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Fukushima Workers Battle Leukemia – and Bureaucracy


November 13, 2019

Editor’s Note

The March 2011 tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has had a devastating impact on Japan. Eight years later, and most journalists – in Japan and abroad – have forgotten about the story. But for many, the struggle continues.

This is especially true of workers who helped assist in the cleanup effort at Fukushima. Some Fukushima workers have contracted severe diseases – including cancer and leukemia – since their work concluded. The government of Japan has even certified that some cases are a result of recovery work. But workers who are fighting for their lives also find themselves fighting the system. Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), which led the recovery effort, refuses to admit any connection between the cleanup work and subsequent diseases in workers. And many insurance companies are pointing to the fine print in private insurance contracts stating they don’t cover accidents at nuclear facilities.

Unseen Japan has been pleased to partner with photojournalist Hiro Ugaya (烏賀陽弘道) to translate his interviews with evacuees and former evacuees, and to document the ongoing struggle of the victims of this tragedy.

We previously published Hiro’s interview with a mother in the city of Minamisoma. In this installment, we share the first part of Hiro’s interview with Mr. Ikeda (pseudonym), a Fukushima nuclear reactor cleanup volunteer who now finds himself fighting two uphill battles.

(Translation from an article originally published on Translation by Jay, Editor/Publisher, Unseen Japan. All photos used with permission of Hiro Ugaya.)

Ikeda’s Story

For this installment of the Fukushima Report, I visited Northern Kyushu City in Fukuoka prefecture. I departed from Tokyo and flew west, in the direction opposite Fukushima.

I went to Fukuoka, which is quite far from Fukushima. That’s where the leukemia-stricken Ikeda Kazuya (age 44; pseudonym) has lived since participating in the Daichi Nuclear Reactor reconstruction efforts. I had visited Ikeda once in 2017 to hear his story. Among all my interviews here in the Fukushima Report, it’s the one that’s reverberated the loudest.

Mr. Ikeda volunteered to participate in the restoration work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. By trade, he’s an independent welder. In March 2011, when so many people died due to the tsunami, he looked at the report of the death of a small child and thought, “I need to do something useful for Tohoku” [Editor: the region of Japan hit by the tsunami]. He asked permission from his boss and threw himself into the reconstruction effort. The interior of the heavy machinery room of Reactor 4 butts up against the nuclear fuel rod pool.


ikeda2-2Mr. Ikeda during Fukushima cleanup.

But in 2013, Mr. Ikeda came down with leukemia.

Mr. Ikeda is one of the first cancer patients that the country recognizes as a work-related accident connected to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Two Fukushima workers contracted leukemia (bone marrow cancer), and one contracted thyroid cancer. The first case of leukemia was recognized in October 2015. The second was recognized in August 2016. The third person, who had thyroid cancer, was certified in December 2016.

As of May 2019, there are six patients in the country whose cases have been recognized as occupational accidents caused by work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To tell the truth, I was quite surprised that the country recognized them as occupational accidents. Judging from the history of pollution diseases, such as Minamata disease and Itai-itai disease, I predicted the government would probably prevaricate and not admit a causal relationship. But the government admitted it readily (employing a lot of rhetoric, of course, such as “This is not an admission of a scientific, causal relationship”).

From a global and historical perspective, the admission is rare. In the Three Mile Island nuclear accident (1979) in the US, more than 2000 lawsuits have been filed, but no relationship between health damage and exposure has been admitted in even a single case. The state government naturally won’t admit it, and the courts don’t either.

Due to this admission, the assertion that “the radiation leakage from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is mild enough not to damage health” fell apart.

In the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union, the first to suffer serious harm were the so-called “Liquidators,” the firefighters and soldiers who were the first responders. Nearly 5,000 people died. Naturally, people who are close to radiation-intensive sites will become seriously ill. The same phenomenon occurred in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.

While the case was recognized as a workplace injury, Mr. Ikeda filed a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), which ran the restoration project. That’s because TEPCO doesn’t “recognize a causal relationship between Mr. Ikeda’s leukemia and exposure to radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.”

I’ve long found it mysterious that not a single TV station, weekly newspaper, web media or other news outlet has done an article on those like Mr. Ikeda who contracted deadly diseases from the nuclear reactor recovery work. Since the government’s announcement certifying them as workplace injuries, there’s been dead silence. Those affected can’t be heard in their own voices.

For a nuclear accident to occur and three reactors to meltdown (even at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, two such past events, only one reactor melted down) is an event of worldwide and historic proportions. In addition, 200,000 people becoming refugees from the area is a war-level crisis. In addition, there’s the damage toll on six people, starting with Mr. Ikeda, who’ve contracted fatal diseases. I can’t think of any news that’s more important to record in the annals of history than the actual voices of these victims.

The silence of the mass media in the face of such a reality astonishes me. I ‘m tempted to think they all, through some shared intent, decided to suppress the story.

If Mr. Ikeda refuses interviews, I’d get that. But that’s not the case. Since the legal proceeding began, Mr. Ikeda has traveled from Kitakyushu to the Tokyo District Court once every few months. He leaves the courthouse, after which there’s a public briefing session. I also went there and was granted leave to interview people.

