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Situation of Japanese Nuclear Workers

(second installment)

In the case of the malignant lymphoma of the late Tadashi Kiyuna discussed in NIT 120, the Yodogawa Labor Standard Supervision Office judged the cause to be viral and submitted its assessment to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) without even looking into Kiyuna's work environment. The group supporting Kiyuna's case strongly demanded that MHLW not make a judgment without first checking Kiyuna's working conditions.

One of the reasons for the Labor Standards Office's shoddy response in this case was the failure to widely disseminate information about the relationship between radiation exposure and leukemia-like illnesses after workers compensation was awarded for Mitsuaki Nagao's multiple myeloma in January 2004 (NIT 99). During negotiations after the Nagao case, MHLW said that the question of whether to add multiple myeloma to its list of radiation-induced illnesses would be included on the agenda of at its next investigation committee meeting. This still has not been done. MHLW has abrogated its responsibility as the supervising authority.

From the beginning of commercial generation of nuclear power in Japan until 2006 worker exposure to radiation totaled 3,000 person-sieverts. Despite the fact that many workers have been exposed to large amounts of radiation, there have been very few applications for workers' compensation. Including the case of Tadashi Kiyuna, we are aware of only 18 cases, 9 of which were accepted. Five of those which were accepted were for leukemia and 3 were for acute radiation exposure from the JCO criticality accident at Tokai Village in Ibaraki Prefecture. The other case that was accepted was Mitsuaki Nagao's multiple myeloma.

We are able to obtain information about compensation for radiation workers for the UK and the US from official web sites. However, we would greatly appreciate it if people from other countries could provide information, or refer us to sources for their country.

Many problems with epidemiological surveys for Japan's nuclear workers
Since 1990 the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (formerly Science and Technology Agency) has commissioned the Radiation Effects Association to carry out epidemiological surveys for workers at Japan's nuclear facilities. It has published reports comparing death rates for male nuclear workers with death rates of the general male population and investigating the relationship between death rates and radiation exposure rates. The reports published so far cover three periods: 1990 - 94 (1st period), 1995 - 1999 (2nd period), 2000 - 2004 (3rd period). The reports found a significant relationship between cumulative radiation exposure and death rates from major types of cancer among Japanese people: cancer of the esophagus, stomach and rectum (2nd period); cancer of the esophagus, lung cancer and multiple myeloma (3rd period).

By rights, the effects of smoking should have been included in the research program from the outset. However in Japan, a lifestyle survey, as a parallel study separate from the main study, was only started during the second period in 1997, after a significant relationship had begun to emerge. They then rejected the relationship between death rate and radiation exposure on the grounds that workers with higher radiation exposures also had higher smoking and alcohol consumption rates, as well as histories of health-impairing work. It makes one wonder what the point of these epidemiological studies was.

Without an analysis taking into account social class, epidemiological studies of Japan's nuclear workers are not very reliable. Non-Japanese workers and workers of unknown abode were excluded from the studies. Japan's nuclear industry is characterized by many layers of subcontractor and sub-subcontractor workers. Non-Japanese workers and workers of unknown abode might have been exposed to high levels of radiation, so follow-up studies of these people should be carried out.

As problems and accidents arise due to the aging of nuclear power plants, nuclear workers are likely to face even more difficult conditions. In order to protect these people, it is essential to have a system which properly understands the health effects of radiation.

Mikiko Watanabe (CNIC)

Return to NIT 121 contents


Citizens' Nuclear Information Center
Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho,
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan