This past December TEPCO reported to the World Health Organization that only 178 workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant faced danger from radiation – however the utility now states that almost 2,000 workers are at risk of thyroid cancer. The 1,973 people were exposed to 100 millisieverts of radiation. Ten percent of the group were part of cleanup crews tasked with containing one of the worst nuclear disasters in recent history. Not all of the workers have been tested, but all are eligible for annual screenings paid for by TEPCO.
The revelation of thousands of potential fatal illnesses caused by the Fukushima meltdown adds another item to a long list of worries for the utility. In June, TEPCO reversed a previous assurance that there was no radioactive water flowing in the plant. It was then uncovered that high levels of cesium, tritium, and strontium-90 were contaminating the groundwater. Leaks have been found in the plant’s infrastructure, polluting the nearly 400 metric tons of water that flow into the facility each day. As TEPCO is running out of room to store the toxic liquid, they have been fighting a dubious battle with local fishermen to allow them to release some of the water into the ocean.
TEPCO has set a deadline of 4 decades to fully contain the effects of the meltdown, however it is struggling protect its workers and heal the environment. While the earthquake officially claimed 18,000 lives, no deaths have yet been reported as a direct result of radiation. Even though 48 of the 50 reactors in Japan have been closed, some major utilities have been pushing to reinstate ten nuclear plants as prices of oil, coal, and gas rise.