If other reporters did this, they could hear Mr. Ikeda’s story too.

I try and attend whenever there’s a court session. In Tokyo, Mr. Ikeda is busy with supporters and lawyers, so he doesn’t have time to interview. So I went to his home in Kitakyushu, where I soaked up his story. This was in March 2017 – two years ago.

During that time, every time I met Mr. Ikeda and talked with him, I realized he was recovering little by little. Let’s talk about what’s happened since. It was April 2019 when I flew back to Kitakyushu again.

This time, Mr. Ikeda pointed out something important. People who work in nuclear facilities such as nuclear power plants are not covered by private insurance, even if they have an accident or get sick. It’s in the so-called “disclaimer.”

If if you can’t work and fall into hard times, unless the country certifies it as a workplace accident, there’s no path to salvation. For subcontractors who are not in-house employees, TEPCO and other electric power companies have denied any compensation or even causality.

People who engaged in the dangerous work of recovering the nuclear power plant post-meltdown have been left naked and defenseless. And few people notice it. Even insurance companies don’t care. I want to fix this abnormality.

Here’s what Mr. Ikeda told me.

A Return to Normalcy?

fishing-lures.jpgA set of fishing lures at the Ikeda home. For Mr. Ikeda and his kids, fishing is an important family pastime.

It’s been two years since I’ve seen you. When I last saw you, you told me, “I have to make memories with my kids,” and you’d planned to go skiing or fishing or whatnot in spite of your illness. I heard that and thought, “This is someone who’s truly prepared to die.”

I think, before, I had contracted leukemia, and I’d thought, it’ll probably recur again. But recently I’ve come to think more in terms of doing things for my kids’ future. Things like helping my kids with their hobbies, or helping my wife develop their potential. Kids can’t grow without their parents’ cooperation. In hobbies, or in sports. 

What hobbies do your kids have?

Fishing, mostly. Baseball, golf, track & field.

Your eldest does track and field, right?

Since middle school. Some say he should do baseball as well because he’s so physically gifted.

Is it a local public middle school? Or a private school somewhere that focuses on sports?

Nah, we’re in the sticks (laughs). There are no private schools that are big on sports. 

You said you’re a baseball coach. What do you coach?

I’m a scorer. I volunteer. And I help develop the kids.

You must get up early. Do you go on away trips? Isn’t that tough?

Several middle schools gather together and we drive. We can fit seven kids in a minivan.  The kids love riding like that.

How’s your body?

It’s fine. There are times I get tired, but the kids are enjoying themselves, so I’m like, it’s fine. On days when there’s no practice, I play catch with kids from the team. No matter how hard I toss it, those kids laugh at me. “You’re slow!”

Two Battles for Fukushima Workers

Do you have to go to the hospital regularly?

I go to Kitakyushu Medical Center once a month. Get blood drawn. It’s to check if there’s any recurrence. The doctor tells me, “Don’t go back to work yet.” I became depressed and started going to the psychiatric clinic once a week.

You told me last time that you had to take gritty pills that were like marble chocolate.

Yeah, I did. They had antibacterial agents. I take about six a day now.

(He takes out the pills and shows them to me)

Wow, there are a lot.

Taking depression meds is tough. I lost my cool with my wife during these last two months. So I consulted a doctor, and he switched me to Chinese medicine.

You were in the middle of leukemia treatments when you became depressed, right?

I mean, I thought I’d die during leukemia treatment. I was certified Level 2 on my disability card. [Editor: disability cards, which enable their holders to additional assistance, are classified levels 1 through 6.]

They gave me medical morphine after because the pain was so bad. I felt like my body was floating off of the bed. After I asked them to stop, my stomach got really sore for seven hours.

The Diagnosis

It was December 2013 when Mr. Ikeda noticed an abnormality in his body. It started with cold-like symptoms. Eventually, he was too winded to climb the stairs at the construction site.

The next month, January 2014, he received a blood test using an “ionizing radiation screening” (a screening received after returning from a workplace exposure to radiation). That night, a doctor called him. “This may be leukemia.” 20% of the venous blood in his body was teeming with cells.

When surgeons opened a hole in the lumbar spine and examined it, they found his bone marrow was 70-80% cancer cells. Doctors told him in January 2014 that “Your cancer is spreading gradually,” and he was swiftly admitted to the Kitakyushu Medical Center.

He was hospitalized for seven months. His red blood cells and platelets declined. he had to have over 50 blood transfusions. In August 2014, he underwent an “autologous peripheral blood transplant” to transplant his healthy blood components. In order to reduce his immune strength, doctors isolated him in a sterile room. He couldn’t come face to face with his family.

The side effects of the anti-cancer drugs combined with the fear of death drove him to the brink. When he says he’s being treated for depression, it’s a consequence of that period.

He underwent an ionizing radiation screening in September 2013. Doctors found no abnormalities. The canceration of hematopoietic cells progressed rapidly in the following 3 months.

Experts say that the incubation period of leukemia (time from exposure to onset) is two years. Mr. Ikeda’s case matches that. And the five-year survival rate for leukemia is around 30%. His doctor said, “If you’d waited two weeks, it’d have been too late.”

