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Fukushima nuclear disaster: Worker sues company over cancer

BBC News logo BBC News 2/02/2017

Covers are installed on the unit 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the town of Okuma, Fukushima prefecture in Japan on 12 June 2013 © AFP Covers are installed on the unit 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the town of Okuma, Fukushima prefecture in Japan on 12 June 2013

A Japanese court has begun hearing the case of a man who developed leukaemia after working as a welder at the damaged Fukushima nuclear site.

The plaintiff, 42, is the first person to be recognised by labour authorities as having an illness linked to clean-up work at the plant.

He is suing Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the complex.

The nuclear site was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, causing a triple meltdown.

It was the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. An exclusion zone remains in place around the site as thousands of workers continue clean-up efforts. 

'Expendable labourer'

The man, from Japan's Fukuoka prefecture, was a welder for a sub-contractor.

He spent six months working at Genkai and Fukushima No 2 nuclear plants before moving to the quake-hit Fukushima No 1 plant, where he build scaffolding for repair work at the No 4 reactor building. His cumulative radiation exposure was 19.78 millisieverts.

This is lower than official limits - Japan currently allows workers at the damaged plant to accumulate a maximum of 100 millisieverts over five years. A dose of 100 millisieverts over a year is seen as enough to raise the risk of cancer.

In this March 2011 file photo, a young evacuee is screened at a shelter for radiation from the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima © AP In this March 2011 file photo, a young evacuee is screened at a shelter for radiation from the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima

But in October 2015, a health ministry panel ruled that the man's illness was workplace-related and that he was eligible for compensation.

"While the causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear, we certified him from the standpoint of worker compensation," a health ministry official said at the time.

AP In this March 2011 file photo, a young evacuee is screened at a shelter for radiation from the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima There has been heated debate about the dangers of radiation from the plant 1

The man is now suing Tepco and the Kyushu Electric Power Company (Kepco), which operated the Genkai plant, for JPY59m ($526,000, £417,000).

"I worked there [Fukushima No 1 plant] because of my ardent desire to help bring the disaster under control but I was treated as if I was a mere expendable labourer," Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

"I want Tokyo Electric to thoroughly face up to its responsibility."

When he filed the suit late last year, his lawyers said he had been "forced to undergo unnecessary radiation exposure because of the utilities' slipshod on-site radiation management".

Tepco and Kepco have asked the court to reject the suit, questioning the link between his radiation exposure and leukaemia, Kyodo reported.

Tens of thousands of workers have been employed at the Fukushima site since the disaster in March 2011. Late last year the government said estimates of clean-up costs had doubled to JPY21.5 trillion ($188bn, £150bn).

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