Six young people said on Thursday they have sued the operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant over claims they developed thyroid cancer due to exposure to radiation.
The plaintiffs, now aged between 17 and 27, were living in the Fukushima region when a huge earthquake in 2011 triggered a tsunami that caused a nuclear meltdown.
On Thursday their lawyers filed Japan’s first ever class-action lawsuit over health issues against plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
The group is seeking 616 million yen ($5.4 million) in compensation.
No causal relationship between radiation exposure from the disaster and thyroid cancer has been recognised by an expert panel set up by the regional government.
A United Nations report published last year concluded that the Fukushima nuclear disaster had not directly harmed the health of local residents a decade after the catastrophe.
A higher rate of thyroid cancer detected among children exposed to the radiation was likely to be due to more stringent diagnostics, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded.
No Hereditary Cause
But the plaintiffs’ lawyers say none of the cancers suffered by the group were hereditary, arguing it is highly likely the disease was caused by exposure to radiation.
“When I was told I had cancer, I was told clearly there was no causal link. I remember how I felt at the time,” one female plaintiff in her 20s said at a press conference after the lawsuit was filed.
“Since I developed the disease, I have been forced to prioritise my health,” she said, adding that she had quit her job to focus on recovery.
The plaintiffs were aged between six and 16 at the time of the disaster. They were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018.
Two of them had one side of their thyroid removed, while the other four had their thyroid fully extracted and need to take hormonal drugs for the rest of their lives.
“Some plaintiffs have had difficulties advancing to higher education and finding jobs, and have even given up on their dreams for their future,” lead lawyer Kenichi Ido told AFP this week.
- AFP, with additional editing by George Russell