No One Will Listen”


ikeda-sonMr. Ikeda’s son running track.

There are six people, including yourself, who have been certified as workplace accidents due to cancer or death from overwork in the recovery work of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Any contact from them?

No, none. I’ve caught sight of the wife of one of the Fukushima workers who died from overwork (karoshi) at rallies in Tokyo.

It seems that TEPCO employees and primary subcontractors who got sick will receive 30 million yen [around USD $274,000]. But in return, they can’t sue. That’s what my lawyer emphasized at trial. But that offer doesn’t extend to us (second-tier subcontractors).

The owner who hired me also had business owner insurance. Just in case we have an industrial accident. However, we found out later that it wasn’t valid in nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants. The insurance companies say it’s too dangerous a place to cover via employer insurance. And yet TEPCO denies responsibility for my leukemia.

That’s what you’re contesting in court.

That’s right. They’re denying everything. They say it was too low of a dose to bear any relationship. In the previous trial, TEPCO says I developed leukemia due to smoking, drinking, and a vegetable deficiency. That took me aback (laughs). They talk to us like we’re alcoholics.

When I petition to declare this an industrial accident, I was interviewed by the Labor Standards Control Board. I didn’t know quite what was happening, so when they asked me about my health, I was straight and said, “I drink two beers a day,” and “I smoke 20 cigarettes a day.” TEPCO must have requested disclosure of the Labor Board’s data.  Who knows where they got “vegetable deficiency” (laughs). They’re just making stuff up.

Do you have a timeframe for a ruling?

No, not yet. We’re on the 11th round of oral arguments. The last one was in January and the next one’s July. We’re getting our strategy in order.

What evidence is TEPCO presenting to refute you?

Search for the stories of scholars who kowtow to the government, you’ll find it (laughs).

Who’s providing testimony, besides you?

There are various people I think.

TEPCO won’t recognize the causal relationship between your leukemia and radiation exposure, correct?

If they did, it’ll become a serious obstacle to future nuclear power policy. I was the first person certified, and there’ve been a number since. So there has to be a causal relationship, right?

What total dose did you receive?

A total of 19.8 millisieverts. Others received more. TEPCO is terrible. It’d be better if they just copped to it.

Others Will End Up Like Me”

Why do you think TEPCO should admit responsibility?

When this happens to someone else, this won’t be any guarantee, but it’ll give them peace of mind, you know? I mean, it’s not like you can tell people, “Don’t help with recovery efforts.” Other industries offer insurance – who’s going to guarantee workers who enter a nuclear facility if the employer’s primary insurance won’t? That’s what I want to tell people.

Fukushima workers who entered the facility had no idea their employer’s primary insurance wouldn’t cover it.

Yep, yep…We ask who’s going to cover this, but TEPCO is the only company that makes people work in an environment not covered by insurance. People will think, “If TEPCO won’t guarantee it, why should I take the risk?”

That’s what I want to say, to communicate to the world. But no one will listen….If workers have the right to insurance, they know they can get compensation if something happens. I mean, that’s how the old coal miners thought. “I’ going into a dangerous place, but, well, at least I have insurance.”

Is work accident insurance insufficient?

It’s not a matter of it being insufficient. I want to see a proper system established for the people who come after me. Unskilled workers like me have these jobs like nuclear power plant cleanup shoved on them. If something happens, and you’re a TEPCO employee, you’re covered. The rest of us are kicked to the curb. It makes me sick. Many of us have no idea who’ll take care of things if something happens.

The company that hired me took out high premiums for us to have round the clock coverage. It covers us even when we’re in dorm rooms outside of works hours from aftershocks and tsunamis. However, they didn’t know the insurance wasn’t applicable inside of a nuclear facility. The CEO complained, and a rep came and apologized.

I heard that they changed that text from small print to large print after my case was certified.

So there are gaps in the current system?

That’s what I want people to know. I want the media and others to know. And I want people who enter a nuclear facility to work to know this as well. Private insurance won’t cover you if something happens. Do people think that’s right? If I don’t say something, others will end up like me.


November 19, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japan swimming star battling leukemia posts photos on 19th birthday

This photo posted by swimming star Rikako Ikee on her Twitter account shows her celebrating her 19th birthday.
July 5, 2019
TOKYO — Japanese swimming star Rikako Ikee, who revealed in February that she had been diagnosed with leukemia, posted messages and photos on her official website and Twitter account on July 4, her 19th birthday.
“I was able to have many good experiences in the year I was 18. I hope to have more good experiences and days as a 19-year-old,” Ikee posted on her official website.
The message on the website begins with “I turned 19!” Ikee uploaded photos including one showing her surrounded by friends at her birthday party. “The last time I was temporarily discharged from hospital and went home, I was very surprised that a lot of my friends had gathered for me,” she reported.
Ikee also tweeted, “I want to eat cake with delicious fresh cream on it when I go home.”

