**7 Years on, sailors exposed to Fukushima radiation seek their day in court — The Nation

At over 1,000 feet in length and weighing roughly 100,000 tons, the USS Ronald Reagan, a supercarrier in the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet, is not typically thought of as a speedboat. But on a March day in 2011, the Nimitz-class ship was “hauling ass,” according to Petty Officer Third Class Lindsay Cooper.

Yet, when the Reagan got closer to its destination, just off the Sendai coast in northeastern Japan, it slowed considerably.

“You could hardly see the water,” Cooper told me. “All you saw was wood, trees, and boats. The ship stopped moving because there was so much debris.”

Even after more then 20 years in the service, Senior Chief Petty Officer Angel Torres said he had “never seen anything like it.” Torres, then 41, was conning, or navigating, the Reagan, and he describes the houses, trucks, and other flotsam around the carrier then as “an obstacle course.” One wrong turn, he worried, “could damage the ship and rip it open.”

The Reagan—along with two dozen other US Navy vessels—was part of Operation Tomodachi (Japanese for “friends”), the $90 million rescue, disaster-relief, and humanitarian mobilization to aid Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. For the sailors, the destruction was horrific—they told me of plucking bodies out of the water, of barely clothed survivors sleeping outside in sub-freezing weather, and of the seemingly endless wreckage—but the response was, at first, something they’d rehearsed.

“We treated it like a normal alert,” Cooper said. “We do drills for [these] scenarios. We went into that mode.” She and her approximately 3,200 shipmates moved food, water, and clothing from below to the flight deck where it could be put on helicopters and flown to the stricken residents.

But that sense of routine soon changed.

“All of the sudden, this big cloud engulfs us,” Torres said. “It wasn’t white smoke, like you would see from a steam leak,” he explained, but it also wasn’t like the black smoke he saw from the burning oil fields during his deployment in Kuwait in 1991. “It was like something I’d never seen before.”

Cooper was outside with her team, on the flight deck, prepping before the start of reconnaissance flights. She remembers it was cold and snowing when she felt, out of nowhere, a dense gust of warm air. “Almost immediately,” she said, “I felt like my nose was bleeding.”

But her nose wasn’t bleeding. Nor was there blood in her mouth, though Cooper was sure she tasted it. It felt, she said, “like I was licking aluminum foil.”

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 pm local time, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck about 40 miles east of Japan’s Oshika Peninsula. The quake, the world’s fourth largest since 1900, devastated northern Honshu, Japan’s main island. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, located near the epicenter on the Pacific coast, the temblor damaged cooling systems and cut all electrical power to the station—power that is needed to keep water circulating around the active reactor cores and through pools holding decades of used but still highly radioactive nuclear fuel.

Several of the diesel-powered emergency generators at Daiichi kicked in to restart some of the safety systems, but less than an hour after the earthquake a 43-foot-high wave triggered by the quake swept over the sea wall, flooding the facility, including most of the generators, some of which had been positioned in the basement by the plant’s designer, General Electric.

Without any active cooling system, the heat in the reactor cores began to rise, boiling off the now-stagnant water and exposing the zirconium-clad uranium fuel rods to the air, which set off a series of superheated chemical reactions that split water into its elemental components. Hundreds of workers from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the station’s owner, struggled valiantly to find a way to circulate water, or at least relieve the pressure now building in the containment vessels of multiple reactors.

But the die was cast by the half-century-old design, with results repeatedly predicted for decades. The pressure continued to build, and over the course of the next two days, despite attempts to vent the containment structures, hydrogen explosions in three reactor buildings shot columns of highly radioactive gas and debris high into the air, spreading contamination that Japan still strains to clean up today.

And yet, despite this destruction and mayhem, proponents of nuclear power can be heard calling Fukushima a qualified success story. After all, despite a pair of massive natural disasters, acolytes say, no one died.

But many of the men and women of the Seventh Fleet would disagree. Now seven years removed from their relief mission, they’d tell you nine people have died as a result of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi—and all of them are Americans.

For the sailors on the Reagan who have spoken about it, the reaction to encountering the cloud was bewilderment.

“At first, we were still dialed in,” said Torres. “We didn’t really have a chance to take in what we were experiencing. It was more like, ‘Well, this was different.’” But when he came off watch, sitting in his office, his perception changed to “What the hell just happened?”

Cooper described the same response: “We didn’t really know what was going on.” But after about 10 minutes, the crew was told to go below deck. It was there, as she was first learning about the problems at Fukushima Daiichi from the television, that Cooper recalls hearing an announcement on the public-address system indicating that the ship might have been hit by a plume of radiation from the nearby power plant. Shortly thereafter, Cooper said, the mission got “hectic—just kind of a crazy mess.”

Cooper said the crew hadn’t been warned in advance of any radiation risk, and she didn’t think the Reagan’s commanding officers had any foreknowledge either. But after radioactive contamination was suspected, those aboard the carrier say, everything changed.

Everyone who, like Cooper, had been on the flight deck was ordered to the fo’c’sle, the forward part of the ship, to “implement decontamination.” Cooper said she was instructed to “take anything you can off without getting naked.” She was told to write her name on her discarded clothes and boots—which she saw being piled in the middle of the room—then the crew was “wanded,” as Cooper described it, and given “white, plastic painters’ suits.”

For Torres, news of the radiation came through the rumor mill before he heard about it from his commanding officer. “It was minimal”—that was the impression Torres was given—still, the ship’s meteorologist tracked the wind and talked with Torres about taking the Reagan north of whatever it was they’d just passed through. But Torres was soon instructed to head back toward the coast. They had a HADR, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission, to complete, and since they’d already been exposed—though they’d take precautions such as turning off the ship’s ventilation—they were going back to where they’d encountered the cloud.

It was likely about this time that Cooper recalled being woken up. “I was asleep in my rack when I had someone shake the living shit out of me.” She said she was told with great urgency that she needed to get to the hangar bay immediately to get a gas mask.

As Cooper stood in her pajamas and flip-flops, waiting for her mask and filter canisters, she looked around: “People were shoving wet rags in the cracks of the hangar bay door so none of the air would seep through, and they had rags stacked high along the entire wall,” she said. “It was crazy.”

“After that,” Cooper told me, “our ship went from ‘OK, we got this,’ to, like, ‘Oh, my God… we have no idea what we’re doing.’”

For Marine Lance Corporal Nathan Piekutowski—who arrived several days later with the USS Essex, a Wasp-class amphibious-assault ship—there seemed to be some advanced warning, and he said his preparation initially proceeded in an orderly fashion: “They had us shut all the portholes, all the windows, all the doors.” Piekutowski said they attempted to seal off the berthing area and stayed inside while they headed toward Japan. He was issued iodine tablets—which are used to block radioactive iodine, a common byproduct of uranium fission, from being absorbed by the thyroid gland—and fitted for an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suit. He was also told not to drink water from the ship’s desalination system.

(Those I spoke with from the Reagan said they’d filled out consent forms for iodine tablets, but then never received the pills.)

Piekutowski wasn’t particularly troubled by these precautions. He knew they had plenty of bottled water on the ship, and, by the time they were near the coast, they were allowed back on deck with no special protection. “We were never once told to put on our NBC suits.” He had been issued big rubber over-boots and a gas mask along with the suit. “Those were in sealed plastic, like freezer bags,” he told me. “Mine stayed sealed till we got back to Hawaii.”

Torres, the senior petty officer, recounted, “One of the scariest things I’ve heard in my career was when the commanding officer came over the loudspeaker, and she said, ‘We’ve detected high levels of radiation in the drinking water; I’m securing all the water.’” That included making showers off limits.

