A former nuclear plant worker diagnosed with leukemia after working at Fukushima nuclear sites that were damaged as a result of the March 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami is suing two power utilities.
Seeks $524,000 In Damages
At the first trial hearing of his case at the Tokyo District Court on Thursday, the 42-year-old welder from the Fukuoka Prefecture demanded ¥59 million, or around $524,000 in damages, from the defendants.
The man is the first person labor authorities in Japan recognized to have an illness traced back to workplace exposure due to the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that was triggered by the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
The man was involved in welding operations at Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 plants and the Genkai complex in Saga Prefecture. He helped install the covers on two damaged reactor buildings between October 2011 and December 2013. Thousands of workers have been employed.
He is now suing Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which operates Fukushima No. 1, and Kyushu Electric Power Co., which operates the Genkai nuclear plant.
"I worked there because of my ardent desire to help bring the disaster under control but I was treated as if I was a mere expendable laborer," the plaintiff said.
Questions Raised Over Connection Between Low Radiation Exposure And Leukemia Diagnosis
The defendants asked the court to reject the claim raising questions over the connection between the man's radiation exposure and leukemia.
In his written complaint, the man said that his cumulative radiation exposure was 19.78 millisieverts, which is lower than official limits.
Japan currently allows workers at damaged plants to accumulate up to 100 millisieverts over a five-year period. Exposure to 100 millisieverts over one year is considered enough to raise risk of cancer. A health ministry panel, however, ruled in October 2015 that the man's illness was related to his work and that he was eligible for compensation.
In January 2014, the man was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and later suffered from depression. He claimed he was not able to work again and thus seeks compensation from the power companies.
A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official said that the man would be awarded compensation to cover for lost income and medical costs.
Some experts, however, raised concern over the health ministry's decision to recognize the man's diagnosis as having linked to radiation exposure at Fukushima saying that risk for cancer is very low for exposure to low dose of radiation.
"Given the low doses that the workers were exposed to, the increased risk is very small at these doses, and it would be very difficult to be certain that this was due to radiation and not to other factors that cause leukemia," Gerry Thomas, professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College London said. "At these doses, the other factors are a more likely cause of the man's illness."
Thousands of people who worked at Fukushima since the disaster were exposed to more than 5 millisieverts of radiation from March 2011 to July 2015. Compensation insurance are given to workers after exposure to 5 millisieverts in a year.