July 16, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japanese Embassy Promoting Fukushima Sake in London, UK

Did they inform those people that this sake is made from Fukushima contaminated rice, that no matter how delicious it tastes there is no safe level of radiation, that internal radiation is much more harmful than external radiation?
Of course they didn’t.
Three Days of a London Ecstatic for Fukushima Saké: The London Fukushima Saké Fair Event Report
In the plot full of excitement at sake of Fukushima
A PR Event in London to Highlight Fukushima’s Fifth Year Running With The Most Gold Medals From the All-Japan New Saké Awards
The Fukushima Saké Fair, a public relations event to create buzz for Japanese sakés from Fukushima Prefecture, was held during the three days from October 17th through the 19th, 2017, at venues throughout London, including the Halls of Parliament, famous for Big Ben, and the Embassy of Japan.
More than 480 persons attended the event over the course of the three days. Faces red with delighted intoxication were seen here and there, tasting Fukushima saké, which had, for the fifth year running, acquired the most gold medals at the All-Japan New Saké Awards.
In addition, a Fukushima Night was also held at two Japanese restaurants within London: Tokimeite and Yashin Ocean House. Among the participants were those who remarked that the Fukushima sakés were the best Japanese sakés they had ever imbibed, happily drawing a close on the great success of the Fukushima Saké Fair event.
Negotiations Among Importers and Six Saké Brewers Within Fukushima
Lively discussions were had at the Fukushima Saké Negotiations, held on October 18th, among the participating saké brewers and the local restaurants and alcohol wholesalers.
Interest in Japanese saké is on the rise in London. Many persons are taking note of quality Fukushima sakés, and among the sommeliers and alcohol wholesalers present at the event were comments such as how the Fukushima sakés were full-bodied and crisp, how well they would accompany meat dishes, and how they should be carried by those restaurants and wholesalers. More than 100 negotiations took place. The expectation is that, moving forward, there will be many more Fukushima saké transactions in the market.


December 15, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Fukushima Tepco employee’s Leukemia certified, how many of the subcontracted employees ignored?

In the background, from left, the No. 1, 2, 3, and 4 reactor buildings of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are seen, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 31, 2016. In front are tanks used to store contaminated water.
Gov’t certifies Fukushima TEPCO employee’s leukemia as work-related illness
The leukemia that developed in a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee in his 40s working on the aftermath of the damaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was certified as a work-related illness by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Dec. 13, it has been learned.
According to the ministry, the man was in charge of ensuring the safety of the reactors at the Fukushima plant since April 1994. After the reactor meltdowns in March 2011, he donned protective clothing and a mask and also led the effort to cool the overheating reactors with water. He developed leukemia in February last year and is currently receiving treatment.
Over the roughly 19 years that he worked at the nuclear facility, he was exposed to some 99 millisieverts of radiation. Of that, approximately 96 millisieverts occurred after the accident. As the radiation exposure levels exceeded the ministry’s baseline of 5 millisieverts per year multiplied by years of employment, his cancer was certified as being linked to his work at the nuclear power station.
This marks the third case of receiving work-related illness certification for developing leukemia in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.
Ex-Fukushima plant worker granted compensation
Japan’s labor ministry has certified that a former worker at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is eligible for work-related compensation after developing leukemia from radiation exposure.
The worker in his 40s is employed by Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plant in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. He worked at the plant for more than 19 years until last year. He maintained equipment among other jobs.
That period includes the 9 months following the nuclear accident at the plant, which started on March 11th, 2011.
The ministry says during those months, he checked out damage from the quake-generated tsunami and injected water into the containment vessels of the No.1 and No.3 reactors.
The reactor cores melted down during the accident.
The ministry says he developed leukemia in February of last year and applied for work-related compensation.
The man was exposed to an accumulated 99.3 millisieverts of radiation. The ministry says that amount can cause the disease.
He is the 4th person to be recognized as eligible for work-related compensation after developing leukemia or thyroid cancer in relation to containment work at the plant.
Since the nuclear accident, a total of about 56,000 workers have been engaged in containment and decommissioning work at the plant through May of this year.

December 14, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | 1 Comment

After Fukushima, battling Tepco and leukemia


Expendable’: Masaru Ikeda, a former worker at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, is suing Tepco for failing to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure. Following his second stint at the stricken plant, Ikeda was diagnosed with leukemia, which labor authorities have said is linked to the radiation he was exposed to at the plant.

Eight-year-old Kenji hands his mother a tissue, which she uses to dry her eyes beneath thick-rimmed spectacles, her free hand giving her son’s closely cropped jet-black hair a gentle stroke. Michiko Ikeda has cried before, deeply, achingly, she admits, during a darker time when she faced the very real prospect of having to raise Kenji and his two siblings alone.

Then, Masaru, her husband of 15 years, had been diagnosed with leukemia following stints working at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the neighboring Fukushima No. 2 facility, starting in the fall of 2011.

Even when he first said it was leukemia I thought it must be a mistake,” Michiko says as the afternoon sun streams through the window of the front room of her home in western Japan. “When the hospital confirmed it, my mind went blank. I couldn’t stop crying, wherever I went. The only image I had in my head was that my husband was going to die.”

