TOKYO--More than seven years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan acknowledged for the first time this week that a worker died from cancer after being exposed to radiation.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said the man, who was not identified, had worked mostly at the Fukushima Daiichi plant over 28 years and had died of lung cancer, according to Japanese news media reports.

Three years ago the government awarded workers’ compensation to a man who developed leukemia while working on the Fukushima cleanup, but this week marked the first acknowledgment that exposure to radiation at the site caused a death. The government has acknowledged that three other Fukushima workers developed leukemia and thyroid cancer after working on the plant cleanup. About 5,000 workers labor at the site daily.

The ministry said the man who died worked for a subcontractor to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator. He was in his 50s and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. His family did not wish his precise date of death to be released, according to the health ministry.

According to the government, the man was responsible for measuring radiation at Fukushima Daiichi and wore a protective jumpsuit and a full face mask while working. The ministry said he had been exposed to a lifetime dose of 195 millisieverts of radiation after working at Fukushima and other plants.

Safety regulators say workers can be safely exposed to up to 50 millisieverts a year, but if a worker with an accumulated 100 millisieverts develops an illness after five years of exposure, that can be ruled an occupational injury. According to an expert cited by the Mainichi Shimbun, a daily newspaper, the man had been exposed to 74 millisieverts at the Fukushima plant since the accident.

Fukushima has faced a long and painful aftermath from the 2011 disaster, with thousands of people evacuated for years, and the government and Tokyo Electric struggling to cope with a radioactive waste cleanup on an unprecedented scale.

Experts have been divided on whether exposure to radiation can be linked to other illnesses, including thyroid cancer, among children living near the plant. The government has said that the evacuation caused more fatalities than radiation exposure. Its Reconstruction Agency determined this year that stress, suicide and the interruption of medical care related to the nuclear crisis and evacuation had caused 2,202 deaths.

According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, a daily newspaper, 17 Fukushima plant workers have filed for workers’ compensation with the health ministry. Four have been granted compensation, and five claims have been rejected. Another five are pending, and two have withdrawn their claims.

Courts have repeatedly found the government and Tokyo Electric negligent in failing to prevent the disaster. Three of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, which is on the eastern coast of Japan, melted down when 32-foot waves overpowered the plant’s protective sea walls and flooded buildings, destroying diesel generators that were designed to keep critical systems functioning in a blackout.

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Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

(Sept. 5, 2018)