Torres described a kind of panic as everyone rushed to the ship store to buy up cases of bottled water and Gatorade—“they didn’t want to dehydrate.”

Cooper also remembers the announcement on the water contamination: “We were like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’” She was among those trying to buy bottled water, but said it was quickly taken off the shelves—reserved for “humanitarian assistance.” Instead, Cooper said she was told she’d be issued rations of one bottle of water per day. For the long, hard shifts spent outside, Cooper said it was not nearly enough. She said an attitude set in among her shipmates, “We were like, ‘Fuck that, we’re already exposed—I’m gonna drink the water.’”

“We didn’t know how else to handle it,” she told me. “Like, you’re exposed on the flight deck, you’re exposed in the hangar bay, you’re exposed in berthing, you’re exposed walking, you’re exposed eating—congratulations, now you’re drinking it.”

“You’re working up top for like 18 hours, you’re busting your ass off—you need to hydrate.”

Cooper described her days during Operation Tomodachi starting before dawn and ending after 8 pm, with one 30-minute break for lunch, using the bathroom, and any personal business she could squeeze in. “They didn’t want you coming downstairs too many times because it just took too long,” she said, describing a lengthy and isolating decontamination process that was supposed to keep her and about 20 of her shipmates on the flight deck from spreading radioactive contamination to the rest of the carrier. “If you had to go to the bathroom, you were pretty much shit out of luck,” Cooper said of the time and hassle required to get to the women’s restrooms one floor below deck. “A lot of us females had to hold it in—it was miserable.”

The long hours, the short rations, and the unrelenting tableau of death and destruction drifting by the ship combined with the constant reminders that they were exposed to an unknown amount of radioactive contamination wore on the crew. They felt committed to the mission, and gratified to help, but the threat of radiation presented an aggravating obstacle. “Every time we got close to do humanitarian assistance,” said Cooper, “we’d need to dodge another plume.”

Even when operating normally, reactors like the ones designed and built by General Electric at Fukushima Daiichi produce highly radioactive isotopes of noble gases such as xenon and krypton, explained nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, who encountered the phenomenon when he worked at the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, Connecticut, in the 1970s. Millstone’s first reactor was a GE Mark 1 boiling-water reactor (BWR), the same model that failed at Fukushima. (Millstone 1 ceased operation in 1998; two other reactors of a slightly different design remain in use at the facility.)

But, as detailed by Gundersen—who is now one of the directors of Fairewinds Energy Education, a nuclear-industry watchdog—superheated “cracked fuel,” like that in the crippled Daiichi reactors, “immediately releases noble gases.”

“And that happens before the explosions” that destroyed the three reactor-containment buildings at Fukushima, he said. As Gundersen sets out the time line of the disaster, fuel began to crack within six hours of the earthquake, and TEPCO’s plant operators would have known it. “They had to know,” he told me, “because when the containment pressure started to go up, that was a clear indication that the fuel was failing.”

So, in those early hours, pressure built inside the Mark 1’s containment vessel to a point where it is thought to have broken the seal on the massive metal lid, and, as plant workers desperately tried to vent some of the gas and relieve that pressure, a radioactive plume formed over the coast.

And as the venting failed and the containments on three reactor units ruptured and exploded, a volume of radioactive xenon and krypton estimated to be about triple what was released in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, wafted from Fukushima Daiichi over the next eight days. “Eighty percent of the radiation went out to sea,” said Gundersen. “That’s good for Japan, but it’s not good for the sailors, that’s for sure.”

Marco Kaltofen, president of Boston Chemical Data Corporation and an engineer with over 30 years of experience investigating environmental and workplace safety, noted that sensors in Richland, Washington, nearly 5,000 miles across the Pacific, saw a sixfold increase in radioactive noble gases in the days after the start of the Fukushima crisis. Chiba, the prefecture east of Tokyo, nearly 200 miles south of Fukushima, recorded radiation levels 400,000 times over background after the explosions.

Closer to the release, Kaltofen figured, would be orders of magnitude worse. “A bad place to be is a couple of miles offshore,” he said.

When told what the sailors experienced in the earliest days of the operation, Gundersen and Kaltofen differ slightly on their interpretations. Gundersen finds symptoms like the metallic taste consistent with the radiation exposure possible from a plume of otherwise odorless xenon or krypton. Kaltofen thinks that indicates exposure to some of the radioactive particulate matter—containing isotopes of cesium, strontium, iodine, and americium—that was sent into the air with the hydrogen explosions. But both believe it speaks to a notable degree of radiation exposure.

Cindy Folkers agreed. Folkers is the radiation-and-health specialist at the clean-energy advocacy group Beyond Nuclear, and when she hears the symptoms reported by the Tomodachi sailors, she hears the telltale signs of radiation exposure. And when told of what those relief workers experienced next, and the speed with which their symptoms manifested, she said she thinks the levels of exposure were higher than some have reported—or many would like to admit.

Just what the two large companies responsible for the design and operation of Fukushima Daiichi—TEPCO and GE—will admit is at the center of a pair of lawsuits currently moving through US courts. Or at least should be, if and when it gets in front of a jury.

“We’re still trying to get to the merits,” attorney John Edwards, the former US senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee, told me, “because the merits of the case are so strong.” Edwards, along with attorneys Cate Edwards (his daughter) and Charles Bonner, represent what Bonner told me were now upward of 400 sailors who accuse the Japanese utility and the US industrial giant of gross negligence in the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and of deliberately obscuring the radiologic disaster that rapidly unfolded after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

And if that were all there was to it, many who have examined the Fukushima disaster—including the Japanese government’s own investigation, Japan’s prime minister at the start of the crisis, Naoto Kan, and even TEPCO itself—would say the plaintiffs have a point.

Before the first of the Daiichi reactors was brought online (construction began in 1967, and operation commenced in 1971), there were already open concerns about its design and placement. Originally conceived in the 1950s, the General Electric BWR Mark 1 was thought by some of its own designers to have too small a containment structure to survive a prolonged LOOP—a loss of onsite power. The ability to adequately vent the containment was also called into question, as was the resilience of the containment vessel’s metal alloy. In 1976, three GE engineers who had worked on the Mark 1 quit to protest the manufacturer’s lack of urgency in addressing flaws they said would cause reactor containment to fail in a loss-of-cooling accident.

In readying the site for Fukushima Daiichi, TEPCO opted to cut down the natural 115-foot sea wall, to less than 33 feet, to reduce construction costs and make it easier to access seawater for cooling. The emergency cooling systems were also placed close to shore and did not use submersible pumps. That whole facility was placed behind what was originally only a 13-foot-high sea wall (later raised to nearly 19 feet), despite evidence that eight tsunamis of at least 40 feet had hit the area in the 70 years prior to the agency’s breaking ground on Daiichi. Many emergency generators were situated in the basement, and diesel-fuel tanks were placed on a flood plane, leaving them vulnerable to the massive wave that slammed the site in 2011.

Within two years of the containment breaches, Kan, by then the former prime minister, was telling experts and investigators, including nuclear engineer Gundersen, that TEPCO had withheld critical information about what was happening at Fukushima in the first hours and days of the crisis. In 2016, TEPCO was forced to admit it failed to publicly declare a meltdown at the three crippled reactors, even though its internal guidelines indicated from early on that meltdowns were indeed occurring. And just last spring, a Japanese court found TEPCO (along with the government) guilty of negligence, not just in handling the disaster but also, in the years prior, in declaring the events at Daiichi “predictable” and preventable.