The road to Fukushima for Masaru Ikeda began to unfold the day after the March 2011 disasters, when images from the tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast flooded the TV and internet. Among them was footage of bodies being laid out in a makeshift morgue, the feet and legs sticking out from beneath mud-encrusted blankets clearly belonging to children.

It was overwhelming and I couldn’t help wondering how I’d feel if it was my kids lying there,” says Masaru, 42, who, after 10 months of cancer treatment, was discharged from his hospital cleanroom, the cancer having been found to be one step short of incurable. “I knew I had to to do something to help.”

Shortly after, his boss at the construction company where he worked told him about a Fukushima contractor who was looking for labor to assist with the ongoing battle to bring the devastated nuclear facility under control. Even though he had never set foot in a nuclear power plant before, Ikeda’s 15 years of experience as a welder would be invaluable.

He asked if any of us were prepared to go up there, but nobody wanted to take the risk,” he says, adding that he, too, had initially hesitated. “I talked with colleagues and they said, ‘The workers at “1F” are like kamikaze pilots.’ … I still wanted to go, not for the sake of the country, but for the people of Tohoku.”

His family and friends objected vehemently. His father told him bluntly that if he went, he’d end up getting leukemia.

He didn’t say ‘cancer,’ or another illness, but ‘leukemia,’ possibly because of what happened after Hiroshima,” Ikeda says, referring to the leukemia that was the earliest delayed effect of radiation exposure seen among A-bomb survivors. “I told him there was no way that would happen.”

Ikeda’s work at the plant was as varied as it was hazardous. At one point he helped construct a facility to dispose of workers’ TyVek suits, the ubiquitous white hooded jumpsuits that after exposure to radiation were discarded onto mountainous piles inside the plant’s evacuation zone.

Later he was involved in the construction of a temporary elevator at shattered reactor 3 and a 50-meter-tall heavy-duty steel structure to surround reactor 4 and support a huge overhead crane that was needed to remove the smoldering fuel assemblies in the fuel pool. These had been exposed to the elements following an explosion that blew away the reactor roof and the original crane.

I was shocked when I first got there and saw the sheer volume of abandoned equipment and vehicles — including fire department and military trucks that had become irreversibly contaminated.”

He was also surprised by the makeup of the on-site workers — a curious mixture of day laborers and the homeless — not to mention the pitiful shortage of suitable clothing and masks to protect them from radiation, he says.

Later, when a lot of fuss was made about radioactivity, that kind of gear and PDMs (pocket dosimeters, which monitor radiation) became more commonplace, but before that it was basically regular work clothes and surgical masks,” he says. “During work at reactor 4 the levels were so high we were supposed to wear lead vests, but there were not enough to go round so some of us had to do without.”

Nonetheless, the high radiation levels meant that work close to the reactors rarely lasted more than an hour per day and on occasion was terminated after just 10 minutes.

In late 2013, Ikeda returned home for rest and recuperation following a dispute with a subcontracting firm that was refusing to honor the daily ¥6,000 hazard allowance promised to workers — considerably less than the ¥19,000 pledged by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) president Naomi Hirose a month earlier.

It was about this time that he started to feel unwell. He couldn’t shake off a dry cough and found himself tiring far more easily than usual. Twice he scraped the side of his car without even realizing it.

In early 2014 a local doctor diagnosed him with a cold, making the news of a far more life-threatening illness during a company-sanctioned periodic health check a week later all the harder to swallow.

Results from a subsequent spinal tap revealed that 80 percent of the white blood cells in his bone marrow were abnormal. The doctor told him if he had waited a couple more weeks, treatment would not have been an option.

Nevertheless, it was still touch and go, and fearing he might not have much longer to live, Ikeda ignored the doctor’s recommendation for immediate hospitalization, instead returning home to spend time with his children, who were then only 5, 7 and 9.

It was only after I saw them through the glass of the cleanroom for the first time that I realized what a painful ordeal I had put them through,” says Ikeda. “I don’t regret going to Fukushima … but I do regret the distress I caused my family.”

Despite his father’s pre-Fukushima dispatch prophecy, Ikeda had yet to contemplate the possibility that his illness may be tied to the plant. The seed of that idea was planted by a surprising source — an official at Kajima Corp., a company he praises despite it being implicated in a kickback scandal that led some workers who had received little or no hazard compensation to take legal action.

For the time being, however, he felt fortunate and relieved. The health and labor ministry had recognized the illness as workplace-related, though it stopped short of stating it was directly tied to the 19.8 millisieverts of radioactivity he had been exposed to while working at nuclear plants.

Under health ministry guidelines, workers who are exposed to 5 mSv of radiation in a year can apply for compensation insurance payments. Ikeda did so successfully, meaning the government would help cover Ikeda’s medical costs and loss of income.

Shortly after, he was contacted by a friend still employed at the plant, who told him of a memo attached to a worker survey undertaken by plant operator Tepco.

The memo told workers not to worry about the decision to recognize the connection between my leukemia and radiation — that it was bogus,” Ikeda recalls. “It was as though Tepco was trying to erase the recognition of my work-related illness, which by law was its responsibility.”

