U.S. Navy sailors sue over exposure to Fukushima radiation


It was the American Way of humanitarianism when the U.S. Navy dispatched some of its Pacific fleet toward the shores of Japan in March 2011, as news spread that a massive earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami had struck the island nation. But what the crew members of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan could not have imagined was that the real danger they would face would not be from the quake but from exposure to radiation from a nuclear accident.

Indeed, officials had to reposition the massive aircraft carrier after it passed under the massive plume of airborne radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric, or TEPCO. A number of sailors and other U.S. personnel were treated for exposure at the time:

Davis said the source of the radiation was a radioactive plume emitted by the plant.

 After the helicopters landed on the carrier, radioactive contamination was found on the exterior surface of three aircrafts.

Following decontamination protocols, the 17 crewmembers aboard and the three helicopters were tested and found to have been exposed to low levels of radiation.

Most of the radiation was found on the crewmembers clothes, but radiation was detected on the skin of one of the crewmembers.

The low level radioactivity from affected personnel was removed by washing with soap and water. Their clothes were also discarded.

The incident was something of a blip on the radar screen, at a time when the whole world was watching to see if there would be a devastating meltdown at Fukushima’s crippled reactors. In the 21 months since then, the authorities — especially the Japanese government and TEPCO — have worked hard to downplay any lingering fears of contamination, despite evidence of persistent radioactivity in marine life as well as on land.

But the U.S. crew members did not forget their exposure. Now, eight members of San Diego-based crew — along with the infant daughter of one female sailors — are suing TEPCO in an American courtroom, claiming that the Japanese utility lied about the level of radiation that they were ultimately exposed to. Saying their experience was similar to exposure suffered by workers in the vicinity of Russia’s 1986 Chernobyl accident who later developed cancer, the Americans state in court papers that they are very concerned for their future health:

They claim the utility company, “a wholly owned public benefit subsidiary of the government of Japan,” misrepresented radiation levels to lull the U.S. Navy “into a false sense of security.”

Lead plaintiff Lindsay R. Cooper claims Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) intentionally concealed the dangerous levels of radiation in the environment from U.S. Navy rescue crews working off the coast of Japan after the March 10, 2011 earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear disaster.

“TEPCO pursued a policy to cause rescuers, including the plaintiffs, to rush into an unsafe area which was too close to the FNPP [Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant] that had been damaged. Relying upon the misrepresentations regarding health and safety made by TEPCO … the U.S. Navy was lulled into a false sense of security,” the complaint states.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs express the same worries and concerns that many felt regarding the Japanese authorities, that they were not being honest about the risks:

The plaintiffs claim the government deliberately misled them: “the Japanese government kept representing that there was no danger of radiation contamination to the U.S.S. Reagan … and/or its crew, that ‘everything is under control,’ ‘all is OK, you can trust us,’ and there is ‘no immediate danger’ or threat to human life, all the while lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdowns at FNPP.

This is a situation that we’ll be keeping a close eye on. Unfortunately, the fallout (no pun intended) from Fukushima radiation is very wide, affecting  many people who were exposed directly on the Japanese mainland or nearby (as in this case) or through broad contamination of the food chain. Ultimately, history’s final verdict on the full extent of Fukushima’s damage may be rendered in a court of law.

To read about the exposure of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to the radioactive plume from Fukushima, please read: http://abcnews.go.com/International/uss-carrier-ronald-reagan-moved-detecting-radioactive-plume/story?id=13129409#.UNzUJ6yH-So

To learn more about the lawsuit recently filed against TEPCO by U.S. Navy crew members, please go to:  http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/12/26/53414.htm?sthash.G7lePGF3.mjjo&goback=.gde_1428887_member_199239332

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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