits clearly showed that distant Hibakusha (people further than 2 kilometers from the hypocenter) and entrant Hibakusha (people who entered the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombing) suffered acute radiation symptoms, such as loss of hair, diarrhea and purpura (purple spots). This demonstrated that the atomic bombs contaminated the whole cities with radioactivity and that the mushroom cloud was full of radioactive material, which fell on the people over a wide area as black rain or black dust. Distant Hibakusha and entrant Hibakusha ingested this radioactive material by breathing, drinking and eating contaminated matter. As a result, minute radioactive particles continued to emit radiation into the Hibakusha's bodies. This is called internal radiation.
The second point is that the lawsuits clearly showed that the Hibakusha did not just suffer immediately after the bombing. They are still suffering 64 years later. Furthermore, it became clear that the effects of the radiation are not restricted to cancer, but include a whole range of non-cancer conditions.
(2) Change of Government Policy
In April 2008, in response to the Hibakusha's successive victories, the government drastically changed its approach to the the certification of atomic bomb sickness.
Firstly, the exposure range was expanded. The government increased the range, recognizing that people within a radius of 3.5 km from the hypocenter at the time of the blast were affected by radiation. It also recognized the fact that entrant Hibakusha who entered within a certain distance of the hypocenter were affected by residual radiation.
Secondly, the range of illnesses was expanded. The government increased the number of types of cancer and also recognized non-cancer conditions, including myocardial infarction, hyperparathyroidism and liver dysfunction, as radiation-induced diseases.
As a result, the number of Hibakusha certified as suffering from atomic bomb-related sickness increased from the 100-200 people per year recognized in the past to a total of 3,000.
In addition, on August 6, 2009 in Hiroshima (August 6 being the date when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped) a written agreement was exchanged between the Prime Minister and Nihon Hidankyo. Both parties agreed that they would accept the verdict of the courts and end the lawsuits. The government also agreed to establish a forum for consultations with the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare about reform of the recognition system, in order to respond to the claims of Hibakusha whose damage from the atomic bombs was still not adequately covered by the system.
At the same time as the written agreement, the Chief Cabinet Secretary announced a "Chief Cabinet Secretary dialogue". During the dialogue, the Chief Cabinet Secretary made an official apology to the Hibakusha in regard to the severe court judgments against the government. Also, he articulated the official government position as follows. "As the government of the only country victimized of atomic attacks, so that the tragedy of the atomic bombings is never repeated, I declare the government's determination to play a leadership role towards the elimination of nuclear weapons."
(3) Contradictions in Japan's Nuclear Policy
The Hibakusha believe that behind the Japanese Government's unjust policy towards them lies the government's dependence on nuclear weapons. On the one hand the government says, "As the government of the only country victimized of atomic attacks, we will strive for the abolition of nuclear weapons." But on the other hand it adopts a security policy which relies on the US nuclear umbrella. It says that the United States' nuclear weapons are useful for Japan. Meanwhile, as is well known, the US takes the attitude that nuclear weapons are indispensable for its national security and does not rule out the possibility that under some circumstances it might resort to the first use of nuclear weapons.
The Hibakusha suspect that the government wants to avoid revelation of the fact that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to cause huge, long-term damage to human beings exposed in a wide area and that they are incomparably cruel weapons. They suspect that the government thinks that these facts would be an impediment to the Japan-US nuclear policies.
In other words, the Japanese Government strongly wishes to "minimize the effect and the damage of the atomic bombs". Hibakusha believe that this attitude distorts the implementation of the system for certification of atomic bomb-related sickness.
4. Conclusion: Nuclear Weapons and Human Beings Cannot Coexist
Over sixty years after the atomic bombs were dropped, the Hibakusha are still suffering the after-effects. As survivors witnessing to that unspeakable hell, they have continued to appeal to the whole world for the speedy elimination of nuclear weapons. This comes from their desire "not to allow anyone on earth to experience the same suffering", "not to allow any more Hibakusha to be created" - their cry of "No more Hiroshimas. No more Nagasakis. No more Hibakusha." Nevertheless, to this day there are still over 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world.
In order to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, Hibakusha believe that the most important thing is to get as many people as possible to know the truth, the true nature of the damage caused by the atomic bombings. Through its system for certification of atomic bomb sickness, through its narrow interpretation of the damage caused by the atomic bombings, the government of Japan, the country attacked with atomic bombs, turns its back on, betrays the wishes of the Hibakusha.
The atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945. Already 64 years have passed since then, but the radiation is still causing suffering for the people exposed. The damage caused by the atomic bombs is by no means a thing of the past. It is an ongoing issue.
The many facts about the atomic bombing clarified by the many Hibakusha who stood up in court plainly revealed the incomparable cruelty of nuclear weapons and proved that nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist.