TOKYO – A Tokyo court on Thursday began hearings in a lawsuit seeking nearly $5 million in damages for six children in Fukushima at the time of the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster, which later developed thyroid cancer.
The prosecutors are suing the nuclear power plant operator, saying that the radiation released in the accident caused their illnesses.
Their lawyers say it is the first class action lawsuit filed by Fukushima residents over health concerns allegedly linked to the disaster.
A plaintiff, identified only as a woman in her twenties, testified from behind a screen that she had to abandon her plans to attend college due to repeated surgeries and treatments.
“Because of the treatments, I couldn’t go to university, study for my future job, or go to a concert. I had to give up everything,” she said. “I want to get my healthy body back, but that’s impossible, as much as I’d like to.”
She and the five other plaintiffs are seeking 616 million yen ($4.9 million) in damages from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings for allegedly causing their cancers.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami destroyed the Fukushima plant’s cooling systems, melting three reactor cores and releasing large amounts of radiation. Critics say the plant operator should have known that a major tsunami was possible at the site.
Their lawyers said the plaintiffs, who were 6 to 16 years old at the time of the accident and lived in different parts of Fukushima, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018.
The plant operator told the court that they had not been exposed to enough radiation to cause cancer, citing tests of 1,080 children from three towns around the plant that showed that about 55% were not disclosed and that no one exceeded 50 millisieverts. Got the annual limit for nuclear workers.
After the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986, an increase in thyroid cancer was noted in children.
Fukushima Prefecture has tested 380,000 residents aged 18 or younger for thyroid cancer. About 300 were diagnosed with cancer or suspected cancer.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said that that rate, about 77 per 100,000, is significantly higher than the usual 1-2 per million and can only be linked to the radiation from the accident.
Prefecture officials and experts have said the high level of thyroid cancer found in Fukushima is due to overdiagnosis, which may have led to unnecessary treatment.
Kenichi Ido, one of the lawyers, said there was no overdiagnosis in any of the cases, and the plant operator should be held responsible for radiation exposure unless proven otherwise.
The plaintiff testified on Thursday that she was walking from home to her high school five days after the tsunami, just as the reactors collapsed.
Lawyers said three other plaintiffs who attended the hearing also sat behind a partition to protect their privacy over social media criticism that accused them of fabricating their illnesses and damaging Fukushima’s image.
The government has been slow to respond to the crisis, and evacuations in many places have been delayed due to the undisclosed details of what happened at the nuclear power plant. Residents who had fled in their cars blocked roads and sat outside for hours as radiation spread from the damaged reactors. Some residents went to evacuation centers in the direction of the radiation stream.