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USSCalhounCo
Credit: Tampa Bay Times

51 US Navy Sailors Sickened 3 Years After Participating in Fukushima Rescue Effort was a rec-list DKos diary by sangemon published on December 18th. It was about a lawsuit being attempted by sailors who were part of the USS Ronald Reagan group sent from operations off Korea after the massive earthquake and tsunami off northeastern Japan in March of 2011, ostensibly to participate in search and rescue operations for the people affected. The triple meltdowns, explosions and fires at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reservation soon turned their mission into something quite else. Now, nearly three years later, some of the ~2,000 sailors who participated are suffering very particular medical symptoms they believe are a result of their exposure. The number of plaintiffs is now 70 and is expected to rise further as the attorneys attempt to draft a suit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company [TEPCO] for compensation they cannot get from the US Navy due to sovereign immunity and a long history of exposing personnel and then abandoning them to their fates.

In the comments of that diary one of our pro-nuclear apologists attempted to dismiss any notions of serious radiation exposure to the group's sailors, despite the fact that they were ordered to monitor the plume of radiation heading east toward the western coast of North America from Fukushima, and then had to remain in the worst of the plume while heading around to the other side of the island nation to be out of danger's way, only to be refused berth when they got there because the ships were so contaminated. The Reagan subsequently spent more than a year in Bremerton for 'maintenance' that no doubt included serious decon efforts before returning to its San Diego home port in 2013.

In this reply to the apologist I linked and cited just two of the transcripts of phone conferences released by the NRC in response to FOIA requests, in which specific information about the radiation hazards of the plume were (thankfully) not blacked out. These make it very clear that any sailors tasked to monitoring and/or decontamination on the decks of these ships did indeed get exposed to considerable radioactive contamination, including the usual nasty beta/gamma emitters - xenon, krypton, iodine, cesium and strontium - but also extremely dangerous alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes and particulates - "hot particles" - that included reactor fuel blown out and sent downwind by the explosions.

Anyway, I thought I'd offer a great in-depth investigative report in the Tampa Bay Times as background reading material specific to the US Navy's long history of complete carelessness both in generating and disposing of radioactive materials.

The Atomic Sailors
Serving aboard the USS Calhoun County, dumping the Cold War's radioactive waste.

It was the Navy's dirtiest job. The crew of the U.S. S. Calhoun County dumped thousands of radioactive barrels into the Atlantic Ocean from 1946 to 1960. The Navy says the work was safe. But 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the ship's sinking. The Calhoun County's own Navy ordered it scuttled because it was a radioactive hazard. Now a Pasco County widow fights to prove her husband's death is tied to the vessel.
The story by William R. Levesque of the Tampa Bay times is the result of examination of thousands of pages of documentation and interviews with more than 50 former crewmen of the USS Calhoun County. Bernice Albernaz, the widow at the heart of the story, provided Department of Veterans Affairs reports and correspondence she and her late husband received since their struggle started in 2001. She provided letters the couple wrote to the VA, government officials and others, and allowed the newspaper to review her late husband's medical records and daily diary entries from the time her husband George first became ill in 1988. The Times also examined the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals file on Harvey Lucas, a Calhoun County sailor who also filed a VA claim, and ship's records kept at the National Archives. These included the ship's deck logs and muster rolls.

The investigative report talks about the Navy's lax standards for handling the radioactive waste, and has some highlights that border on serious black humor for anyone who has any kind of life experience with either the nuclear Navy or nuclear technology in general...

"When the badge turned purple, that meant you had too much radiation," said Andre Vernot, 75, of Columbia, Md., an officer on the ship from 1960 to 1962. "Our rules were, when the badge turns purple, turn it in and get another one."
So for those interested in trying to keep track of what's happening on the Fuku Front - and with the attempt by Reagan group sailors to have Japan and TEPCO address the reality of what's been unleashed, this is a very good place to start. You may come away with some head-spinning disgust at just how cavalierly the Navy and VA have treated personnel whose health was seriously injured in the line of duty, but that's nothing new even though this time the injured sailors are aiming at Japan for compensation they are likely never to obtain from our government. They already know they probably won't get service-related disability from the VA, and the Navy itself is off limits. Yet another good reason for We the People to put some real pressure on our government to do the right thing - for all its veterans.

Take my word for it, the full report is well worth reading and digesting. You'll come away much more knowledgeable about things nuclear, and about how TPTB - government, military, and industrial - treat the dangers created by the very existence of this technology. That kind of knowledge is a handy thing these days, it seems.

May we all have a much better year in 2014 than too many had in 2013. Happy New Year!

Originally posted to Joieau on Wed Jan 01, 2014 at 11:33 AM PST.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos and DKos Military Veterans.

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