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8 May, 2014 14:12

Fukushima worker files historic lawsuit over radiation exposure

Fukushima worker files historic lawsuit over radiation exposure

A worker at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has filed the first lawsuit from an employee against plant operator TEPCO due to high levels of radiation he was exposed to during the initial days of the plant’s 2011 disaster.

“I wish [the utility] had informed us of possible risks in advance,” Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun cites the 48-year-old man as saying at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday. “I want [operator Tokyo Electric Power Company] to create safer conditions for workers because the decommissioning of the reactors will not finish anytime soon.”

The claimant says he was unnecessarily exposed to excessively high levels of radiation due to negligence on the part of TEPCO. He is seeking 11 million yen ($110,000) in compensation from TEPCO. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Fukushima District Court.

“After carefully examining the contents of the demand and his arguments, we will sincerely respond to the claim,” TEPCO said in a statement Wednesday.

The worker, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Shinichi, due to the social stigma of upsetting the social order in Japan, was part of a team sent to lay electric cables in one of the reactors 13 days after the disaster.

Three of the workers waded through contaminated water up to their ankles and were exposed to up to 180 millisieverts of radiation. They were later hospitalized, Asahi Shimbun reports.

Although Shinichi did not personally walk through the radioactive water, he worked near a contaminated puddle for 90 minutes. He estimated that he received a radiation dose of at least 20 millisieverts at that time, though he has so far suffered no serious health issues.

During a 2012 interview, he claimed that TEPCO should have known about the high levels of radiation and warned the workers, AP reports. His exposure exceeded official limits, which forced him to stop working at the site.

In April, 79 sailors sued TEPCO for a total of $1 billion, alleging the company lied about the high level of radiation in the area where they were carrying out a humanitarian mission following the tsunami that sparked the nuclear crisis over three years ago.

The sailors, dozens of whom have suffered cancer and one who had a child born with birth defects, says they were being covered in radiation despite the company’s repeated claims there was no danger.

TEPCO, in turn, attempted to blame the US military for the levels of radiation the naval personnel were exposed to.

“It’s wholly implausible that military commanders in charge of thousands of personnel and armed with some of the world’s most sophisticated equipment, relied instead only on the press releases and public statements of a foreign electric utility company,” TEPCO said in a statement.

The sailors had previously sued TEPCO in 2012, though a US judge dismissed the claim because it named the Japanese government as a defendant, putting it out of his jurisdiction. The amended suit only mentions TEPCO.