Until then Ikeda insists he had “no intention” of suing Tepco, but its attitude made him “feel sick to the bone.”

I started to wonder what kind of people they are,” says Ikeda, who since his transfusions has suffered various ailments linked to the peripheral blood stem cell transplant he received for his acute myeloid leukemia (AML). “This is a company that for months denied the reactor meltdowns, and that caused the explosions by refusing to inject seawater (to cool the reactors) on the grounds it would render the reactors unusable. Then they turn a blind eye to a worker who helped clean up their mess. To them I was just another expendable laborer.”


Heavy price: Masaru Ikeda looks through his bag of copious prescription medication.

Incensed, Ikeda started legal proceedings against Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., accusing the now-nationalized utility of failing to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure. His first hearing, where he filed for ¥59 million damages against both Tepco and Kyushu Electric Power Co., at whose Genkai plant he had also worked, commenced at the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 2.

A Tepco spokesperson denied the claims, saying the utility has endeavored “to manage all radiation exposure of workers,” adding there has been “no medical connection found (between radiation exposure and leukemia) … even from third-party or any other medical experts.”

A health ministry official stopped short of corroborating that view, saying it had awarded Ikeda compensation even though the “causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear.”

Researchers worldwide are divided about the relation between radiation and leukemia and, indeed, some other cancers. Imperial College London cancer expert Geraldine Thomas, who is openly pro-nuclear, says there is in fact a connection, though leukemia and other cancers can also result from several factors.

AML … does have an association with radiation exposure. However, it also has an association with smoking, exposure to benzene (one of the contaminants in cigarette smoke), etc.,” says Thomas, who runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, which analyzes samples of tissue from people exposed to radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. “The problem with … these cases is that it is easy to blame radiation exposure, but almost impossible to prove or disprove, as there are no biomarkers that can be used to distinguish between different etiologies.”

The total dose Ikeda received was “very low,” Thomas adds, leading her to suspect that exposure to cigarette smoke is more likely to be a higher risk factor. Ikeda says he only started smoking after a doctor had recommended it to counter the stress resulting from the sometimes debilitating side-effects of his treatment.

While scientists such as Thomas show caution in their assessment of low exposure doses, Hisako Sakiyama, a medical doctor and former senior researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, is among those who insist that even lower doses can cause irreparable DNA damage known as “double strand breaks.” Such doses are therefore “capable of inducing cancer,” she says, “because the energy of radiation is stronger than that of the chemical bonds of DNA.”

Thomas counters that this alone is not enough to prove nuclear plants are the root of the problem because “double strand breaks are not uniquely caused by radiation.”

Ikeda’s lawyer, Yuichi Kaido, concedes that it’s scientifically problematic to prove his client’s leukemia is tied to radiation, even though Ikeda’s illness has been officially declared as being linked to his work.

More importantly, he has been exposed to a level of radiation clearly exceeding the standard set by the government, and incidences of leukemia (among the general public) are extremely low,” he says, referring to the leukemia incidence rate in Japan of 6.3 per 100,000 people, or 1.4 percent of 805,236 cancers diagnosed in 2010. “In this case, I think it has been proven that the probable cause (radiation) is clearly far beyond the 51 percent probability normally required in these kinds of civil cases.”

To assess Ikeda’s case, painstaking investigations into his medical and employment background were undertaken. Ikeda himself said he had often noticed what he believes were public security officials in black vehicles who he alleges would park near his home and tail him wherever he went, presumably checking on his lifestyle habits and the types of people with whom he kept company.

The outcome of the official investigation was that no other factors, such as viruses or other illnesses, could have caused his leukemia, according to Kaido.


In his corner: Lawyer Yuichi Kaido is cautiously confident about Ikeda’s chances in court against Tepco. ‘It has been proven that the probable cause (radiation) is clearly far beyond the 51 percent probability normally required in these kinds of civil cases,’ he says.

Until now, there have been only two other known lawsuits like Ikeda’s. One of those — involving plumber Mitsuaki Nagao, who had been diagnosed with a type of bone marrow cancer after being exposed to 70 mSv of radiation at nuclear power plants including Fukushima No. 1 — was rejected by the Tokyo High Court in 2009, by which time Nagao had died. Kaido says that ruling could prove to be a “huge hindrance” in gaining justice for the likes of Ikeda.

The big difference between then and now is the massive accident at Fukushima, where it is unthinkable that no health hazard resulted,” Kaido says, adding that in a wider social context, it is unconscionable that the utility that caused such environmental destruction and has since paid trillions of yen already in compensation to atone for the disaster, should fail to recompense a man who fell sick after helping Tepco overcome the dire situation at Fukushima No. 1.

Some people in Fukushima who were unable to return to their homes (because of high radiation levels) were paid hundreds of billions of yen, while my client hasn’t received a penny. That’s preposterous. Tepco has washed its hands of its social responsibility.”

Although initially reluctant to take action, Ikeda hopes that his legal suit will encourage others to come forward, even though since 1976, when the compensation regulations were introduced, only 13 workers have been officially recognized as having suffered illnesses related to workplace radiation exposure. Ikeda became No. 14, and the first since the meltdowns in Fukushima (see table).

