February 2, 2022
Six men and women between the ages of 17 and 27 who lived in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of the accident filed a lawsuit against TEPCO on January 27, claiming they suffered from thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
They filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court claiming a total of 616 million yen in damages. The main issue in the trial is expected to be whether or not there is a causal relationship between radiation exposure and thyroid cancer.

Lawyers and plaintiffs hold a press conference.
At the House of Representatives in Nagata-cho, Tokyo.

The six people in question, aged between 6 and 16 at the time of the accident, are high school students, temporary workers and employees living in the counties of Fukushima, Tokyo and Kanagawa. Two of them had a lobe of the thyroid removed, and the other four had to have the whole thyroid removed because of recurrence (in the case of one of them, metastasis had spread to the lungs). All of them had to stop their studies or their professional activity in order to undergo these surgical procedures and medical treatments. They live in fear and anxiety of a recurrence, and their daily lives have been curtailed due to fatigue and weakness caused by the disease.

The complaint points out that many of the thyroid cancers found in children in Fukushima County – including the six plaintiffs – are not hereditary and that the only possible trigger is radiation exposure. If there are other causes, it is up to TEPCO to prove it, she says.

Normally, the number of reported cases of thyroid cancer in children diagnosed is about 1 to 2 per 1 million. After the nuclear accident, a prefectural health survey in Fukushima Prefecture found about 300 people either suspected of having thyroid cancer or already diagnosed. But the expert commission appointed by the department said it “does not recognize for the moment” a causal relationship with radiation exposure.

For its part, the operator TEPCO announced that it would respond in good faith after learning more about the claims and allegations of the plaintiffs.


I want to change the situation by raising my voice

“We have spent the last ten years without telling anyone because we were afraid of being discriminated against if we revealed that we had thyroid cancer,” said one of the plaintiffs, 26, at a press conference in Tokyo on the afternoon of January 27. “But about 300 children have thyroid cancer,” she said, fighting back tears that choked her. “I want to improve the situation, if only a little, by raising my voice.

The woman from Nakadôri, in central Fukushima Prefecture, was a second-year university student when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2015 at the age of 19. The following year, after one of her thyroid lobes was removed, her physical strength decreased dramatically. As her health continued to deteriorate, she left the advertising agency where she was working in Tokyo after graduating from university after a year and a half. She is currently an office worker in Tokyo. She says, “I had to give up my dream job, and I am still struggling to do my job properly. I don’t have any dreams or hopes for the future.
Immediately after she was diagnosed with cancer, she felt very uncomfortable when the doctor told her that the disease had nothing to do with the nuclear accident.


That day, we were moving things…

The plaintiff at a press conference after her decision to sue TEPCO.
lawsuit against TEPCO.

The young woman’s mother, who was with her daughter when she was diagnosed, suddenly remembered what they were doing on March 14, 2011, the day of the hydrogen explosion in the No. 3 unit of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They were outside their grandparents’ house, which was half destroyed by the earthquake, helping them move their belongings. At the end of the day, as soon as the mother heard about the explosion at the plant, she brought her daughter inside. “That day, I shouldn’t have asked you for a hand with the move,” the mother whispered as she drove home from the hospital. It was the only time she showed any remorse for forcing this moving chore on her daughter.

Before she was told she had cancer, the young woman had to travel back and forth between Fukushima and Tokyo for tests. However, the Fukushima county fully covers the medical expenses covered by the health insurance, but not the transportation expenses. So she took long-distance buses, which are cheaper than the high-speed train, but these trips became more and more physically demanding.
Surgery and medical examinations in Tokyo, a heavy financial burden

After the diagnosis, because of her distrust of the hospitals in Fukushima, she preferred to have surgery and medical examinations in Tokyo. Each time, her parents accompanied her. She had to pay the entire cost of the endoscopic surgery to minimize the scars on her neck out of her own pocket, as it was not covered by the prefectural aid at that time.

With all the demands of her treatment, she failed to apply for a renewal of her university scholarship, and by her third year of study, she had to pay her full tuition.

“When I heard my parents talking about taking a large amount of money out of their life insurance to fund my expenses, I felt depressed that I had caused them so much trouble,” she said.
Fear of recurrence: ‘I’m anxious about what comes next’

After the surgery, she often caught colds, developed pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. However, she can only receive assistance if the care is recognized as part of the treatment for thyroid cancer. The department has set up an annual budget, funded by a state grant, to cover medical expenses “for as long as possible,” according to the Department of Health Survey, but it’s unclear how long that will last. The young woman, who is still afraid of a recurrence, and feels very anxious about what will happen to her in the future, is therefore asking for more aid.

The article in Japanese in Tokyo Shimbun published on January 27, 2022

https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/156781