Cancer patients seek compensation from Fukushima nuclear power plant

TOKYO (AP) — A Tokyo court on Thursday began hearing a lawsuit seeking nearly $5 million in damages for six children who suffered from thyroid cancer during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The plaintiffs are suing the operators of the nuclear power plant, saying the radiation released in the accident made them sick.

This is the first class-action lawsuit filed by Fukushima residents over alleged disaster-related health problems, their lawyers said.

A plaintiff, identified only as a woman in her 20s, testified behind a screen that she had to abandon plans to go to college due to multiple surgeries and treatments.

“Because of therapy, I couldn’t go to college, continue my future job, or go to concerts. I had to give up everything,” she said. “I want to get my body back in shape, but no matter how much I hope it’s impossible.”

She and five other plaintiffs are seeking a total of 616 million yen ($4.9 million) from Tepco for allegedly causing cancer.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami destroyed the cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing the cores of three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation. Critics say nuclear plant operators should be aware of the potential for a tsunami at the site.

Plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 6 and 16 at the time of the accident and lived in different parts of Fukushima, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

Factory operators told the court they were not exposed to cancer-causing radiation, citing tests of 1,080 children from three cities around the factory showed that about 55 percent were not exposed and none received more than 50 mSv radiation, which is the annual limit for nuclear radiation. staff member.

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986, the incidence of thyroid cancer in children increased.

The Fukushima prefectural government tested 380,000 residents 18 or younger for thyroid cancer at the time of the accident. About 300 people were diagnosed with cancer or suspected of having cancer.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the rate is about 77 per 100,000, significantly higher than the usual 1-2 per million, and can only be related to the accident’s radiation.

Prefectural officials and experts say the high levels of thyroid cancer found in Fukushima are due to overdiagnosis, which can lead to unnecessary treatment.

One of the lawyers, Kenichi Ido, said none of the cases involved overdiagnosis and that unless it can be proven otherwise, plant operators are responsible for radiation exposure.

The plaintiff, who testified Thursday, said she walked from home to her high school five days after the tsunami, when the reactor was melting.

Three other plaintiffs at the hearing also set up a partition to protect their privacy amid criticism on social media that they fabricated the disease and damaged Fukushima’s image, lawyers said.

Many people with health problems are afraid to speak out in Fukushima, Ido said, and he hopes the lawsuit will prove a link between radiation and the plaintiff’s cancer “so we can build a society where people can talk freely about their hardships.”

The government’s response to the crisis was slow, and evacuations in many places were delayed because there was no disclosure of what happened at the nuclear power plant. Residents fleeing by car blocked roads and remained outside for hours while radiation spread from damaged reactors. Some residents followed the direction of the radiant flow to the evacuation center.

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