I have heard that there are probably many more, but you never hear about them because settlements are reached” to keep them hushed up, says Ikeda, adding that accusations on various internet forums that people like him are nothing more than greedy opportunists had distressed him greatly. “I wouldn’t have taken this action if Tepco had shown some degree of remorse.”

Ikeda’s wife, Michiko, who works in an elderly care facility, says the most difficult time for her was during those long months of treatment, when her husband shed all his hair and over 20 kg in weight. He began to look pale and gaunt and didn’t have the energy to talk for more than five minutes when she visited, even though she remembers him chatting at length with a fellow cancer patient in the cleanroom — a patient who died three days later.

She also remembers the various memory-making trips, to Hokkaido and Okinawa, among others — trips they hoped would remain with their children throughout their lives. Just in case.

Nobody can say when (the leukemia) will return, and while I worry about that, there’s nothing I can do,” she says. “That’s fate. I still can’t help wishing he had never gone (to Fukushima), but also feel bitter that Tepco didn’t try to prevent this from happening.”

The family asked that their real names and location not be used. This article is based on a chapter from Rob Gilhooly’s book “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe: Fukushima — March 2011,” published last month by Inknbeans Press (

Nuclear plant workers’ illnesses officially recognized by the health ministry as being workplace-related (between 1976 and June 2014 — a total of 13 workers):


(recognized limit: over 5 millisieverts/year)

Accumulated doses (mSv) of workers in six cases:

1) 129.8
2) 74.9
3) 72.1
4) 50.0
5) 40.0
6) 5.2

Malignant lymphoma

(recognized limit: over 25 mSv)

1) 175.2
2) 173.6
3) 138.5
4) 99.8
5) 78.9

Multiple myeloma

(recognized limit: over 50 mSv)

1) 70.0
2) 65.0

April 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | 1 Comment

Fukushima nuclear disaster: Worker sues Tepco over cancer


The plaintiff helped build scaffolding to repair the damaged No 4 reactor at the Fukushima plant


A Japanese court has begun hearing the case of a man who developed leukaemia after working as a welder at the damaged Fukushima nuclear site.

The plaintiff, 42, is the first person to be recognised by labour authorities as having an illness linked to clean-up work at the plant.

He is suing Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the complex.

The nuclear site was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, causing a triple meltdown.

It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. An exclusion zone remains in place around the site as thousands of workers continue clean-up efforts.

‘Expendable labourer’

The man, from Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture, was a welder for a sub-contractor.

He spent six months working at Genkai and Fukushima No 2 nuclear plants before moving to the quake-hit Fukushima No 1 plant, where he build scaffolding for repair work at the No 4 reactor building. His cumulative radiation exposure was 19.78 millisieverts.

This is lower than official limits – Japan currently allows workers at the damaged plant to accumulate a maximum of 100 millisieverts over five years. A dose of 100 millisieverts over a year is seen as enough to raise the risk of cancer.

But in October 2015, a health ministry panel ruled that the man’s illness was workplace-related and that he was eligible for compensation.

“While the causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear, we certified him from the standpoint of worker compensation,” a health ministry official said at the time.


There has been heated debate about the dangers of radiation from the plant

The man is now suing Tepco and the Kyushu Electric Power Company, which operated the Genkai plant, for JPY59m ($526,000, £417,000).

“I worked there [Fukushima No 1 plant] because of my ardent desire to help bring the disaster under control but I was treated as if I was a mere expendable labourer,” Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

“I want Tokyo Electric to thoroughly face up to its responsibility.”

When he filed the suit late last year, his lawyers said he had been “forced to undergo unnecessary radiation exposure because of the utilities’ slipshod on-site radiation management”.

Tepco and Kyushu Electric have asked the court to reject the suit, questioning the link between his radiation exposure and leukaemia, Kyodo reported.

Tens of thousands of workers have been employed at the Fukushima site since the disaster in March 2011. Late last year the government said estimates of clean-up costs had doubled to JPY21.5 trillion ($188bn, £150bn).

Ex-worker during Fukushima disaster sues Tepco, Kyushu Electric over leukemia

A former nuclear worker who developed leukemia after combating the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis demanded ¥59 million (around $524,000) in damages from two utilities Thursday at his first trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court.

The 42-year-old man from Fukuoka Prefecture is the first person to be recognized by labor authorities as having an illness linked to workplace radiation exposure since the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The man-made disaster was triggered by the huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

I worked there because of my ardent desire to help bring the disaster under control but I was treated as if I was a mere expendable laborer,” the plaintiff said.

I want Tokyo Electric to thoroughly face up to its responsibility,” he said.

The defendants, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which runs Fukushima No. 1, and Kyushu Electric Power Co., whose Genkai nuclear plant also employed the plaintiff, asked the court to reject the claim, questioning the connection between his radiation exposure and leukemia.

The man was engaged in welding operations at the Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 plants and the Genkai complex in Saga Prefecture from October 2011 to December 2013. His exposure in operations subcontracted by the utilities consisted of at least 19.8 millisieverts, according to his written complaint.

