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Ex-Fukushima nuclear plant worker with leukemia sues TEPCO, Kyushu Electric

A former nuclear plant worker, left, speaks at a news conference at the press club in the Tokyo High Court building in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district, on Nov. 22, 2016. (Mainichi)

A former worker at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant filed suit against plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) as well as Kyushu Electric Power Co. at the Tokyo District Court on Nov. 22 demanding 59 million yen in compensation.

    The 42-year-old plaintiff had been granted work-related compensation after he developed leukemia following his time at the stricken nuclear station.

    The man from Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture is demanding compensation including consolation money under the Nuclear Damage Compensation Law, citing the high likelihood that his leukemia was caused by radiation exposure at work. It is the first lawsuit of its kind filed by a nuclear plant worker who was granted work-related compensation in the wake of the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    According to the complaint, the man was a welder for a construction firm when he worked at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant and Kyushu Electric's Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture from Oct. 2011 to March 2012. He then spent about six months from October 2012 constructing scaffolding as part of work to remove spent nuclear fuel from the Fukushima No. 1 plant's No. 4 reactor building. He worked on the premises of the Fukushima nuclear complex until December 2013, and was exposed to 15.68 millisieverts of radiation. All in all, his cumulative radiation exposure was 19.78 millisieverts, including that at other nuclear facilities.

    After being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2014, he applied for worker's accident compensation. A health ministry panel subsequently determined that his leukemia met the conditions for worker's compensation, including the fact that the illness had developed more than a year after his first exposure to radiation, and that his annual radiation exposure was at least 5 millisieverts. The expert panel judged it reasonable to assume that his illness stemmed from work dealing with radiation. In October 2015, the Labor Standards Inspection Office certified the man for worker's compensation benefits. He is not physically fit to work, according to sources.

    The Nuclear Damage Compensation Law stipulates that there is no limit for nuclear damage compensation liability amounts (no-fault liability), and that the nuclear plant operator must pay the compensation. There has apparently been no judicial precedent involving a former nuclear plant worker since the outbreak of the Fukushima disaster, although there have been cases in which nuclear disaster victims and companies won lawsuits and received compensation.

    TEPCO commented, "We will properly deal with it," while Kyushu Electric stated, "We will go through the content of the suit and respond properly."

    After filing the suit, the former worker expressed distrust of TEPCO, telling reporters at a news conference, "We workers are not pawns." When newspapers reported in October 2015 that the man was granted worker's compensation for leukemia, TEPCO released a statement saying, "We are not in a position to comment on a worker from a subcontractor." The former worker said of TEPCO's response, "They didn't apologize in the slightest. I was filled with shock and anger."

    It was seven months after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster that the man decided to work at nuclear power plants "for the sake of Fukushima." Brushing aside family opposition, the man started working as a welder for a subcontractor. He said that at times he had to do his job without a protective lead vest because there were not enough of them.

    At the news conference, the man's lawyer Yuichi Kaido said, "We want to pave the way for systematic reform by clarifying TEPCO's responsibility." The former nuclear plant worker said, "There are still employees working amid high levels of radiation in Fukushima today. I hope I'll be able to give encouragement to those who may develop cancer in the future."

    As of the end of March 2016, 46,974 people had worked at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant since the outbreak of the disaster. About 90 percent of them were not TEPCO employees, though they have played a key role in the plant's decommissioning process.

    According to the health ministry, 11 people have applied for worker's accident compensation after developing cancer. Two people have been granted benefits, while five other cases are still under consideration.

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