But none of that has been heard by a US jury. For over four years, a number of sailors, Marines, and other military-relief personnel have waited for their day in court while their attorneys wade through motions from the defendants, GE, and TEPCO, challenging venue and jurisdiction.

In an e-mailed statement, General Electric, while expressing “heartfelt sympathy for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami,” and appreciation for “the hard work and dedication of our US service members,” said claims “can and should be addressed under Japan’s nuclear compensation law.” TEPCO also “appreciates the plaintiffs’ service on Operation Tomodachi,” according to its e-mail, but declined to comment outside of court on pending judicial actions. TEPCO did add, “It is most unfortunate that some of the plaintiffs are ill.”

Ruby Perez was a 22-year-old petty officer first class on the Reagan during Operation Tomodachi. She was also pregnant. Perez told her mother, Rachel Mendez, about the snow falling during the first days of the operation. She and her shipmates were excited by a moment of diversion from the misery around them. As Mendez relayed her daughter’s story to me, “They were playing in it, eating the snow, making snow cones, making snowmen.”

Cooper, part of the flight deck crew, remembers the snow, too, though not so much as a light moment but rather as a symbol of decaying morale. After days of long hours and short rations, feeling isolated from the below-deck crew, knowing she’d been exposed to some radiation, she felt “knocked down.”

“Nobody really cared about anything. People were making radioactive snowmen on the flight deck out of radioactive snow,” she said. Dealing with the contamination and the stress “completely changed the dynamic of the ship.”

“Stress” was what the Reagan’s medical staff told Cooper when she asked about her blurred vision, poor depth perception, and loss of equilibrium during the early days of the mission.

“Gastroenteritis” was what she and many of her shipmates were told as a wave of bowel problems swept through the carrier over the next several weeks.

“I had a lot of issues with the restroom,” Cooper told me. “I don’t think I was the only one. People would shit themselves on the flight deck so often that it wasn’t even a surprise anymore. Like when you saw someone running from one side of the flight deck to go to decon[tamination], you knew something was happening.”

Torres’ experience was comparable. “I was going to the bathroom constantly,” he said. “I would eat something and I would go to the bathroom almost immediately.” It happened so often, Torres told me, that he developed severe internal hemorrhoids that eventually required multiple surgeries.

But when he visited the shipboard doctor, Torres was told he had diverticulitis, a disease not typically seen in men that young. “Watch your diet, don’t eat spicy food, and drink lots of water, eat lots of fiber,” that was the advice he said he received.

Cooper heard much the same: “Stay hydrated—drink water and eat a bland diet.” But the symptoms didn’t subside. “They didn’t attribute it to anything except ‘it’s going around,’” she said. But if that’s so, it’s been going around a long time. “I haven’t had a solid bowel movement since,” said Cooper.

Soon after Operation Tomodachi ended, when the Reagan ported in Bahrain, Cooper, who was 21 at the time, noticed her hair thinning. “I used to have really, really thick hair,” she said, but in Bahrain it became brittle and started falling out. Cooper said it still hasn’t recovered.

She also told me she now bruises easily and gets “burning, tingling sensations” on her arms, and a rash that extends from her hands to her elbows—an area that coincides with where she’d had her sleeves rolled up when she encountered the cloud at the start of the Japan mission. Cooper has also recently needed veneers on teeth she said have started to “shatter and break.”

For Piekutowski, the lance corporal from the Essex, he didn’t feel particularly sick until over a year after Operation Tomodachi. He was back stateside in the fall of 2012, and felt fatigued and had lost weight, and in November of that year, his ankles swelled up to the size of his calves. “I’m an in-shape and slim guy, and usually have pretty good definition,” he told me. His doctor thought it might be gout, though Piekutowski was skeptical. “I told him, I drink as much as the next 21-year-old, but I don’t drink that much.” Then, on Christmas Day, he lost the sight in his left eye. “That’s when I knew I should probably get to the hospital,” he said.

In the ER, Piekutowski said the doctors seemed to recognize right away what a blood test and bone-marrow biopsy later confirmed: He had leukemia. “They were honestly surprised I was still walking,” he said. Medical staff put him in a gown and rushed him to a bigger hospital.

Piekutowski was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer most often seen in men over age 65. It is rare to see it in an otherwise healthy 21-year-old. He began treatment in Arizona, where he’d been living, but then moved to Chicago to be closer to his parents and what Piekutowski called “some pretty amazing doctors.”

From Christmas 2012 to Valentine’s Day 2014, Piekutowski figures he spent eight months in hospitals. He first went through a year of chemotherapy, but after four months in remission, his leukemia returned. He had radiation and a stem-cell transplant at the start of 2014, which has so far kept him cancer-free. But Piekutowski is still struggling to rebuild his immune system, and battling stiffness and stomach problems. “I feel like I’m 60,” he said.

Petty Officer Perez gave birth to her daughter Cecilia on March 26, 2011, and it was soon afterward that she told her mom she was feeling ill. “She just kept saying her menstrual periods would keep going and going and never stop,” said Mendez.

Despite her health, she reenlisted at the end of her tour. She was in San Diego trying to sort out some missing paperwork on her enlistment when she was hospitalized for a uterine hemorrhage. According to her mother, Perez was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in July 2016. Mendez wanted her daughter to come back to Texas, where she grew up, but Perez refused. She always believed she’d get better. “I can’t go home,” Mendez said Perez told her, “I just reenlisted. I still owe the Navy two years.”

On December 7, 2016, Ruby Perez died.

Perez is one of the eight deceased service members represented in the suits slowly making their way in US courts. Her daughter Cecilia, whose health will require a watchful eye well into adulthood, is also a plaintiff. So are 24 men and women currently living with various forms of cancer. So is a sailor whose son was born with brain and spinal tumors and lived only 26 months.

“We have a lot of clients with bone and joint issues, degenerative discs,” Cate Edwards told me, “young, healthy, active individuals who have trouble walking now.”

The most prevalent ailments, according to the younger Edwards, are thyroid-related. Thyroid cancers are some of the earliest to emerge after nuclear accidents because of the easy pathway for absorption of radioactive iodine. Childhood thyroid cancers skyrocketed in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine in the first two decades after Chernobyl. According to a study published in the journal of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, individuals who were 18 or under at the time of the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture were 20-to-50 times more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the period between the March 2011 and the end of 2014.

And health experts will tell you it is still too early to see many of the cancers and other illnesses that increase in incidence after exposure to ionizing radiation. Some can take 20 or 30 years to emerge. “That these sailors are getting the health effects they are already experiencing tells me that the radiation levels were extraordinarily high, and that we are likely just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said nuclear-engineer Gundersen. “I think we’re going to see more of these people in the same boat as this initial wave of hundreds.”

“I can’t believe in a couple of years,” he added, “we won’t have thousands.”

Which is why, Cate Edwards told me, everyone who was part of Operation Tomodachi, even those who haven’t yet been diagnosed with particular ailments, are going to need additional medical monitoring for decades to come.

But General Electric and Tokyo Electric Power contend that these US citizens, from the US armed forces, who served on US ships, should seek their legal remedies in Japanese courts. “We believe these claims can and should be addressed under Japan’s nuclear compensation law, which provides relief for persons impacted by these events,” said GE in its e-mailed statement. (TEPCO did not respond specifically to a question about venue.)

The plaintiffs’ lawyers dismiss this idea. “It’s the difference between winning and losing,” John Edwards told me. “If the case ends up in Japan, it just goes away.”

