A court in Japan has for the first time recognised dozens of people who were exposed to radioactive “black rain” as survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, even though they lived outside the area hit hardest by the attack in August 1945.
The Hiroshima district court said the 84 plaintiffs, who are suffering from illnesses linked to radiation exposure, were entitled to the same medical benefits as survivors who lived closer to where the bomb struck.
The court on Wednesday ordered the Hiroshima city and prefectural governments to provide free medical treatment to the plaintiffs, who range in age from their late 70s to 90s.
The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters the government had not decided whether to appeal the ruling.
The landmark ruling comes a week before Hiroshima marks the 75th anniversary of the 6 August attack, which reduced the city to rubble and killed an estimated 140,000 people by the end of 1945. Three days later, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people.
After the second world war, Japan’s government designated certain areas as having been significantly affected by the nuclear attack, and offered free medical care to those who were there at the time.
The plaintiffs were in areas outside the zone, but were exposed to the radioactive black rain that fell on the city hours after the attack.
“Fragments of tatami flooring and pens fell from the sky, and then the black rain came,” read part of a deposition submitted to the court, according to the Asahi Shimbun. “The rain left black stains on my shirt,” said another passage.
More than a dozen people seeking official recognition have died since the suit was filed in 2015, according to Minoru Honke, who was four when he was exposed to black rain. “I want to tell them that we won,” he said.
The plaintiffs had argued that their exposure to the rain, including through contaminated food and water, had caused illnesses such as cancer and cataracts suffered by those who were inside the government-designated zone.
The plaintiffs took legal action after the city and prefectural governments of Hiroshima turned down their request to be officially recognised as hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bombings.
Local officials had argued that there was no scientific evidence that black rain had fallen outside the government-designated zones.
The court, however, said the plaintiffs had presented “reasonable” claims about their exposure to black rain, adding that medical records proved they had developed health problems caused by exposure to radiation.
“It is possible that black rain fell outside the designated zone and reasonable to conclude that they were affected by radiation if they were exposed,” the presiding judge, Yoshiyuki Takashima, told the court, according to Kyodo news agency.
“Medical documents show that the residents are experiencing illnesses that are believed to have links with the atomic bomb, and that fulfil legal conditions required of hibakusha,” he said.
As of March, 136,682 people had been recognised as hibakusha, including those who lived in Nagasaki.