TEPCO: Almost 2000 employees at risk of cancer

By Daniele Pestilli on July 20, 2013
Image credit: http://bit.ly/12T7o2U (CC)

Discontent looms large on the northeastern coast of Japan.

From the nuclear disaster that hit the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 to June 2013, almost 1,300 TEPCO employees have fled the company of their own volition.

According to the Japanese daily, Asahi Shinbun, 51 of those employees were section chiefs or higher in rank, and have caused severe managerial dilemmas to the Japanese company. As an incentive to keep the chiefs and managers who have stayed, a one-time bonus payment of ¥100,000 ($997) is scheduled for July 22nd. On the other hand, their non-managerial colleagues have had their salaries slashed by 20%. However, despite these salary concerns, the far more severe problem TEPCO's workers are facing is cancer.

In a study concluded by the electric power company on July 19th, 1,973 employees who were on-site during and following the disaster were found to have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. That is 11 times more people than what TEPCO had previously announced to the World Health Organization in March 2012 – namely 178 employees.

These study subjects' thyroid glands had been exposed to radioactive iodine (through inhalation) to over 100-millisieverts, and one worker recorded an alarming 1,000 millisieverts.

The 100-millisievert health-hazard mark is a standard based on research following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. However, Chernobyl's data appears to be inaccurate: for instance, whereas it was previously believed that contamination seldom caused cancer for those aged 40 and above, recent results are disproving this theory.

As Asahi News underlines, the lack of thorough testing can be partly blamed on a health ministry policy, which specifies that radioactive health control should be based on whole-body doses as opposed to doses in specific areas of the body like the thyroid. The latter are deemed “voluntary” tests.

According to Yomiuri Shinbun the tests were conducted on TEPCO's long-term health care subjects, who receive a yearly thyroid ultrasound test.