Japanese Court Finally Recognizes Sick A-Bomb Survivors

A Japanese court ruled Friday that the government has wrongfully denied 41 Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors recognition as sufferers of radiation sickness, but rejected the plaintiffs' demands for damages, the court said.

The decision, which came just days before the 61st anniversary of the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing, will not automatically entitle the plaintiffs to expanded benefits as radiation sickness victims, a supporter of the plaintiffs said.

The 41 plaintiffs had demanded 3 million yen (US$26,075; euro20,400) each in damages for being denied the expanded benefits provided to survivors recognized as radiation sufferers.

Those recognized as sufferers of radiation illness are eligible for medical allowances of 137,430 yen (US$1,195; euro935) a month from the government, while most other survivors receive only 33,800 yen (US$294; euro230) a month.

As of March 2006, the government recognized about 260,000 survivors of the bombings, according to Health Ministry official Kentaro Mitsui. However, only 2,280 people are recognized as sufferers of radiation disease.

Hiroshima District Court official Takanori Sekido said the court ruled the plaintiffs had been illegally denied the additional recognition, but rejected the damage claim. He provided no further details.

Masako Kudo, of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers' Organizations, which supported the suit, said the ruling did not necessarily mean the plaintiffs would now be eligible for expanded benefits.

The effects of radiation disease includeleukemia and other forms of cancer.

The court said in its ruling that the government's criteria in deciding who is eligible for official recognition is incomplete, according to a joint statement issued by the confederation and other support groups.

"This ruling can be seen as ... harshly rebuking the government for underestimating the number of radiation sickness sufferers," the statement said. The groups also called on the Health Ministry to change its system for recognizing such individuals as soon as possible, it said.

A total of 183 people have filed lawsuits against the government seeking official recognition as radiation disease sufferers, according to the confederation.