The Edwardses and Bonner paint a picture of a Japanese legal system that is slanted in favor of industry. “You don’t get a jury trial in Japan,” said Bonner. “You don’t get punitive damages. Plaintiffs have to pay exorbitant fees to have their cases tried before politically involved judges,” and are not allowed to seek recovery of court costs, he said.

John Edwards added that Japan rarely awards damages for pain and suffering, loss of life, or the effects on a family. “They have an established compensation system,” he said, “they have never paid a dime for personal injury—it’s all for property damage.”

Indeed, while there were rulings in Japan’s courts last year against TEPCO and in favor of Japanese citizens, the awards were notably small (averaging $5,400 per person in one case, $1,500 in another), and were meant as compensation for residents of towns surrounding the nuclear plant who had to relocate. In a separate case in February, a Japanese court ordered TEPCO to pay $142,000 to the family of a 102-year-old man who killed himself after being told he’d have to leave his home inside the Fukushima radiation zone. TEPCO is still considering whether it will appeal.

One group of Tomodachi plaintiffs has been cleared to proceed in the US by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A second group is still fighting in San Diego to establish jurisdiction in California courts, a hurdle all three of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are confident they will eventually clear.

And when the merits of the case have their day in a US court, “the only real defense,” for TEPCO and GE, said John Edwards, “is to try to argue, ‘Yeah, we screwed up, we know it was bad, but is that what really caused what happened to these people?’” In other words, the defendants will concede there was a disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, but will contend the plaintiffs weren’t harmed by it.

There are pretty strong indications that just such a defense is in the works. TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki asserted in an e-mail to me that “objective scientific data demonstrates that plaintiffs were not exposed to amounts of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant sufficient to cause illness.” Nakakuki wrote that radiation estimates by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) “confirm that the doses received by the plaintiffs were below the level that would give rise to adverse health effects.” The spokesman also referenced a report submitted by the US Defense Department to Congress in 2014 that downplayed the link between service on the Reagan during Operation Tomodachi and the specific cancers that had then emerged among crew members.

Time is one of the keys to understanding both of these reports. The Defense Department looked at the cancer rates only three years removed from the service members’ exposure, far too short a period to predict future numbers, according to radiation-expert Folkers. The UNSCEAR paper is even older than the DoD testimony, and has been roundly criticized for attempting to make bold predictions based on a small window and data extrapolated from analysis of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which, aside from being drawn from a radically different exposure scenario, has itself been called into question by doctors and epidemiologists). UNSCEAR also appears to have averaged exposure over the entire island, not accounting for the notably higher exposures of those closest to the Daiichi reactors, according to analysis from Folkers’s Beyond Nuclear.

Dr. Keith Baverstock, the former chief radiation-protection expert at the World Health Organization who studied the Chernobyl disaster, said at the time that the UNSCEAR report was “not qualified to be called ‘scientific,’” and questioned the panel’s impartiality because its funding and membership came from the countries with the largest nuclear-power programs.

All of the radiation experts interviewed wondered whether the true scale of the radiation doses sustained by the Tomodachi sailors was ever measured. Safety specialist Kaltofen argued that most measurements don’t account for what are called “hot particles”—minute bits (6 to 9 microns in diameter) of intensely radioactive matter that can be extremely dangerous in close proximity, or if ingested, but are easily missed by measuring devices mere inches away. He also pointed out that different tissues are vulnerable to different isotopes in different ways, and that some parts of the body are much more sensitive to exposure than others. “One of them is the bowel,” he said, “because your intestines have villi, which are rapidly reproducing cells, and that means that they are extremely susceptible to radiation.” If radiation were ingested, or if the gut were exposed to a large external dose, you could see signs of real damage.

These are deterministic signs of radiation exposure, said Kaltofen, meaning you get a specific biological effect that might not itself be cancer, but would indicate the size and kind of exposures that could cause cancers later on. Folkers, discussing the sailors, put it more starkly: “The people in this case might be the dosimeters.”

Gundersen’s experience with radioactive noble gases led him to make another observation about dose estimates. Unless measurements were taken during those first days when ships were likely cloaked in plumes of radioactive xenon and krypton, the exposure would be missed, thus contributing to far-lower-than-accurate dose assessments. “Gases don’t show up on swipe tests, or anything like that,” he said. (Again, this level of methodological detail is not evident in the studies cited by TEPCO.) And Folkers stressed that the increased sensitivity to radiation seen in women and children is not part of most exposure models.

Folkers told me that there is a blood test that could more accurately estimate individuals’ exposures. Karyotyping, mapping chromosomes to look for specific abnormalities closely tied to radiation damage, has been around for decades, she said, but is too rarely done. (No one interviewed for this story believes karyotyping was done on the participants in Operation Tomodachi.) Folkers said that the tests are not only capable of predicting some future illnesses; they can also be used to extrapolate backward to determine the time and intensity of suspected radiation exposure.

But that level of specificity is not the argument lawyers expect in court, nor is it the standard public-health experts would say is appropriate. “Definitive cause is not the standard for protecting public health,” said Folkers, “association is the standard.”

In the case of the Tomodachi sailors, there was exposure to radiation, even if there is some dispute over the size and kind of dose any particular individual received. There are a number of symptoms and illnesses, long associated with radiation, that have been reported in the service members. If people are sick, would doctors, epidemiologists, workplace-safety experts, or public-health officials wait for absolute certitude of a causal link before implementing treatments and preventive actions?

Folkers and Kaltofen each said they would not. Even Petty Officer Cooper’s experience showed that the Navy—whether or not it acknowledges this now—had a basic recognition of this standard. “When you went down there,” she told me about her trips to the medical station on board the Reagan, “you were supposed to tell them if you were on the flight deck.” Depending on the answer, said Cooper, you might have seen a different doctor. “As soon as you said [where you worked], then, pretty much, they knew your issues.”

Cooper had actually reenlisted after Operation Tomodachi, but when the Navy told her “‘OK, you’re gonna do another sea tour with the Reagan,’” she said her response was “Nonononononono.” She told me she didn’t want any possible additional exposure to radiation on a ship she saw as contaminated from stem to stern. Cooper “took the hit” and applied for an “early out” from her reenlistment.

And the Navy, according to Cooper, “fast-tracked an early out because they understood.” Asking off the Reagan became so common, she told me, that there was a little “cheat sheet” on how to expedite the paperwork. “An early out would normally have taken me six months,” she said, “but they got it done in like two weeks.”

Cooper said that because her commanders were there, they understood what she’d suffered through after the radiation exposure, and knew the toll it took on the Reagan’s crew. “That deployment took a lot out of people,” she said. “A lot.”

For Torres, readjusting to civilian life after 27 years in the Navy was made much more difficult because of his post–Operation Tomodachi health problems. His own gastrointestinal difficulties, surgeries for hemorrhoids and hernias, and low-energy levels when he returned stateside deeply affected his mood and his relationships. Torres also said he feels guilt over “the young 17-, 18-year-old kids standing outside,” having to watch them “getting directly exposed” to the radioactive fallout as he stood inside conning the ship. “I have a lot of conflicted feelings,” he told me. “Could I have done something more? All these ‘what ifs.’”

There are plenty of “what ifs” to go around, but Torres is probably one of the last people who should feel guilty. Sure, Cooper now expresses regret for drinking too much of the ship’s tainted water. Piekutowski wishes he’d found a way to avoid spending five days exposed to the elements without any protection. Even Rachel Mendez, mother of Ruby Perez, wonders if she shouldn’t have been so encouraging when her daughter decided to join the Navy.

