Nearly 300 people are diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer, surveys show
In the lawsuit filed on Thursday, the affected people said that their illnesses were triggered by the radiation spilling from the Fukushima nuclear plant after it erupted in 2011.
The petitioners, then children, are now aged between 17 and 27. They have sought compensation worth 616m yen (£4m) from the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco).
Tens of thousands of people were affected in the nuclear disaster when a powerful earthquake in northeast Japan triggered a tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima plant’s cooling systems, which sparked a nuclear meltdown on 11 March 2011.
One of the plaintiffs said that she had witnessed prejudice against thyroid cancer patients and has been forced to prioritise her health over her career. “But I decided to come forward and tell the truth in hopes of improving the situation for nearly 300 other people also suffering like us,” the woman, now in her twenties, said.
This is the first group lawsuit filed in Japan by Fukushima residents battling health complications linked to the nuclear disaster, their lawyers said. Some of the plaintiffs are living in Tokyo, while others are from different parts of Fukushima.
All the plaintiffs were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018, and were aged between six and 16 at the time of the nuclear accident.
Four of the six plaintiffs had to have their thyroid fully removed and have to take lifetime hormonal treatment. The remaining two had to get a part of their thyroid removed. Kenichi Ido, the lawyer of one of the plaintiffs, said his client’s cancer had progressed.
Nearly 300 people are diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer, Fukushima’s prefectural panel survey showed. About 380,000 locals aged 18 or younger at the time of the nuclear accident were questioned in the survey.
Many experts and officials from Fukushima have blamed overdiagnosis behind the high detection rate, leading to unnecessary treatment or surgery.
But Mr Ido said that none of the cases in the current suit involved overdiagnosis, and that the power company should be held responsible for radiation exposure, unless proven otherwise by Tepco.
A spokesperson for Tepco said the company was aware of the case filing and would comment after seeing the details of the complaint, reported BBC News.
One of the plaintiffs and a mother of another affected person said that they hoped the court would establish the correlation between the cancer and the radiation from the nuclear plant. An expert panel commissioned by the Fukushima prefectural government has ruled it out so far.
Three top officials of Tepco were found not guilty of criminal responsibility in a 2019 trial. The Tokyo district court said that the officials could not have predicted the disaster. The case has been taken to a higher court.
Additional reporting by agencies