At least three of the U.S. Navy sailors exposed to radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan have now died from mysterious illnesses, according to Charles Bonner, an attorney representing approximately 250 of the sailors in a class action lawsuit against companies involved in running the Fukushima plant.
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At this time, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was still publicly insisting that nothing untoward had happened. Based in part on these assurances, the USS Ronald Reagan did not change its location for two days.
In the four years since then, at least 500 sailors have become ill, many with still-unexplained health problems: muscle wasting, cancer, internal bleeding, thyroid dysfunction, abscesses, and birth defects in their children.
The class action lawsuit seeks damages from TEPCO along with other Fukushima builders and operators Toshiba, Hitachi, Ebasco and General Electric. Among its allegations are that TEPCO deliberately concealed the fact that the plant was in full meltdown, thereby prolonging the sailors’ exposure to dangerous radiation.
Sociologist Kyle Cleveland of the Japan campus of Temple University has investigated the government’s claims about the case through Freedom of Information Act requests.
“I was very surprised to see that there is a big difference within the United States government as they were trying to determine just how bad this was,” Cleveland said.
The documents reveal that at a time when the Japanese government was recommending only a 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was recommending an exclusion zone of 50 miles (80 kilometers). In contrast, the U.S. Navy Pacific Command was recommending an exclusion zone of 200 miles, which is more than 300 kilometers.
The Navy’s recommendations were based on the fact that the USS Ronald Reagan had detected the radioactive plume from Fukushima at a distance of 132 miles from the plant with readings at 30 times higher than the background radiation level. These readings indicated that a “protective action guideline” level of radiation exposure would be exceeded within ten hours.
At the same time, the George Washington aircraft carrier was stationed at a naval base 163 miles from Fukushima. It, too, detected dangerous levels of radiation.