TOKYO – Six people who were children living in Fukushima at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster and who have since developed thyroid cancer filed a lawsuit on Thursday to demand compensation for their illnesses, which they say were caused by massive radiation.
The plaintiffs, now between the ages of 17 and 27, are claiming a total of 616 million yen (US $ 5.4 million) from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
One of them, a 20-year-old woman, said she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016 and has since had to change jobs to prioritize her health. He complained of prejudice against thyroid cancer patients.
“I couldn’t tell anyone about my cancer because I was afraid of being discriminated against,” she said. “But I decided to introduce myself and tell the truth in the hope of improving the situation of about 300 more people who also suffer like us.”
His lawyers said it was the first group lawsuit in Japan filed by Fukushima residents over health issues related to the nuclear disaster 11 years ago.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, causing triple melting and long-term radiation effects in the region. After massive decontamination efforts, the government has declared most areas safe, except in the immediate vicinity of the plant, and is promoting measures to counteract the “reputation damage” of local agricultural and fishery products.
At a news conference after presenting his case to the Tokyo District Court, one of the plaintiffs and the mother of another said they expected the court to establish a correlation between cancer and plant radiation. A group of experts commissioned by the Fukushima prefectural government has so far ruled it out.
The plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 6 and 16 at the time of the crisis, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018, their lawyers said. Four of them had their thyroid completely removed and need hormone treatment for life. One of them says the cancer has spread since then. The other two had their thyroid removed.
The plaintiffs are from different parts of Fukushima, including Aizu, about 120 kilometers (72 miles) west of the plant, and some of them have since moved to the Tokyo area.
More than 290 people have been diagnosed or suspected of having thyroid cancer, including 266 found as part of the Fukushima prefecture panel survey of some 380,000 residents aged 18 and under at the time of the disaster.
The 77 per 100,000 incidence rate is significantly higher than the usual 1-2 per million, lawyers say.
Prefecture officials and experts have said that the high detection rate in Fukushima is due to an overdiagnosis in many cases, which could have led to unnecessary treatment or surgery. Some are also calling for an end to general polls.
Kenichi Ido, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said his client’s cancer has progressed, that none of the cases involve an overdiagnosis, and that TEPCO should be held responsible for radiation exposure unless the company can prove otherwise. .
TEPCO in a statement on Thursday apologized for continuing to cause problems and concerns to people in Fukushima and elsewhere. He said the company would “respond sincerely” after a close examination of court documents.
After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, several thousand cases of thyroid cancer related to radiation exposure were reported, mostly in children and adolescents. Ido said it is unthinkable that there are no such cases in Fukushima.
Fukushima cancer patients “live in uncertainty and can’t even think about getting married or having children,” Ido said. Speakers are criticized for hampering recovery efforts in the area, he said.
Another lawyer, Yuichi Kaido, said the lawsuit is not just for the six plaintiffs, but for hundreds of others with health issues stemming from the effects of the radiation. He said he hoped to establish a medical support system for them.
The government at the time of the accident was slow in its emergency response, and evacuation in many places was delayed due to lack of disclosure of what was happening at the plant. Residents attempting to flee with their cars blocked roads and were stranded for hours outside as radiation seeped through the damaged reactors. Some residents headed to the evacuation centers in the direction of the radiation flow.
In a trial seeking the criminal liability of former TEPCO executives, in 2019 the Tokyo District Court found three senior officials not guilty, saying they could not have foreseen the disaster. The case has been appealed to a high court.