Japan’s ministry of health, labour and welfare announced Tuesday that an unnamed recovery worker has been diagnosed with leukemia, in what could be the first of many cases of people contaminated after being involved in the 2011 nuclear plant explosion clean-up.
The ministry confirmed the man’s cancer is likely related to his work at Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi plant and other nuclear facilities from October 2012 to November 2013. The case became public after he filed a worker’s compensation claim, Reuters reports.
The compensation awarded to the man would cover treatment costs by supplementing his standard national health insurance.
“This is a massive blow to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which stated in September of this year that no discernible health effects due to the exposure to radiation released by the accident are to be expected,” Greenpeace said in an e-mailed statement.
The worker who developed leukemia was exposed to less radiation than many, according to the minister, which suggests that the number of compensation cases could spike.
A huge quake-sparked tsunami, which levelled Japan’s northeast cost and killed more than 18,000 people, swamped cooling systems at the plant and sent some reactors into meltdown over four years ago.
Radiation was released into the air, sea and food chain in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Today’s official announcement comes less than a week after the controversial restarting of a second reactor in Japan following the shutdown of all the country’s reactors in the wake of the crisis.
Three similar cases of cancer in plant workers are still awaiting confirmation of a link to the accident.
Public broadcaster NHK said about 45,000 people have worked at the Fukushima plant since the accident as part of a massive, multi-billion-dollar clean-up.
In early October, a study linked radiation associated with the Fukushima meltdowns to thyroid cancer in children living near the area.
“This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told the Associated Press. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.”
Before the nuclear disaster, about 30% of Japan’s power was nuclear generated.