First Accepted Case of Radiation-Related Cancer Confirmed in Former Fukushima Worker

First Accepted Case of Radiation-Related Cancer Confirmed in Former Fukushima Worker

A 41-year-old who worked at the Fukushima plant after it was crippled in a 2011 earthquake and tsunami has been diagnosed with cancer caused by radiation exposure, the first confirmed case that experts say could be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to a health ministry official, the unnamed man has leukemia.

“This is a massive blow to the IAEA, which stated in September of this year that no discernible health effects due to the exposure to radiation released by the accident are to be expected,” Greenpeace said.

The ex-worker was one of about 45,000 workers who have helped to clean up the site after it suffered calamitous meltdowns. The man worked at the site from October 2012 to December 2013 and was exposed to high levels of radiation.

The diagnosis is particularly alarming because the worker was thought to have been exposed a smaller amount of radiation than what Tokyo has classified as safe for Fukushima-area residents to move back into their homes, Shinzo Kimura, associate professor of radiation and hygiene at Dokkyo Medical University, said. [1]

“This is an alarm bell for that policy,” he told AFP.

Ten other Fukushima workers have filed similar cases, according to CNN. Seven were dropped; three are pending, the ministry said. Additionally, 13 other nuclear industry workers in that country have been certified for government compensation for cancer and other radiation-related illnesses caused by workplace exposure since the 1970’s.

The government will consider a compensation claim for illnesses linked to radiation exposure if the annual dose is more than 5 millisieverts and the illness developed for more than a year since the worker first came into contact with the radiation.

Though no deaths have been directly attributed to the meltdown and explosion at Fukushima, former plant manager Masao Yoshida died on July 9, 2013 – 2 years after he remained at his post, trying to bring the unfolding catastrophe under control. Yoshida cooled nuclear reactors with seawater against Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) wishes in an effort to slow meltdowns. TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima site, disputed whether the 58-year-old’s esophageal cancer was caused by radiation exposure. [2]

In addition, the results of a U.S.-based survey published recently show that children living near Fukushima have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 20 to 50 times the rate of children living elsewhere. The government claims the enormous uptick in diagnoses could be the result of more rigorous monitoring. In areas fairly unaffected by the disaster, 1 to 2 children per 370,000 are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Kids living near the site, however, are diagnosed at a rate of 137 per 370,000.

Last year, a worker named Shinichi, a man part of a team sent to lay electric cables in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant 13 days after the disaster, filed a groundbreaking lawsuit over radiation exposure. It was the first of its kind claiming that TEPCO exposed him to dangerously high levels of radiation without his knowledge.

Earlier this month, reactor No. 2 was brought back on line at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant. The No. 1 reactor was restarted in August, ending a 2-year moratorium on nuclear power in Japan. The reactors were restarted amid great public opposition. On October 12, nearly 2,000 people gathered to protest the restart of No. 2, calling the move “suicide” over fears that Sendai could suffer a similar fate should another massive quake occur.


[1] The Telegraph

[2] The Guardian

Photo: AFP/Getty