The man was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2014 and later went into depression. Both ailments are recognized as work-related illnesses by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

He said he has been unable to go back to work and is therefore seeking compensation from the utilities.

February 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

7 Times More Leukemia in 2015 than 2014, 80% in Eastern Japan

Warning, this is not the result of an official study but the findings of the personal study of Kikko, a blogger who took as a base the number of hospitalized patients. But again we cannot expect the Japanese government to officially advertize it: “The number of patients diagnosed with leukemia in 2015 was about 7 times higher than the previous year.”



From June 2015

Sharp increase in leukemia patients ~ Number of patients is about 7 times more than last year ~ Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Tokyo

According to the statistics of the National Public Medical Association from the hospitals of each prefecture, from April to October 2015, the number of patients diagnosed as “leukemia” was about seven times higher than in 2014.

About 60% or more of patients diagnosed with leukemia are acute leukemia,
Since 1978 when they began taking statistics, such high proportion never occured before.

About 80% of the patients are in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Fukushima Prefecture is the largest, next, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Tokyo in that order.

Strontium 90 is the most probable cause. It acts inside the body as calcium so that it can be stored in bones and brain. It takes 2-3 years until symptoms develop. People inhaling it or ingesting it in foods such as milk, fish and meat.

January 16, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2015 | , | Leave a comment

Cancer patient compensated for Fukushima work to sue TEPCO


Damage from an explosion remains at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 4 reactor building in March 2013.

A 42-year-old man diagnosed with leukemia after working at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant plans to sue Tokyo Electric Power Co., saying the utility failed to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure.

He will also sue Kyushu Electric Power Co., operator of the Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture where he had also worked, in the lawsuit expected to be filed at the Tokyo District Court on Nov. 22.

The man, who is from Kita-Kyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture, will demand about 59 million yen ($541,000) in total compensation from the two utilities.

TEPCO and Kyushu Electric, as the managers of the facilities, are responsible for the health of workers there, but they failed to take adequate measures to protect them from radiation exposure,” said one of the lawyers representing him.

The man was forced to undergo unnecessary radiation exposure because of the utilities’ slipshod on-site radiation management, and as a result had to face danger to his life and fear of death,” the lawyer said.

The lawyers group said the man has a strong case, citing a ruling by labor authorities in October 2015 that recognized a correlation between his leukemia and his work in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It was the first time cancer was ruled work-related among people who developed the disease after working at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The planned lawsuit will be the first legal action against TEPCO brought by an individual whose work-related compensation claim has already been granted.

Between October 2011 and December 2013, the man worked at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to set up a cover on the damaged No. 4 reactor building and perform other tasks.

The man also did regular maintenance jobs at the Genkai plant.

His accumulative radiation exposure at the two plants came to about 20 millisieverts.


November 19, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

Worker’s leukemia deemed result of his work at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant granted compensation


Workers in protective gear at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in February

Man’s leukemia deemed result of his work at Fukushima plant

The labor ministry said a man who developed leukemia by helping in clean-up efforts at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is entitled to work-related compensation.

It marks the second such case since the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recognized that the cancer was due to exposure to radiation at the facility and said the government will cover his medical expenses.

The ministry said Aug. 19 that the man, who is in his 50s, was involved in removing debris and repairing machinery that handled radioactive water at the plant between April 2011, a month after the triple meltdown triggered by the earthquake and tsunami disaster, and January 2015.

His accumulative radiation exposure was 54.4 millisieverts.

The man worked for a contractor with Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the nuclear complex.

He was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2015, and filed application for worker’s accident compensation at the Fukushima Labor Standards Inspection Office, a regional branch of the ministry.

Under the ministry’s guidelines, eligibility for work-related compensation in such cases is granted if leukemia is diagnosed after the person worked for more than a year in an assignment which resulted in an annual dose of more than 5 millisieverts.

The ministry’s decision to grant compensation in this case came after a panel of experts offered their opinions on the matter.

The ministry is scrutinizing the cases of five other former workers at the plant who have applied for compensation.

Compensation in such cases was first granted last October after a man in his early 40s was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2014. He was exposed to 16 millisieverts of radiation while he worked at the plant between 2012 and 2013.

Applications for the work-related compensation as a result of the Fukushima disaster are expected to increase in coming years, experts say.

According to TEPCO, those who had annual does of more than 5 millisieverts of radiation during fiscal 2015 numbered 4,952.

Fukushima worker with cancer granted compensation

Japan’s labor ministry has certified that a former worker at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is eligible for compensation for developing leukemia.
The man in his 50s had worked at the plant for nearly 4 years since April 2011, soon after the compound suffered a meltdown.
The ministry says the man was in charge of mechanical repairs at the plant. It says he developed leukemia in January last year, and applied for workers’ compensation.
Ministry officials say the man’s radiation exposure has reached 54.4 millisieverts, and that they found no other plausible causes except his work.
He is the 2nd person to be awarded compensation in connection with the accident, following a case last October involving another man with leukemia.
In all, 14 nuclear plant workers in Japan have been granted compensation for work-related cancer.
About 47,000 people have worked at the Fukushima plant in the 5 years since the accident.

August 20, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment