Japan has acknowledged for the first time that a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced triple meltdowns and explosions more than seven years ago, died from radiation exposure.
According the the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the man, who was in his 50s, took up employment with a sub-contracting company of plant operator TEPCO in the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and mega-tsunami.
The man had been charged with monitoring radiation levels at the stricken plant and had worked their on and off until 2015, the ministry said. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
While Japan’s government has previously recognised four worker illnesses, such as cancer and leukaemia, as being directly linked to working at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the recently announced case marks the first occasion that it has recognised a death from working at the stricken facility.
The employee who died had an accumulated radiation dose of around 195 millisieverts (mSv), despite wearing the stipulated protective masks and clothing, according to local media reports.
Nuclear plant workers in Japan are limited to an accumulated dose of 100 mSv over any given 5-year period -- an amount that was controversially increased for several months to 250 mSv in the aftermath of the disaster -- which is generally accepted as being the 2nd worst in history after Chernobyl in 1986.
According to the World Nuclear Association, exposure to 100 mSv a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer risk is clearly evident. A cumulative 1,000 mSv would likely result in a fatal cancer in five out of every 100 persons exposed to it, the WNA says*. These estimates are made for people without protective masks or clothing.
*Some scientists believe there are cancer and other health risks from much lower doses. Others, such as Oxford University professor Wade Allison, believe there are no risks even from exposure to 1,000 mSv of radiation or more.