May 25, 2022
In January 2022, children who suffered from thyroid cancer and were living in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, aged between 6 and 16, became plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit against TEPCO, claiming that their thyroid cancer was caused by the nuclear accident and demanding that the company clarify the causal relationship.
This is the first class action lawsuit filed against TEPCO 11 years after the accident, claiming the effects of radiation exposure.
All of the plaintiffs have had their thyroid glands removed, and four of the six have relapsed; the four who have undergone two or more surgeries and had their entire thyroid glands removed must continue to take hormone medication for the rest of their lives. Another child has been diagnosed with distant metastasis to the lungs.
We interviewed one of the plaintiffs, who said, “I have suffered for the past 11 years without being able to tell anyone. （Writer: Chia Yoshida)
Announcement of acceptance with the possibility of exposure to radiation
Sawa Mukai (15 years old at the time of the accident, pseudonym) was an athletic child who was affected by the disaster on March 11, 2011, the day of her junior high school graduation ceremony. She recalls how eerie it was to see a blizzard immediately after the earthquake, followed by a sky that suddenly cleared up.
The next day, she helped clean up a relative’s house that had been completely destroyed by the earthquake. The road in front of the relative’s house was jammed with cars heading in a westerly direction.
It was strange because there is not usually a lot of traffic on this road, but when I thought about it later, I realized that they were cars evacuating from the nuclear power plant,” Mukai said.
On March 12, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 exploded, Unit 3 exploded on March 14, Unit 2 was in a critical condition, and Unit 4 exploded on March 15.
The next day, March 16, was the announcement of acceptance to high schools in Fukushima. Many junior high school students in the prefecture went out to the high schools they had applied to in order to check their numbers.
Although many teachers and staff members were opposed to the announcement of acceptance in the midst of the possibility of children being exposed to radiation, the prefecture decided to go ahead with the announcement. Mr. Mukai was one of those who had no choice but to go to the acceptance announcement.
Kenichi Ido, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, points out that “elementary and junior high school students who were unprotected at the time of the accident were exposed to radiation, which may have led to their illnesses.
“We often hear stories of students who were engaged in club activities as usual, or who went to the March 16th prefectural high school acceptance announcement,” he said. The government has assumed that there are no health hazards caused by the nuclear accident, but this is not the case,” said Ido.
Even if the radiation dose rate is above the standard value, “Oh, well…
The risk of radiation exposure lurked even in high school.
Although Ms. Mukai was fond of sports, she gave up her outdoor sports club, which she had planned to join. His mother was concerned that he should not be exposed to radiation as much as possible.
Although warning poles were placed at hot spots (areas with locally elevated radiation levels) on campus to alert people to the danger, once they became accustomed to the area, everyone began to pass by them.
Gradually, no one would wear masks to avoid internal exposure. Mr. Mukai wore a mask until the end, but in the summer of 2011, he began to remove it because it was too hot.
At the time, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) had a standard for school grounds that they could only be used if the air dose rate was “less than 3.8 μSv per hour,” but “It’s over. But I once heard a teacher say, “Well, that’s OK.
The radiation level at home was also high. In some places, the radiation levels were 100 times higher than before the accident. Even indoors, the levels were 60 times higher than before the accident. The family decontaminated the area with a high-pressure washer, but the levels did not go down that much.
Mr. Mukai was unable to join an athletic team, so he focused on his schoolwork, aiming to attend a university in Tokyo. Thanks to his efforts, he was accepted with a recommendation. She was so happy that she started living in Tokyo in early March (before entering university),” she smiles.
I will never forget the doctor’s words: “There is no cause-and-effect relationship between the nuclear accident and my life.
There were many places to play in Tokyo, I started a part-time job, and my new life was enjoyable.
However, around that time, she began to experience some physical problems. Her body swelled, her menstrual periods became irregular, she gained weight, and her skin became rough. And when she swallowed water or saliva, she felt discomfort in her throat.
When she consulted her mother, she was told that it might be a thyroid-related condition and that she should get checked out as soon as possible. Mr. Mukai was busy with university classes and other obligations, so he missed the second thyroid checkup conducted by the Fukushima prefectural government.
Soon after, Ms. Mukai took the test along with other children at a large-scale thyroid screening site in Fukushima Prefecture. The test took only a minute or so for the others, but the process stopped at Mr. Mukai’s spot.
While applying the echo, Ms. Mukai saw the doctor nod his head and wondered if something was wrong.
Later, the results arrived at his parents’ home, and his mother contacted Mr. Mukai in Tokyo to inform him of the “reexamination. Fukushima Medical University called her twice and asked her to retest immediately. Ms. Mukai said that by that time she had a dim feeling that she might have thyroid cancer.
In the fall of 2015, he was told at the hospital that he had thyroid cancer. Mukai will never forget being told by the doctor that there was no causal relationship between the nuclear accident and the cancer, even though he had not asked any questions at the time.
I wondered how they could possibly know that,” Mukai said.
She then underwent surgery to remove the left half of her thyroid gland at the age of 20.
He was 20 years old. “I hope that other sufferers will be in a situation where they can raise their voices,” he said.
In consideration of his health condition, he quit the part-time job he had enjoyed.
After graduating from university, he found a job, but his health deteriorated due to the hard work. She quit the job she had longed for, and now works at a job that is less demanding on her body.
If her numbers worsen, she has to resume taking her medication, and she lives her life constantly worrying about her health.
I gave up a lot of things myself, but there are many more people younger than me who had to make the choice to give up,” Mukai said.
People who dropped out of college. Some have dropped out of college, others have been unable to find work. Some confided in me that they had given up on love and marriage and could not even think about falling in love with someone. I was shocked by all of them.
As she recounted her own experiences, Ms. Mukai was considerate of the other plaintiffs and those who had contracted thyroid cancer but were not plaintiffs.
There is a situation where other small children cannot speak up,” she said. I hope that by raising our voices this time, other sufferers will be able to speak out,” said Mukai.
The incidence of childhood thyroid cancer is generally said to be “1 to 2 per million children.
However, in Fukushima Prefecture, according to a prefectural survey, 273 children were diagnosed with suspected malignant (cancerous) thyroid cancer through cytological puncture diagnosis, and 226 children have already undergone surgery. When national cancer registries and regional cancer registries are combined, more than 300 people have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
The aforementioned lawyer Ido also commented, “In Fukushima Prefecture today, people cannot talk about the fact that they have thyroid cancer because it is a sensitive issue, and they are isolated from the rest of the community.
Ms. Mukai, too, had only been able to talk about her thyroid cancer to those close to her. However, this changed when she decided to file the lawsuit. As a result of calling for support for the trial through crowdfunding, he raised approximately 17.62 million yen, far exceeding his goal of 10 million yen.
I was very happy that 1,966 people donated to the trial and sent messages of support. The other plaintiffs were also happy,” said Mukai.
My fears that I would be discriminated against or that I would not be understood were slightly allayed.
On the other hand, however, on the same day that the lawsuit was filed, five former prime ministers, including Junichiro Koizumi and Naoto Kan, sent a letter to the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, stating that “many children are suffering from thyroid cancer,” to which incumbent Diet members and Fukushima Prefecture Governor Masao Uchibori protested, calling the information “false,” “inappropriate,” and “regrettable. The letter was sent to the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union (EU).
They said, “We are surprised and indignant that you would make such a statement even though you know that there are children who have developed thyroid cancer. Because I have seen other plaintiffs who are truly suffering, that statement was unforgivable,” said Mukai.
Mukai, who felt that this trial would not be an easy one, has continued to consider the causal relationship between the nuclear accident and thyroid cancer by attending study sessions with experts and reading the complaint.
Among the plaintiffs, there were some who were so mentally distressed that they could not eat rice, and this made me feel more strongly that something had to be done.
I believe that there is a causal relationship between the accident and thyroid cancer, and although I cannot do it alone, I would like to fight the trial in cooperation with the plaintiffs and the defense team,” said Mukai.
The first oral argument will be held at the Tokyo District Court on May 26 at 14:00. Plaintiffs are scheduled to make statements.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers in the thyroid cancer trial are seeking continued support for the trial through the crowdfunding service “READYFOR.
Chia Yoshida: Freelance writer. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, she has continued to cover victims and evacuees. She is the author of “Reporto: Mother and Child Evacuation” (Iwanami Shinsho), “Sotoko no Fukushima: Nukei no Koto o Koto wo Ikiru Hitobito” (After Fukushima: People Living After the Nuclear Accident) (Jinbunshoin), “Korunin: Futaba-gun Firefighters’ 3/11” (Iwanami Shoten), and co-author of “Nukei Hakusho” (White Paper on Nuclear Evacuation) (Jinbunshoin).