Exposure levels of US sailors who helped to clean up Fukushima were much higher than had previously been reported.
The revelations contained in the report could have a bearing on the lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Company by more than 70 U.S. service members who say they suffer from long-term health effects from their participation in the U.S. navy's response to the nuclear disaster.
Kyle Cleveland, a Temple University professor based in Japan, obtained documents showing military officials aboard the carrier detected radiation levels that were 30 times greater than normal and significantly greater than what the Japanese government told them to expect.
Navy officials have maintained that the radiation levels service members were exposed to during Operation Tomodachi were not enough to cause health effects.
But participants in the lawsuit have experienced a disproportionate number of health problems since the operation despite being in their 20's.
Participants in the lawsuit have experienced a variety of severe ailments in the three years since the operation, including cancers, tumors, chronic headaches and internal bleeding. One servicewoman involved in the suit alleges that the radiation she was exposed to on the USS Ronald Reagan caused her child to be born with multiple birth defects seven months after her participation in the disaster relief efforts.It turns out that certain members of the US government did not challenge TEPCO's assessments of the radiation damage because they were afraid of affecting US relations abroad. Specifically, they did not want Japan to be seen as a mere client state of the US.
Cleveland, a professor, took an interest in the matter because he wanted to more effectively advise American students who wished to study abroad in Japan.
Cleveland began to study the crisis so that he could accurately advise his Study Abroad students on safety in the aftermath of the disaster, he told Stars and Stripes. Through his research and document requests, he examined the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown, the unconfirmed information released by the Japanese and the Navy response in the first month afterward.The ship, the USS Reagan, was not informed of the contamination for one month.
Cleveland reported that the U.S. government tried to maintain a delicate diplomatic balance, leading a rescue effort and advising their Japanese allies while not fully trusting Japan’s assessment of the danger. At the same time, the Navy was identifying the potential scope of the problem while taking steps to ensure the safety of its servicemembers.
Charles Bonner, attorney for the sailors, says the radiation the USS Ronald Reagan crew was exposed to extended beyond the tasks of Operation Tomodachi. Deployed ships desalinate their own water, so crew members were unknowingly drinking, cooking with, and bathing in contaminated water due to the ship's close proximity to the disaster site, according to Bonner. The USS Reagan was ultimately informed of the contamination after a month of living approximately 10 miles offshore from the affected region.One soldier, Michael Sebourn, said that he experienced mysterious symptoms and that doctors did not know what was wrong with him.
The number of plaintiffs in the case could grow significantly as 150 additional crew members are currently being medically screened to join. The sailors are seeking $40 million each in punitive damages as well as a $1 billion fund for future medical expenses for members of the USS Reagan.
Since returning home, Sebourn says he very suddenly lost 50 to 60 percent of the power in the right side of his body. This shocked him when he walked into the gym one day and could only do his workout on his left side – he says his right side just didn’t work. Sebourn also says his right arm is now an inch-and-a-half shorter than his left when he flexes – another mystery.He said that he was not in it for the money.
“Right now we’re going through this lawsuit, we’re not trying to get rich. I could care less about getting any monetary returns. What I’m looking for in the suit is a medical fund, money put aside for a medical fund, some place for all 70,000 people — [Department of Defense] civilians, family members, service members that were exposed to this — that someday if they develop problems down the road that [are found to be] linked to radiation exposure, that they have someplace they can go [to be] seen and treated where it’s not going to be a financial burden on them — to make sure that we’re taken care of down the road when we need it.”The suit alleges that the utility knowingly kept the full extent of the radiation from Fukushima a secret knowing that the plaintiffs were going to be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.
Citing the 2012 Diet Commission report on the Fukushima disaster, lawyers Paul Garner and Charles Bonner say the utility knew the plaintiffs were going to be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation because it was aware that the plant had experienced a triple meltdown, but chose to keep it secret.
The plaintiffs are dealing with the consequences, say Garner and Bonner, “with illnesses such as leukemia, ulcers . . . brain cancer, brain tumors, testicular cancer, dysfunctional uterine bleeding . . . and a host of other complaints unusual in such young adults.” The plaintiffs include a baby born with “multiple birth defects” to a servicewoman seven months after the meltdown.
“The injured servicemen and women will require treatment for their deteriorating health, medical monitoring, payment of their medical bills, appropriate health monitoring for their children and monitoring for possible radiation-induced genetic mutations,” says the lawsuit, which was filed in San Diego on Feb. 6. “Some of the radiological particles inside of these service personnel have long half-lives, from six to 50 to 100 years.”