The plaintiff helped build scaffolding to repair the damaged No 4 reactor at the Fukushima plant
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.
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.
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.
There has been heated debate about the dangers of radiation from the plant
The man is now suing Tepco and the Kyushu Electric Power Company, 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 Kyushu Electric 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).
Ex-worker during Fukushima disaster sues Tepco, Kyushu Electric over leukemia
A former nuclear worker who developed leukemia after combating the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis demanded ¥59 million (around $524,000) in damages from two utilities Thursday at his first trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court.
The 42-year-old man from Fukuoka Prefecture is the first person to be recognized by labor authorities as having an illness linked to workplace radiation exposure since the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The man-made disaster was triggered by the huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
“I worked there because of my ardent desire to help bring the disaster under control but I was treated as if I was a mere expendable laborer,” the plaintiff said.
“I want Tokyo Electric to thoroughly face up to its responsibility,” he said.
The defendants, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which runs Fukushima No. 1, and Kyushu Electric Power Co., whose Genkai nuclear plant also employed the plaintiff, asked the court to reject the claim, questioning the connection between his radiation exposure and leukemia.
The man was engaged in welding operations at the Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 plants and the Genkai complex in Saga Prefecture from October 2011 to December 2013. His exposure in operations subcontracted by the utilities consisted of at least 19.8 millisieverts, according to his written complaint.
The man was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2014 and later went into depression. Both ailments are recognized as work-related illnesses by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
He said he has been unable to go back to work and is therefore seeking compensation from the utilities.