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Nuclear Plant Workers Developed Cancer
Despite Lower Radiation Exposure Than
Legal Limit


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Of 10 nuclear power plant workers who have developed cancer and received workers' compensation in the past, nine had been exposed to less than 100 millisieverts of radiation, it has been learned.

The revelation comes amid reports that a number of workers battling the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant were found to have been exposed to more than the emergency limit of 250 millisieverts, which was raised from the previous limit of 100 millisieverts in March.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics, of the 10 nuclear power plant workers, six had leukemia, two multiple myeloma and another two lymphatic malignancy. Only one had been exposed to 129.8 millisieverts but the remaining nine were less than 100 millisieverts, including one who had been exposed to about 5 millisieverts.

Nobuyuki Shimahashi, a worker at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, where operations were recently suspended by Chubu Electric Power Co., died of leukemia in 1991 at age 29. His 74-year-old mother Michiko remembers her son dropping from 80 kilograms to 50 kilograms and his gums bleeding.

Shimahashi was in charge of maintaining and checking measuring instruments inside the nuclear power plant as a subcontract employee. He had 50.63 millisieverts of radiation exposure over a period of eight years and 10 months.

His radiation exposure monitoring databook, which was returned to his family six months after his death, showed that more than 30 exposure figures and other listings had been corrected in red ink and stamped with personal seals.

Even after he was diagnosed with leukemia, the databook had a stamp indicating permission for him to engage in a job subject to possible radiation exposure and a false report on his participation in nuclear safety education while he was in reality in hospital.

"The workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may be aware that they are risking their lives while doing their jobs. However, the state and electric power companies should also think about their families. If I had heard it was 'dangerous,' I would not have sent Nobuyuki to the nuclear power plant," Michiko Shimahashi said. "The workers who have done nothing wrong should not die. The emergency upper limit should be cut immediately."

Workers' compensation for nuclear power plant workers rarely receives a mention.

Koshiro Ishimaru, 68, leader of a civic group in the Futaba district in Fukushima Prefecture, notes that six workers at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant applied for workers' compensation before the nuclear disaster and four received recognition. Only two of the four identified themselves.

"There are many people who are benefiting from the nuclear power plant and do not want other members of this small community to know about compensation," Ishimaru points out.

When it comes to being entitled to workers' compensation due to diseases other than cancer, the hurdle is much higher.

Ryusuke Umeda, a 76-year-old former welder in the city of Fukuoka, worked at the Shimane Nuclear Power Plant run by Chugoku Electric Power Co. in Matsue and the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant run by Japan Atomic Power Co. in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, between February and June 1979.

He soon had symptoms such as nose bleeding and later chronic fatigue before having a heart attack in 2000. He suspected nuclear radiation, applied for workers' compensation in 2008 but was rejected.

His radiation exposure stood at 8.6 millisieverts. Umeda says, "Nuclear power plant workers have been used for the benefit of plant operators. If left unchecked, there will be many cases like mine."

The current guidelines for workers' compensation due to radiation exposure only certify leukemia among various types of cancer. In these cases compensation is granted only when an applicant is exposed to more than 5 millisieverts of radiation a year and develops leukemia more than one year after being exposed to nuclear radiation. For other types of cancer, the health ministry's study group decides if applicants are eligible for workers' compensation.

(Mainichi Japan) July 27, 2011





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