” A US appeals court has ruled that hundreds of American navy personnel can pursue a compensation suit against the government of Japan and Tokyo Electric Power Co. for illnesses allegedly caused by exposure to radioactivity in the aftermath of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Thursday that the 318 sailors who have so far joined the $1 billion (£787 million) class action lawsuit do not need to file their case in Japan.
Most of the plaintiffs were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that was dispatched to waters off north-east Japan after the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima plant. Three reactors suffered catastrophic meltdowns and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere after their cooling units were destroyed by a magnitude-9 earthquake and a series of tsunami.
The plaintiffs claim that they were healthy and physically fit before they were exposed to the radiation plume, with some personnel reporting the air on the flight deck tasting “metallic”.
The California-based law firm representing the plaintiffs say they have been affected by a range of complaints, ranging from leukaemia to ulcers, brain cancer, brain tumours, testicular cancer, thyroid illnesses and stomach complaints.
The Japanese government, the suit alleges, also failed to inform the US that radiation leaking from the plant posed a threat to the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan and other US assets dispatched to assist in “Operation Tomodachi”, meaning “friend” in Japanese.
The case was originally filed in San Diego in 2012, but has been delayed over the question of where it should be heard. The US government has also vehemently denied that any personnel were exposed to levels of radiation that would have had an impact on their health during the Fukushima recovery mission.
Interviewed for the San Diego City Beat newspaper in February, William Zeller said: “Right now, I know I have problems but I’m afraid of actually finding out how bad they really are.”
Formerly a martial arts instructor, he now uses a breathing machine when he goes to sleep due to respiratory problems he blames on his exposure aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in 2011.
“I literally just go to work and go home now”, he said. “I don’t have the energy or pain threshold to deal with anything else”. ”
by Julian Ryall