And some who served question if the Navy did all it could to protect its personnel (though not all, and not all the time). Did the Reagan spend too much time too close to shore? Did commanders always put the health and safety of sailors first when addressing the contamination of the ship and the water system? Did the US military measure properly for radiation, or perform the right tests for exposure? Are they doing all they can now to track the health of, and to care for, the Tomodachi veterans?

Watchdogs and health experts will tell you those are valid questions—especially if they better ensure the well-being of all the sailors going forward—but the attorneys will say that, while the military and the VA have responsibilities for the medical care of service members and veterans, “they are not, in a legal sense,” as Cate Edwards told me, “responsible for the exposure itself.”

(The Navy, for its part, said in an e-mailed statement that it has “a long distinguished history with the successful management of its occupational ionizing radiation exposure program.” It acknowledged some risk from radiation exposure at any level, but said the risks borne by the Reagan sailors were “small compared to other risk” accepted in work and everyday life. In making this assessment, they cite the same 2014 Defense Department report referenced by TEPCO.)

“The end of the road is not the VA,” said John Edwards. The main issue, as Edwards put it, is, “If you’re going to have nuclear plants, make sure they’re designed, built, maintained, and monitored properly.”

And the question of whether TEPCO and GE did do those things properly is not just of interest to the sailors or the residents of northern Honshu—in the minds of all the attorneys and experts interviewed for this story, it is of keen relevance to tens of millions of people living in the United States.

“There’s an obvious connection between what happened in Japan and what could happen in the United States,” said John Edwards. “What they failed to do in the manufacture and maintenance of the facility in Japan also occurred, and is occurring, in the US.”

There are currently 99 operating civilian nuclear reactors in the United States, and 22 of those are General Electric Mark 1 boiling-water reactors—the make and model identical to the three that melted down and exploded at Fukushima Daiichi. Based on a 1955 design, all but four of the US reactors have now been online for more than 40 years. All of them have the same too-small primary containment vessel, the same questionable alloys, the same bolted-on lid, the same safety systems, and (with one exception) the same vent “upgrade” that failed to prevent the tragic failures at the Japanese nuclear plant. Large US cities, such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, are all closer to BWRs than Tokyo is to Fukushima Daiichi.

“It starts with the design,” Cate Edwards told me, and the complaint filed on behalf of the Tomodachi sailors goes into great detail about the flaws on the Japanese reactors that mirror the ones in the United States. “Each one of these Mark 1 BWRs is defective,” said Bonner.

For Folkers, the lesson is to look at nuclear power plants through the lens of public health. Don’t wait until after an incident to argue over which illnesses might or might not have been caused by a particular dose. Instead, Folkers urged, establish baselines for what the population’s blood work and chromosomes look like beforehand. Then, instead of only starting the fact-finding after an accidental release of radiation, or when a mysterious cancer cluster emerges—when too many vested interests invoke “what-aboutism,” as she called it, to obscure responsibility—already-informed public officials and medical professionals can focus on the response to emerging health problems.

For Kaltofen, the environmental-safety expert, the focus should be on prevention and planning before treatment and tracking. “It’s very hard to come up with a response plan after the fact,” he said.

And, most importantly, for the sailors, Marines, and pilots who rushed into harm’s way to provide emergency aid and humanitarian relief to people battling a devil’s trident of disasters, the acknowledgment of their radiation exposure and the acceptance of responsibility by those who caused it could potentially be as life-changing as their service in Operation Tomodachi.

Sure, it might mean a measure of financial compensation were they to win a settlement, but for the sailors who spoke to me, that would be secondary. Foremost, a victory in court would mean a degree of respect for what they did, how they’ve suffered, and what they might need down the line—not just for those who are ailing today but also for the potentially thousands who might get sick in the future. As Angel Torres told me, “Set up an infrastructure to address those issues. Do the right thing and provide for people that were misled. Let them know, ‘You are not alone.’” ”

by Gregg Levine, The Nation

source with photos and internal links

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US sailors face grim diagnoses after Fukushima mission — Courthouse News Service

” (CN) – To serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, you must meet certain health and fitness requirements: you must be fit to serve. But a healthy group of young service men and women – many in their 20s – have come down with serious health problems since serving on a humanitarian mission to Fukushima, Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to a nuclear meltdown of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TepCo) nuclear power plant.

Service members have faced cancer, brain tumors, birth defects, and other rare health problems since being exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant. Some have even died.

Courthouse News talked to some of these service members to find out what’s happened since they came home from Fukushima and why they believe TepCo needs to take responsibility.

“It was a gray smoke that surrounded you, and you didn’t even know what it was”

Naval officer Angel Torres, 47, said he knew his mission to South Korea would be redirected to Fukushima as soon as the earthquake hit. He was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the first aircraft carrier deployed by the United States to Fukushima as part of humanitarian mission Operation Tomodachi to render aid and supplies to the Japanese people.

He said when the ship arrived he got “an eerie feeling.”

“It was like a cloud I’ve never seen, a gray smoke that surrounded you and you didn’t even know what it was,” Torres said.

Torres said once Navy personnel realized they’d directed the aircraft carrier straight through a radiation plume, there was confusion and a sense of panic. People bought up all the Gatorade and water at the ship store in fear there wouldn’t be water available.

He said they had to drive back through the plume a second time to render aid, and were issued gas masks to wear.

Helicopters which took supplies to people on land “were completely contaminated,” Torres said. Helicopter pilots and personnel were required to throw out their clothes, scrub down and get tested for radiation.

“We all volunteered to join and sometimes you have to do dangerous things, and this was one of them,” Torres said.

“It was our turn.”

The naval officer said commanders told the service members the amount of radiation they were exposed to was negligible, similar to flying in an airplane or eating a banana. Torres said the executive officer of the ship even told the crew they would be fine unless they licked the flight deck.

“That did well to pacify and stabilize the sentiment and general feeling throughout the ship, but I don’t know that I agree with that one bit, because I’ve eaten a lot of bananas,” Torres said.

Twenty-six-year-old Marine Corps veteran Nathan Piekutowski was in Malaysia on a rest stop when his crew on the USS Essexx got word of the tsunami and headed toward Fukushima. He was part of a team that landed to deliver food and supplies, and they wore biological chemical suits.

“Some areas were completely destroyed, it looked like a wall had smashed everything and a hand drew everything back out to sea,” Piekutowski said.

Piekutowski said crew members were also required to take iodine pills to help mitigate radiation exposure and potential thyroid impacts. They closed up all the windows and hatches on the ship as well.

Radiation impacts on sailors’ health

Piekutowski left the Marine Corps shortly after his service in Fukushima. He began exhibiting extreme weight loss and limb swelling months later, in November 2012. He experienced eyesight loss and vomited stomach acid before going to the emergency room on Christmas Day.

He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 21.

“The type of leukemia I had usually is something you get later in life. Early onset can be caused from being around certain types of chemicals,” Piekutowski said.

The following days and months included chemotherapy treatments, but after his leukemia came back less than six months into remission, the Marine received a stem cell transplant. He’s since faced day-long doctor appointments with specialists which require him to take time off work and travel out of town.

Piekutowski disputes TepCo’s contention the service members who’ve faced cancer and other health problems since returning from Fukushima were predisposed to those conditions. The utility claims their health problems are not from the radiation exposure.

“If that were the case, TepCo would have disseminated all the information it should have,” Piekutowski said, referring to the utility’s initial withholding of information after the nuclear meltdown.

“If we were predisposed to a genetic mutation or illness, why lie and cover things up?”

