US sailors prepare for fresh legal challenge over Fukushima radiation via The Guardian

$1bn lawsuit accuses Tepco of failing to avoid the accident and of lying about radiation levels that have caused health problems to themselves and their families stationed in Japan

The first time it occurred to James Jackson that there could be lasting damage from his US Navy service during Japan’s tsunami and nuclear disaster came when his eldest son, Darius, was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Darius, now 15, spent a month in hospital in early 2013, soon after his diagnosis. “I thought I was going to have to bury him,” Jackson recalled. The teenager who aspired to play college basketball now has a catheter in his chest and is too frail to run the length of the court.

Jackson, a navy information technologist, was stationed with his family at Yokosuka, Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami knocked out the cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March 2011, causing a triple meltdown.

He acknowledges he can’t know for sure why Darius got leukaemia – but Jackson remains convinced there is a connection to the radiation escape from the Fukushima disaster and he blames the Japanese electric company, Tepco.

On 25 August, a district court judge in San Diego will decide whether the Jacksons – and around 110 other US navy sailors and marines – can proceed with a $1bn lawsuit that accuses Tepco of failing to avoid the accident and of lying about the levels of radiation from the stricken reactors, putting US personnel at risk.

“I don’t think the navy or the United States government would have let us stay there in the region. They would have gotten us out of there probably within the first 48, or 72 hours if they knew then what they know now,” Jackson said. “The issue is that we have this large company, this large enterprise, feeding the Japanese government and the rest of the world bad information. They could have come to the forefront and said: ‘hey we need help’, instead of trying to put a blanket over it.”

Relief effort

Some 77,000 US navy sailors and marines took part in the huge relief effort after Japan’s cascading disasters, called Operation Tomodachi, or friend.

The 110 sailors suing Tepco represent only a small fraction of that number, and the lawsuit does not have the support of the US navy establishment. The navy maintains US sailors serving in Japan received only small, non-harmful doses of radiation. Medical experts also say radiation levels were too low to harm those involved.

“Radiation exposure to US personnel supporting Operation Tomodachi did not present any risks greater than risks normally accepted during everyday life,” Lieutenant Chika Onyekanne said in an email.

But the lawsuit – and a number of unexplained illnesses among veterans of Operation Tomodachi – have attracted attention in the US, especially among anti-nuclear activists.


An earlier suit brought by the sailors was dismissed in April. Tepco said: “It is wholly implausible … to posit that military commanders in charge of thousands of personnel and armed with some of the world’s most expensive equipment relied instead only on the press releases and public statements of a foreign electric utility company.”

A judicial panel in Japan on 31 July said three former Tepco executives should face criminal charges for the disaster, finding they overlooked the risk of an earthquake or tsunami, and failed to take adequate measures to prevent an accident.

Several investigations since the accident have found that Tepco and Japan’s nuclear regulator failed to bring the Fukushima plant up to international safety standards.

Researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2012 found that Tepco and the regulatory agency failed to plan for major earthquakes or tsunamis and that the meltdown could have been prevented if the company had taken steps to protect an emergency power supply for the reactor’s cooling system.

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