By William Boardman
Fukushima lawsuit of 2012 comes as news to too much of the public
Although the potential seriousness of the Fukushima accident was widely apparent, Japanese officials publicly and privately minimized the danger for as long as they could, lying to their own people and rescue personnel from other countries alike. At the time, the first meltdown was thought to have happened on March 12. But on December 12, 2013, Naoto Kan, the former prime minister who was in office at the time, told a meeting of the Japan Press Club that his government had known that “the first meltdown occurred five hours after the earthquake” which hit at 14:46 on March 11.
The U.S.S. Reagan and accompanying ships were coming into an environment where radiation levels in the air and water were far higher than the Navy was being told officially. That lying is at the heart of the lawsuit against TEPCO, which was exposing its own workers to even greater risks than U.S. Sailors. The lawsuit argues that TEPCO’s lies led the U.S. Navy to sail unknowingly into intensely and dangerously radioactive waters.
True as that may be, it fails to explain why the Navy would be so trusting and negligent in the first place. The Reagan is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Its officers and crew are or should be more sensitive than most to radioactive risk under all conditions, but especially when approaching a damaged nuclear power plant, and operating downwind of Fukushima.
For days (it’s not clear how many), U.S. sailors were going into the radioactive ocean to save people swept out to sea by the tsunami. Sailors were drinking and bathing in desalinated ocean water until someone figured out it was radioactive. Sailors washed planes and surfaces of the ship that were radioactive. How do the people in charge of the Reagan not know they’re in a radioactive environment without being negligent?
According to individual reports, the Navy passed out iodine pills to officers and pilots, but not to most of the crew. The Navy also required crew members, before they could go on shore leave later in Thailand, to sign papers stating that they were healthy and couldn’t sue the Navy. Clearly that would be mitigating for the Navy, even if it meant abandoning people whose potential radiation injuries wouldn’t be showing up for months or years.
There’s no apparent reason to doubt that there are sick sailors, not all of them part of the lawsuit, but all of them with a common source of exposure from Fukushima. Two other plaintiffs, Maurice Enis and his girlfriend, Jaime Plym, whose press conference on March 11, 2013, was part of a symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine dealing with the medical and ecological consequences of Fukushima, both served on the Reagan, as the Huffington Post reported:
“The couple had been looking forward to leaving the military and starting a family. Now, Enis said, they don’t know if children will be an option due to health problems they’ve both developed since signing away government liability. They’ve both been honorably discharged from the military and don’t know how they will pay for medical treatment. Plym has a new diagnosis of asthma and her menstrual cycle is severely out of whack. Enis has lumps on his jaw, between his eyes and on his thigh. He’s also developed stomach ulcers and lung problems, and is losing weight and hair.”
In all, the Pentagon sent some 70,000 American military personnel to serve in or near Japan in response to Fukushima during the period from March 12 to May 11, 2011. And in 2011, the Department of Defense set out to do the right thing for these men and women who may have been exposed to harmful levels of radiation. The Defense Department announced plans to establish the Operation Tomodachi Registry to help these people track their health histories, an initiative pushed by Independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. According to the Pentagon:
The Defense Department promised the registry would be finished in 2012. The suffering veterans filed their lawsuit December 21. Within a month, the Pentagon decided to drop the whole registry thing after an almost two-year effort, saying that it had decided that there was no serious contamination in the first place.
A San Diego federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that U.S. sailors were exposed to dangerous radiation during the humanitarian response to the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
But Judge Janis L. Sammartino left the door open for a follow-on lawsuit, and the attorney representing several sailors from the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan said he intends to refile.
The judge dismissed the case Nov. 26 on jurisdictional grounds, saying that it was beyond her authority to determine whether the Japanese government had perpetrated a fraud on its American counterpart.