When Torres returned from Fukushima he said he felt weak and tired and didn’t feel like being intimate with his significant other, something out of the ordinary given what Torres called the “honeymoon effect” when a service member returns home from deployment.

When working out six months after coming home, Torres got a hernia which required surgery. Two years later, he had another one.

“I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m breaking down here, what’s going on?’” Torres said.

He exhibited symptoms of multiple sclerosis and had an MRI scan, but a spinal tap last month showed Torres does not have the disease.

Torres also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he manages through therapy and volunteering with veterans organizations in Chicago.

He said he wishes TepCo would have done “the right thing” and told U.S. officials about the nuclear meltdown before sailors were exposed to radiation.

“When I would deploy to the Middle East, I had a team of sailors and I would look at their wives and children and say: ‘I’m going to make sure your mom and dad are okay. I wish someone would have done that for me,” Torres said.

“There are people that are dying from that carrier. They need to know what these people endured and help them get the help that they need.”

Seeking Justice

Torres and Piekutowski are part of a class action of over 420 sailors suing TepCo and General Electric in San Diego’s federal court. While eight of the sailor-plaintiffs have already died – most from cancer – since the first case was filed in 2012, many others have yet to experience any symptoms and want Tepco to foot the bill for medical monitoring and testing and future health care costs over their lifetime.

The class is represented by high-profile attorneys – former Sen. John Edwards and his daughter Cate Edwards with Edwards Kirby out of North Carolina, along with Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, California, and Paul Garner of San Diego.

In a phone interview, Cate Edwards said there are 23 plaintiffs living with cancer, many of whom served in Fukushima in their early 20s and some as young as 18 years old. In addition to the group facing cancer diagnoses, many of the sailors have degenerative diseases, with some losing mobility and use of their arms and legs in addition to experiencing back problems and eyesight loss.

A 26-month-old toddler born to a sailor-father who served in Fukushima died from brain and spine cancer. Another female sailor opted to end a pregnancy after finding out the fetus had severe birth defects, Edwards said.

“Why are all these young, healthy, fit people getting cancer? Experiencing thyroid issues? It’s too strange to be a coincidence,” Edwards said.

“That just doesn’t happen absent some external cause. All of these people experienced the same thing and were exposed to radiation at Fukushima. A lot of this is just common sense.”

The class has been fighting to get their day in court and get a trial date set. They will inch toward that goal with a motion to dismiss hearing scheduled for Jan. 4. ”

by Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service

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A Maverick former Japanese prime minister goes antinuclear — The New York Times

” TOKYO — William Zeller, a petty officer second class in the United States Navy, was one of hundreds of sailors who rushed to provide assistance to Japan after a giant earthquake and tsunami set off a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Not long after returning home, he began to feel sick.

Today, he has nerve damage and abnormal bone growths, and blames exposure to radiation during the humanitarian operation conducted by crew members of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Neither his doctors nor the United States government has endorsed his claim or those of about 400 other sailors who attribute ailments including leukemia and thyroid disease to Fukushima and are suing Tokyo Electric, the operator of the plant.

But one prominent figure is supporting the American sailors: Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi, 74, visited a group of the sailors, including Petty Officer Zeller, in San Diego in May, breaking down in tears at a news conference. Over the past several months, he has barnstormed Japan to raise money to help defray some of their medical costs.

The unusual campaign is just the latest example of Mr. Koizumi’s transformation in retirement into Japan’s most outspoken opponent of nuclear power. Though he supported nuclear power when he served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he is now dead set against it and calling for the permanent shutdown of all 54 of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster.

“I want to work hard toward my goal that there will be zero nuclear power generation,” Mr. Koizumi said in an interview in a Tokyo conference room.

The reversal means going up against his old colleagues in the governing Liberal Democratic Party as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who are pushing to get Japan, once dependent for about a third of its energy on nuclear plants, back into the nuclear power business.

That Mr. Koizumi would take a contrarian view is perhaps not surprising. He was once known as “the Destroyer” because he tangled with his own party to push through difficult policy proposals like privatization of the national postal service.

Mr. Koizumi first declared his about-face on nuclear power three years ago, calling for Japan to switch to renewable sources of energy like solar power and arguing that “there is nothing more costly than nuclear power.”

After spending the first few years of his retirement out of the public eye, in recent months Mr. Koizumi has become much more vocal about his shift, saying he was moved to do more by the emotional appeal of the sailors he met in San Diego.

Scientists are divided about whether radiation exposure contributed to the sailors’ illnesses. The Defense Department, in a report commissioned by Congress, concluded that it was “implausible” that the service members’ ailments were related to radiation exposure from Fukushima.

To many political observers, Mr. Koizumi’s cause in retirement is in keeping with his unorthodox approach in office, when he captivated Japanese and international audiences with his blunt talk, opposition to the entrenched bureaucracy and passion for Elvis Presley.

Some wonder how much traction he can get with his antinuclear campaign, given the Abe administration’s determination to restart the atomic plants and the Liberal Democratic Party’s commanding majority in Parliament.

Two reactors are already back online; to meet Mr. Abe’s goal of producing one-fifth of the country’s electricity from nuclear power within the next 15 years, about 30 of the existing 43 reactors would need to restart. (Eleven reactors have been permanently decommissioned.)

A year after the Fukushima disaster, antinuclear fervor led tens of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo near the prime minister’s residence to register their anger at the government’s decision to restart the Ohi power station in western Japan. Public activism has dissipated since then, though polls consistently show that about 60 percent of Japanese voters oppose restarting the plants.

“The average Japanese is not that interested in issues of energy,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, professor of political science at Northeastern University. “They are antinuclear, but they are not willing to vote the L.D.P. out of office because of its pronuclear stance.”

Sustained political protest is rare in Japan, but some analysts say that does not mean the antinuclear movement is doomed to wither.

“People have to carry on with their lives, so only so much direct action can take place,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Antinuclear activism “may look dormant from appearances, but it’s there, like magma,” he said. “It’s still brewing, and the next trigger might be another big protest or political change.”

Some recent signs suggest the movement has gone local. In October, Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor in Niigata, the prefecture in central Japan that is home to the world’s largest nuclear plant, after campaigning on a promise to fight efforts by Tokyo Electric to restart reactors there.

Like Mr. Koizumi, he is an example of how the antinuclear movement has blurred political allegiances in Japan. Before running for governor, Mr. Yoneyama had run as a Liberal Democratic candidate for Parliament.

Mr. Koizumi, a conservative and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, may have led the way.

“Originally, the nuclear issue was a point of dispute between conservatives and liberals,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and leading antinuclear activist. “But after Mr. Koizumi showed up and said he opposed nuclear power, other conservatives realized they could be against nuclear power.”

Since he visited the sailors in San Diego, Mr. Koizumi has traveled around Japan in hopes of raising about $1 million for a foundation he established with another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, an independent who has previously been backed by the opposition Democratic Party, to help pay some of the sailors’ medical costs.

Mr. Koizumi is not involved in the sailors’ lawsuit, now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Tokyo Electric is working to have the case moved to Japan.

Aimee L. Tsujimoto, a Japanese-American freelance journalist, and her husband, Brian Victoria, an American Buddhist priest now living in Kyoto, introduced Mr. Koizumi to the plaintiffs. Petty Officer Zeller, who said he took painkillers and had tried acupuncture and lymph node massages to treat his conditions, said the meeting with Mr. Koizumi was the first time that someone in power had listened to him.

“This is a man where I saw emotion in his face that I have not seen from my own doctors or staff that I work with, or from my own personal government,” said Petty Officer Zeller, who works at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. “Nobody has put the amount of attention that I saw in his eyes listening to each word, not just from me, but from the other sailors who have gone through such severe things healthwise.”

