Eleven years out: For Fukushima victims, landmark decision
Japan’s Supreme Court has ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima nuclear power station, to pay 12 million dollars to 3,700 people, compensating them for damages suffered as a result of the nuclear catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011. It was the first among 30 similar lawsuits to reach such a verdict. The court ruled against TEPCO, saying it had failed to take measures to protect against the tsunami that caused the catastrophe.
This decision follows a suit filed by six people, on February 27, 2022 against TEPCO, claiming they got thyroid cancer from radiation released during the catastrophic triple meltdowns. Their suit comes amid official efforts to silence people who speak out about radiation’s impacts. These efforts have included approving a resolution that condemned five former prime ministers for stating that “many children are suffering from thyroid cancer.” The former prime ministers had made this declaration in a statement condemning any inclusion of nuclear power as green or sustainable.
The plaintiffs, now aged between 17 and 27, were between 6 and 16 years of age at the time they would have been exposed. The suit demands TEPCO prove there is no causal relationship between the plaintiffs’ thyroid cancers and the nuclear disaster.
Research shows that people are especially sensitive to radiation damage during childhood, and each of the six have had all or part of their thyroid glands removed. None of the plaintiffs’ families has a history of thyroid cancer. They are seeking 5.4 million dollars in compensation, claiming difficulty in obtaining an education or finding work.
While some contend the plaintiffs may have trouble proving a connection between their radiation exposure and thyroid cancer in court, screening for thyroid cancer — a known radiation exposure risk particularly for children — began in 2011 among those who lived in Fukushima prefecture at the time the nuclear catastrophe began. Studies of this population show a 20-fold increase in thyroid cancers.
As of 2019, between 70 and 80% of the thyroid surgeries performed were medically necessary because they had metastasized (start at time stamp 3:09 in linked video), or moved to other organs or tissues within the body. Metastasis indicates that doctors weren’t just finding the cancers because they were looking (overdiagnosis), but that the cancers were actually a threat the the health of the patient. Additionally, there is evidence that the initial effort to protect the public from radioactive iodine exposure was mishandled, and the ability to discern radiation’s impact on health compromised.
The Government of Japan has already agreed that one worker’s death was linked to radiation exposure from the catastrophe, and that his family should be compensated.
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