6 cancer patients sue utility over Fukushima radiationThursday, January 27, 2022
TOKYO, Japan (AP) — Six people who were children living in Fukushima at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster and have since developed thyroid cancer, filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding a utility company pay compensation for their illnesses, which they say were triggered by massive radiation.
The plaintiffs, now aged 17 to 27 years, are demanding a total of 616 million yen ($5.4 million) from the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which runs the the Fukushima nuclear plant.
One of the them, a woman in her 20s, said she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016 and has since had to change jobs to prioritize her health. She 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 come forward and tell the truth in hopes of improving the situation for nearly 300 other people also suffering like us.”
Their lawyers said it is the first group lawsuit in Japan filed by Fukushima residents over health problems linked to the nuclear disaster 11 years ago.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima plant's cooling systems, triggering triple meltdowns and long-term radiation effects in the region. After massive decontamination efforts, the government has declared most areas — except for the immediate surroundings of the plant — safe and promotes measures to counter “reputational damage” to local agricultural and fisheries products.
In a news conference after filing their case at the Tokyo District Court, one of the plaintiffs and the mother of another said they hoped the court would establish a correlation between the cancer and radiation from the plant. An expert panel commissioned by the Fukushima prefectural government has so far ruled it out.
The plaintiffs, who were 6 to 16 years old at the time of the meltdown, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018, their lawyers said. Four of them had their thyroid fully removed and need lifetime hormonal treatment. One of them says the cancer has since spread. The other two had part of 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 with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer, including 266 found as part of the Fukushima prefectural panel's survey of some 380,000 residents aged 18 or younger at the time of the disaster.