Mr. Koizumi, whose signature leonine hairstyle has gone white since his retirement, said that after meeting the sailors in San Diego, he had become convinced of a connection between their health problems and the radiation exposure.

“These sailors are supposed to be very healthy,” he said. “It’s not a normal situation. It is unbelievable that just in four or five years that these healthy sailors would become so sick.”

“I think that both the U.S. and Japanese government have something to hide,” he added.

Many engineers, who argue that Japan needs to reboot its nuclear power network to lower carbon emissions and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels, say Mr. Koizumi’s position is not based on science.

“He is a very dramatic person,” said Takao Kashiwagi, a professor at the International Research Center for Advanced Energy Systems for Sustainability at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He does not have so much basic knowledge about nuclear power, only feelings.”

That emotion is evident when Mr. Koizumi speaks about the sailors. Wearing a pale blue gabardine jacket despite Japan’s black-and-gray suit culture, he choked up as he recounted how they had told him that they loved Japan despite what they had gone through since leaving.

“They gave their utmost efforts to help the Japanese people,” he said, pausing to take a deep breath as tears filled his eyes. “I am no longer in government, but I couldn’t just let nothing be done.” “

by Motoko Rich

contributions from Makiko Inoue

source

Koizumi appeals for help for U.S. vets who assisted in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun; Stars and Stripes

The Asahi Shimbun:

” Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sheds tears at a news conference in Carlsbad, Calif., on May 17, after visiting U.S. veterans who are plantiffs in a suit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in connection with the 2011 nuclear accident. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is calling for donations to the relief fund he founded for U.S. veterans who claim their health problems resulted from radioactive fallout after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Speaking at a news conference on July 5 alongside another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, Koizumi said of the U.S. veterans: “They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan. It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

More than 400 veterans who were part of the Operation Tomodachi mission to provide humanitarian relief after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami have filed a mass lawsuit in California against Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. They are seeking compensation and an explanation for their health problems.

However, in a 2014 report released by the U.S. Defense Department, no link was established between radiation exposure and their ill health. The reason cited was that only a low level of radiation exposure occurred.

Koizumi, 74, visited some of the plaintiffs in the United States in mid-May. Although Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power when he was prime minister between 2001 and 2006, he became an outspoken opponent after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant. ”

source

* * *

Stars and Stripes:

” YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A former Japanese prime minister is calling on his countrymen to donate to a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan,” Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo alongside fellow former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, according to Asahi Shimbun. “It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

Hundreds of veterans, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure after participating in Operation Tomodachi relief efforts, have filed suit against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. A massive earthquake caused a tsunami that swamped a large stretch of northeastern Japan and inundated the power plant. Experts are still dealing with continuing leaks from the reactors.

The suit asserts that TEPCO lied, coaxing the Navy closer to the plant even though it knew the situation was dire. General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi were later added as defendants for allegations of faulty parts for the reactors.

Illnesses listed in the lawsuit, which is making its way through the courts, include genetic immune system diseases, headaches, difficulty concentrating, thyroid problems, bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness in sides of the body accompanied by the shrinking of muscle mass, memory loss, leukemia, testicular cancer, problems with vision, high-pitch ringing in the ears and anxiety.

People can donate to the fund, called the Operation Tomodachi Victims Foundation, at Japanese credit union Jonan Shinyo Kinko, Eigyobu honten branch, account No. 844688.

Donations, accepted through March 31, 2017, will be transferred to a U.S. bank and used, under the management of a judge, to support the veterans, according to a news release from the credit union. “

by Aaron Kidd, contributions from Hana Kusumoto

source

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‘Uncertain radiological threat’: US Navy sailors search for justice after Fukushima mission — Spiegel International; Navy sailors dying from Fukushima radiation seek justice — Info Wars

” On March 11, 2011, the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan received orders to change course and head for the east coast of Japan, which had just been devastated by a tsunami. The Ronald Reagan had been on its way to South Korea when the order reached it and Captain Thom Burke, who was in charge of the ship along with its crew of 4,500 men and women, duly redirected his vessel. The Americans reached the Japanese coastline on March 12, just north of Sendai and remained in the region for several weeks. The mission was named Tomodachi.

The word tomodachi means “friends.” In hindsight, the choice seems like a delicate one.
Three-and-a-half years later, Master Chief Petty Officer Leticia Morales is sitting in a café in a rundown department store north of Seattle and trying to remember the name of the doctor who removed her thyroid gland 10 months ago. Her partner Tiffany is sitting next to her fishing pills out of a large box and pushing them over to Morales.

“It was something like Erikson,” Morales says. “Or maybe his first name was Eric, or Rick. Oh, I don’t know. Too many doctors.” In the last year-and-a-half, she has seen oncologists, radiologists, cardiologists, blood specialists, kidney specialists, gastrointestinal specialists, lymph node experts and metabolic specialists. “I’m now spending half the month in doctors’ offices,” she says. “This year, I’ve had more than 20 MRTs. I’ve simply lost track.”

She swallows one of the pills, takes a sip of water and smiles wryly.

It was the endocrinologist who asked her if she had been on the Ronald Reagan. During Tomodachi? Yes, Morales told her. Why?

The doctor answered that he had removed six thyroid glands in recent months from sailors who had been on that ship, Morales relates. Only then did Morales make the connection between the worst accident in the history of civilian atomic power and her own fate.

The Fukushima catastrophe changed the world. Nuclear reactors melted down on live television and twice as much radioactive material was released as during the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The disaster drove 150,000 people from their towns and villages, poisoned entire landscapes for centuries and killed hundreds of thousands of farm animals. It also led countries around the world to rethink their usage of nuclear energy. Fukushima is more than just a place-name, it is an historical event — and it would seem to have changed the life of Leticia Morales as well.

It has been a painful experience, and not just because of the poor state of her health. It has also put her into conflict with her deepest convictions. The military she serves has told her that her mission on the coast of Japan was not dangerous to her health, but she is sick all the same. Morales joined the Navy when she was 19-years-old to give her life structure and a purpose, as she says. She spent a significant chunk of her youth in homes and at foster families because her mother was not able to care for her and her siblings. She only got to know her father as a grown woman. After joining, she went to basic training in the Nevada desert and then headed out onto the water.

Nice to Be Needed

Since 2008, she has been responsible for the flight deck on board the Ronald Reagan and about 100 sailors. The ship is a floating city, one with room for 100 planes below its decks. Its home port is San Diego, California, but Morales is stationed not far from Seattle in the state of Washington. She has spent a significant portion of her life on the world’s oceans and has sailed past the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, China and Malaysia.

Usually, the crew only learns where they are headed once the ship has already cast off and headed out to sea. But the destination doesn’t often change the routine on board, one focused primarily on training exercises and ship maintenance. Indeed, the missions are primarily intended to show the world that they are there, drawing US borders through the high seas. As such, says Morales, it is particularly nice to actually be needed from time to time.

The Ronald Reagan left San Diego on Feb. 2, 2011, heading for Busan, South Korea for a scheduled stop. It was still early in the vessel’s semi-annual trip around the globe when Captain Thom Burke broke the news over the ship’s PA system that a tsunami had struck Japan. He said the ship was heading for the Japanese coast to provide humanitarian assistance.

Morales hadn’t felt anything, of course, with the open seas gliding smoothly under the ship. Furthermore, she had participated in a similar humanitarian mission after a deadly typhoon had struck the Philippines in 2008, so the diversion to Japan was nothing new for her. “It’s what we do. We help,” she says.

