The large black sailor was naked in the middle of a roped-off area below decks, and he was none too happy.
“He kept saying ‘Not my boots, too. My wife just bought them for me.’ But they made him take them off anyway, and he was just there, naked. Then they made him scrub,” recalled Maurice Enis, navigator of the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the Navy’s newest aircraft carriers.
“They gave him this really abrasive stuff that we use to clean the hull of the ship. It’s sort of like liquid sandpaper. And he had to scrub all over while everyone watched. Then he walked over to the sink and rinsed it off, then came back and stood while they ran the Geiger counter over him. He had to keep doing it till the Geiger counter was quiet.
“Then it was my turn.”
There was a line in the cordoned-off “decon” area with men and women waiting to be checked. But Enis didn’t have to wait – he was already marked and was ushered to the front, where a tableau was playing out under the watchful eyes of the Reagan’s executive officer and senior medical officer. The naked sailor in the center of the room was given a towel to cover himself and left. They called Enis.
“They had told us that there was no radiation,” said Enis. “When they started putting up the stations along the ship to check for radiation they didn’t say why they were there. They checked my boots and nothing happened. Then they checked my hands and the machine goes crazy.
“The guy doing the checking freaked out and said to ‘Step away from him!’ Next thing I know, I got plastic bags on my arms and they are telling everyone to get away from me. I almost had an anxiety attack because they were treating me like I had the plague. They weren’t touching me. They were yelling commands to where I had to walk and what I had to do. I had to scrub my hands and my right side with this gritty paint remover and it took off a couple of layers of skin.”
The official position of the US Navy is that there was very little radioactive contamination of any of its personnel. The Defense Department created the Tomodachi Medical Registry ( http://bit.ly/14ABPuj ) over a two year period, compiling the medical records of some 70,000 military personnel and their families who could have been exposed to varying amounts of radiation during the crisis in Japan.
The Registry was completed in December, 2012. One month later, the Department concluded that their estimates of the maximum possible whole body and thyroid doses of contaminants were not severe enough to warrant further examination. The Registry, the only epidemiologically valid way to determine over time if there is a pattern of illnesses which could be traced to that exposure, was abandoned.
“Part of me wants to believe that the Navy wouldn’t deliberately do something to hurt the crew,” she said. “I remember the few bits of news we got during that period, and the Japanese said there was no danger from the power plant, the radiation didn’t leak out and they had it all under control.
“The Japanese lied, and I put the blame on them.”
Enis, however, is a torn. “The Japanese lied to our government,” he said. “And a part of me wants to think that the Navy wouldn’t do that to the crew, that they wouldn’t put us in a dangerous situation like that on purpose.
“But then, there’s a part of me that says they just did.”
Read more here.
A Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission: Part 1 Radioactive Contamination of American Sailors
The Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission: Part 2 The Navy Life–Into the Abyss
A Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission: Part 3 Playing Cat and Mouse with the Nuclear Ghost
Japan’s “Throwaway People” and the Fallout from Fukushima