A-bomb survivors press for regular meetings over A-bomb disease certification, held just three times in five years

by Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

Regular meetings with the minister of Health, Labor and Welfare and members from such groups as the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo), to discuss issues involving the A-bomb disease certification system, have not been held for the past year. While these meetings were held three times during the period of January 2010 to September 2013, they have not taken place since the last meeting. Those on the side of A-bomb survivors have made repeated requests, but the next meeting is still unplanned.

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who recently took office as minister of Health, Labor and Welfare in a reshuffling of the Cabinet, has said in the past that his visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum served to “inspire his interest in politics.” The question is whether or not Mr. Shiozaki will pursue these meetings so they became forums of substance.

At a press conference held on September 19, Mr. Shiozaki showed a positive stance toward holding the regular meetings. He said that he believes meeting with representatives of A-bomb survivors would be very significant and he would like to speak with them as long as his time permits.

The agreement to establish regular meetings was made in 2009 between the administration at that time, comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, and Hidankyo in order to end a series of class action lawsuits over the A-bomb disease certification system. But these gatherings have been held only three times in five years due to two changes of administration and several reshuffles of the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, an agenda for discussion, including the review of the A-bomb disease criteria that was issued last December, has emerged. One official at the Health Ministry’s A-bomb Survivor Support Office said that the ministry admits that gaps have occurred between the meetings, but scheduling has been made difficult by changes in ministers and the outbreak of dengue fever.

Through newspaper articles that appear on his website, Mr. Shiozaki shares his past, which includes a description of the deep shock he experienced when he visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as a fourth grader in elementary school. At the press conference, he stressed his belief that it is essential to provide appropriate measures for those who experienced the atomic bombings and have since suffered hardships. As the person charged with implementing relief efforts for the A-bomb survivors, he said he would be proactive in carrying out this duty.

Despite the government’s review of the criteria involving certification for A-bomb diseases, dissatisfaction with the system remains among A-bomb survivors.

The new criteria has revised certain conditions for certification, including distances from the hypocenter in cases other than cancer. Under this new criteria, some A-bomb survivors whose claims had been turned down under the old criteria have been certified. At the same time, survivors whose claims have been rejected even under the revised criteria have continued to sue the government, winning their suits in succession. Those on the side of the A-bomb survivors are critical of the system, saying that even under the new criteria, there is still discrepancy between the certification decisions being made by the government and the judgments by the courts.

Meanwhile, an additional problem has emerged. When A-bomb survivors are certified as A-bomb disease sufferers under the current criteria, they are provided with a special medical allowance of 135,000 yen per month. But the screening for renewals has become stricter, resulting in a surge of A-bomb disease sufferers whose status is being denied, including in the city of Hiroshima.

Terumi Tanaka, the secretary general of Hidankyo, expressed growing distrust in the government, saying, “We agreed to hold these meetings at least once a year. It seems it’s hard for the Japanese government to change its untrustworthy attitude.”


Regular meetings involving the A-bomb disease certification system
To end a series of class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification, then Prime Minister Taro Aso came to an agreement with Nihon Hidankyo. They confirmed that “the two sides will resolve issues through regular dialogue so that lawsuits will no longer be necessary.” At these meetings, the minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, representatives from Hidankyo, representatives from the groups of plaintiffs involved in the class action lawsuits, and attorneys gather and discuss pertinent issues. Since this forum was established, three Health ministers have convened meetings, including Akira Nagatsuma (January 2010), Yoko Komiyama (November 2011) and Norihisa Tamura (September 2013).

(Originally published on September 22, 2014)