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Japan to Give More Victims of Atomic Bomb Free Health Care

Japan's government says it will consider revising the criteria to determine which survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of two Japanese cities are entitled to free medical care after an appeals court ordered it to officially recognize more victims.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said the ruling would be reflected in revised criteria currently being considered. He declined to elaborate.

"We understand that survivors are getting old, and we are speeding up the recognition process," Kawamura said. "We hope to do as much as we can to support atomic bomb survivors."

The Tokyo High Court on Thursday granted an appeal by 30 plaintiffs for official recognition as A-bomb victims, including 10 who had previously been denied under stiff criteria, officials said. The court ruled that nine should be entitled to free medical care for ailments caused by radiation exposure from the bombings, a court official said on condition of anonymity, citing court policy.

It was difficult to prove that the illness of one person was caused by radiation exposure, and that plaintiff was rejected, according to Kyodo News agency.

The court rejected the plaintiffs' demand for government compensation of $31,600 each.

Thousands of atom bomb survivors still seek official recognition after the government earlier rejected their eligibility for compensation. Last year, the government eased the requirements for recognition following criticism that the rules were too strict and had neglected many who developed illnesses doctors have linked to radiation.

But less than 1 percent of survivors have been officially recognized as suffers of "atomic bomb illness" under the government's criteria, originally established in 1959, public broadcaster NHK said.

Official recognition qualifies survivors for government compensation, including monthly allowances, free medical checkups and funeral costs.

Haruko Nishimoto, 71, one of the winning plaintiffs Thursday, told NHK that she was initially disqualified because she was several hundred yards outside the required radius from ground zero when the bomb hit.

Doctors were later able to link her thyroid deficiency with radiation exposure in Nagasaki.

"I really hope the government will improve the program so that many atomic bomb survivors who have fallen ill can live with peace of mind," she said.

High court Judge Tatsuki Inada criticized the government screening as "mechanical, inflexible and inadequate," Kyodo said.

The ruling reportedly was the government's 18th straight legal loss over its certification since 2003.

Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic bomb attacks. The U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killed about 140,000 people, and another dropped in Nagasaki three days later killed some 70,000 more. Many of about 260,000 people who survived the attacks have developed various radiation-induced illnesses, including cancer and liver ailments.

Tokyo's district court in 2007 said 21 of the plaintiffs met the criteria but rejected the rest, citing lack of evidence linking their illnesses to radiation exposure. Twenty of the plaintiffs were later certified.

Nineteen of the plaintiffs were survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, with the rest from Nagasaki. Fourteen died during the trial and were represented by their relatives, Kyodo said.