Editorial: Report of black rain review commission

Inconsistency in drawing of borders

Reaching a conclusion that has betrayed the hopes of those who have been left without support for 67 years, a panel studying the designated area of the black rainfall has basically endorsed a draft report stating that it is difficult to determine whether or not the rain fell over a wide area. The black rain, which fell in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, contained radioactive fallout. In reaching its conclusion, the panel of experts assembled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare cited insufficient reliable data, among other reasons.

The designated area for which support is provided is limited to an area in which the black rain “fell particularly heavily” immediately after the dropping of the atomic bomb. The City of Hiroshima asked that the designated area be expanded to six times its current size and conducted a survey on health-related issues as a basis for its request. The commission’s draft report states that it is the result of a scientific examination of the city’s survey.

The findings of some recent studies, however, are also inconsistent with the current borders for the designated area. How much effort did the commission make to incorporate these findings into its report?

Radioactive materials from the atomic bomb discovered in soil would provide evidence that black rain fell in that area, but the draft report states, “No definite traces could be found.”

However, according to studies conducted by Hiroshima University and others, cesium believed to be from the black rain has already been found outside the designated area. Cesium has also been found under the floor of a house in Akiota-cho in Hiroshima Prefecture, far from the hypocenter.

Last year the existence of data on 13,000 people compiled by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, now called the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, in the 1950s was revealed. Many of those who were interviewed reported that they had been exposed to black rain outside the currently designated area. The government’s review commission did not seem to make much effort to actively evaluate this data.

With regard to the effects on the health of those who were exposed to the black rain, the report addressed only their fears about radiation. As for other illnesses, the report states, “No evidence can be found that there were effects on health as a result of radiation from the atomic bombing.”

This may be taken to mean that the commission has decided that people are “worrying too much about the effects of radiation.” Can those who were drenched from head to toe by the black rain and whose health was in fact harmed accept this?

The commission’s report will be taken into account when the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry considers whether or not to expand the provision of relief. We cannot help but be concerned that any government remedy will be limited to assistance for psychological effects only.

The obstacle to assistance is the ministry’s policy that “a scientific and rational basis is necessary” when designating the affected area. The basis for this policy is a 1980 report prepared by the “Informal Gathering to Discuss Fundamental Problems of the Atomic Bomb Survivors.”

Making rigorous scientific evidence a condition for government assistance is itself unreasonable. Much has yet to be ascertained with regard to the harm resulting from the atomic bombing, particularly the effects of exposure to low levels of radiation and indirect exposure. Nevertheless the government may ultimately say something to the effect that there was no harm.

In the class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification, which it has repeatedly lost, the government has been heavily criticized on that point. The government must reflect on this when considering relief measures related to the black rain.

The harmful effects of the black rain are not a thing of the past and in fact have something in common with the future of those in Fukushima who worry about internal exposure to radiation. The central government must make an effort to determine the facts about the effects of the atomic bombing and not bring things to a close with its examination of the results of the city’s survey.

The way things stand now, the scientific debate may be used as an excuse to delay the provision of aid. The government must not allow the review commission’s conclusion to be its sole guiding principle when determining policy but must first take a serious look at the facts regarding the black rain.

(Originally published on May 30, 2012)