Fukushima workers take Tepco to courts for more compensation

Tokyo utility company is accused of failing to adequately compensate workers for the hazards associated with its Fukushima clean-up operation

Workers in radiation protection suits prepare to treat two nuclear plant workers exposed to high levels of radiation after the Fukushima disaster

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the utility firm charged with decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant, is facing a lawsuit alleging that workers were inadequately compensated for the risks associated with the clean-up. The accusers, two current and two former employees, are seeking hazard pay of approximately $620,000. If successful, the case could open the floodgates for a string of similar claims.

The legal repercussions of the meltdown have cost Tepco $48bn in compensation damages alone

“My health may be harmed some day,” said one of the workers to Japanese broadcaster NHK. “I believe there are many people who can’t speak out about this kind of problem.” The individuals allege the company skimped on payments to bolster corporate profits, yet employees were asked to carry out tasks on a highly radioactive site.

The individuals concealed their faces on entering the court and have asked to remain anonymous, for fear of their employment prospects being compromised. “I may get fired or may be given no further work. But I hope people will take this as an opportunity to speak up and get paid,” said one worker. Approximately 6,000 individuals work at the plant, but most are employed by contractors and subcontractors, who also risk being implicated in the scandal.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami disabled the plant’s cooling systems and sent it into meltdown. The resulting radioactive leak left the surrounding area uninhabitable and forced approximately 160,000 residents to evacuate their homes, with many leaving their possessions behind. The legal repercussions of the meltdown have cost Tepco $48bn in compensation damages alone, not to mention billions dedicated to the cleanup operation, which in 2012 pushed the company close to bankruptcy.

The lawsuit comes at a difficult time for the now state-owned company, after it was made to pay compensation relating to the suicide of a woman who was forced to vacate her home following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

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