U.S. Navy Sailors Sue Over Low-dose Radiation

By:  Rebecca Terrell
U.S. Navy Sailors Sue Over Low-dose Radiation

U.S. Navy sailors are suing the Fukushima utility TEPCO for exposing them to nuclear radiation during Operation Tomodachi, the humanitarian mission to aid victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

The $1 billion lawsuit filed in a California federal court earlier this month accuses the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) of failing to disclose the danger these U.S. Navy rescue personnel faced during Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. Department of Defense campaign undertaken from March 12 to May 11, 2011, following Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The natural disaster severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which has since been the focus of much media hysteria over its subsequent release of radiation into the environment.

The case comes after U.S. federal judge Janis Sammartino dismissed the sailors' initial suit late last year on jurisdictional grounds, explaining she did not have authority to determine whether the power company or the Japanese government had perpetrated fraud. (The original lawsuit included a charge of conspiracy between the government and TEPCO.) But the judge left the door open for the 51 naval personnel to refile. Their new suit includes 79 plaintiffs who allege that TEPCO officials deliberately concealed from them the risk of toxic exposure during their relief efforts, though they dropped the conspiracy charge.

Health problems the sailors have suffered since Operation Tomodachi include "leukemias, bleeding, thyroid problems, polyps, testicle removal, [and] optic nerve removal," said California environmental law attorney Paul Garner, who represents the plaintiffs. Garner told Meghann Myers of the Navy Times, "It's hard to imagine that all of these people are suffering now when they were all basically in their early 20s, in good health, and looking forward to life."

But Myers also quoted Navy spokesman Lt. Greg Raelson, who explained these crew members of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan (shown in photo) did not receive hazardous doses of radiation exposure during their time on the mission. Moreover, all personnel were given medication to protect the thyroid gland (considered particularly susceptible because of its ability to absorb radioactive particles), and all ships in the fleet were constantly monitored for radioactivity.

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