At first, she knew nothing about the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power facility, but says that, during the journey up the coast, she experienced a metallic taste in her mouth. Others noticed it too and Morales says the sailors even exchanged concerned glances. People exposed to radiation often complain of such a metallic taste and Morales now believes that this was the moment when they sailed through the cloud of nuclear radiation that Fukushima sent out over the Pacific.

Nothing to Regret

On the morning of March 13, the USS Ronald Reagan reached the Japanese coast and saw the unimaginable devastation for the first time, with houses, cars and debris floating in the water. There were also dead bodies.

Morales gets tears in her eyes when she remembers the suffering she saw. But it also serves to remind her that the mission was worth it, that she and her fellow soldiers did what they could to help and that she has nothing to regret.

Not long after their arrival, they learned of the explosions at Fukushima, but Captain Burke assured them that they weren’t in danger. People back home, though, were more concerned and Morales began receiving worried emails from her father. He had spent years working at a nuclear power facility and had conducted radiation experiments with dogs — beagles, she says. Her father warned her not to go up on deck, to drink only bottled water and to take potassium iodide tablets.

Still, when volunteers were being sought to help load goods onto an aid helicopter bound for the mainland, Morales joined in, as did the others in her unit. That’s what they do. They help.

They did their best not to worry about the invisible danger, but there were occasions when it couldn’t be avoided. After they had been stationed off the coast for a few days, for instance, they were suddenly told over the PA system to stop drinking tap water and stop showering. Morales also learned that her partner, who was stationed in southern Japan at the time of the tsunami, had been evacuated with her unit to Guam, an island in the middle of the Pacific located a very long way from the destroyed reactor. But the Ronald Reagan remained and the captain gave the all-clear the next day, saying that tests had come back negative. Morales continued working with her unit on deck and they forgot their concerns. “I don’t think that Captain Burke would knowingly put us in danger,” she says. “The Navy would never do such a thing. They didn’t know any better either.”

In the Defense Department report submitted later to Congress, it says that the ship had never been closer than 100 nautical miles to the coast. But that’s nonsense, Morales says. She trusts her recollections and says that they had actually operated quite close to the coastline. Only in April did they leave Japan’s east coast for Sasebo in the far southwest of the country before heading to Thailand and then to Bahrain. On July 10, 2011, they arrived home once again; it was Morales’ 32nd birthday. Two weeks later, she was promoted and her salary jumped by $400 per month.

It was summer in Washington when she arrived home and she would have largely forgotten about the mission in Japan if it hadn’t been for the pesky forms she had to fill out: How long were you outside? Where were you exactly?

She wrote: I was always on the flight deck. The whole time.

‘Uncertain Radiological Threat’

The last message she got from her ship’s captain came via Facebook. He thanked his crew for the great mission, particularly for the Japan segment. “We have the pride that comes with superbly conducting one of the most complex humanitarian relief operations in history. Not only did we work through debris fields, cold and icing conditions, but we did not waver amidst an uncertain radiological threat. (…) We overcame our fear and we did our job superbly. Tomodachi was the highlight,” he wrote. The message was posted on Sept. 8, 2011.

In May 2013, Leticia Morales suddenly began suffering dizzy spells. Her arm swelled up, her right hand looked like a baseball mitt and she had tunnel vision, she says. Doctors made computer scans of her brain and took numerous blood tests. Her general practitioner told her that there was something serious going on, but they weren’t sure what it was.

The kidney pains began around Thanksgiving, 2013. Again, the doctors didn’t know what was causing it, but they found a tumor in her liver. In January 2014, a doctor told her that the problem was focused on her spine and in February, they found a malignant growth in her thyroid gland.

Morales began doing some research and found that many of the symptoms she had been suffering matched up with those experienced by people exposed to radiation. “Some of the doctors I visited confirmed as much,” she says. “But they couldn’t confirm that I had become exposed while on board the Reagan. They couldn’t, or didn’t want to. What do I know?”

In the summer of 2014, she began experiencing cardiac arrhythmia and that autumn, they found metastases in her breast.

In the meantime, the Defense Department had presented Congress with the results of a study focusing on the Navy’s part of Operation Tomodachi. The study concluded that even those sailors who had spent the whole time on USS Ronald Reagan’s flight deck had not been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. The report also found that their exposure to contaminated water during the mission did not exceed the total radiation experienced by passengers on cross-country airline flights. Furthermore, the report found, cancer caused by radioactivity develops much slower than that experienced by the ill sailors.

A Pentagon representative thanked Congress for its interest in the health of military personnel and said they had checked everything but found nothing suspicious.

Letitia Morales, meanwhile, was left with an endocrinologist whose name she couldn’t remember, her thick medical files and the stories of a couple of other comrades on the flight deck who had also fallen ill.

A Serious Case of Hepatitis

But she also learned of a class-action lawsuit being prepared by two attorneys in California. They hoped to sue Tepco, the company that operated the nuclear facility at Fukushima, in the name of the 70,000 US soldiers and sailors who had spent time near the site of the accident. Morales contacted the lawyers, but it was important to her that the lawsuit was not aimed at the Navy. She is a soldier, after all, and wanted to remain loyal. She may have lost her health, but she hadn’t lost her purpose in life.

The attorneys explained to her that it wasn’t even possible to sue the military in America due to the Feres Doctrine, a Supreme Court ruling from the 1950s. It stipulates that soldiers cannot hold the state responsible for injuries or death resulting from military service. Reassured, Morales added her name to the class-action suit.

Those from her unit who had also become ill joined as well. Some of them live not far away from her in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, a region where Leticia and Tiffany feel comfortable as a lesbian couple. Last year, they bought themselves a brand new house in a neighborhood where the streets are named after US presidents and trees. Washington is a healthy, liberal state, a place where residents can legally buy marijuana just as they can Bud Light.

Brett Bingham, one of Morales’ petty officers, lives in a brand new house of his own nearby. He has the neck of a football player, a smile like Channing Tatum, young children, several dogs and a three-car garage. The fourth is parked on the street. He donates blood twice a year.

Last year, though, shortly after making a regular donation, he received a letter from the blood bank telling him to call them immediately. They told him that he had a serious case of hepatitis and asked him if he takes drugs or otherwise might have used a contaminated needle. Bingham said no and consulted a doctor, who told him that he might be suffering from so-called “radiation hepatitis,” a radiation-induced affliction of the liver that comes and goes. They performed a second examination and then a third before declaring him healthy. Still, he was no longer allowed to donate blood.

Ron Wright, a 24-year-old who joined the Navy in 2010, lives a few streets away. The voyage to Japan was his first mission abroad on an aircraft carrier and, the way things currently look, likely his last. He remembers standing with Morales’ crew on the flight deck, the cold and the snow. But he also remembers the protective clothing they received after a few days: pants, jackets and booties to cover up their normal boots.

When they went down below decks following their shift, they would be scanned and they had to turn in the things that were deemed to be contaminated which were then burned and, Wright believes, dumped into the sea. Once, he even had to turn in his pants and, he still recalls, walk through the ship in his underwear. Everyone laughed, as did he. It seemed like a joke at the time. “They always told us that we were safe,” Wright says.

Constant Companions

One month later, his testicles swelled up to the size of tennis balls, as he describes it, and the pain was unbearable. They were still in the Sea of Japan and a doctor on board recommended that the young sailor be flown out, partially because he didn’t know what Wright was actually suffering from. Instead, he was given pain killers. And the treatment still hasn’t changed: Neurontin and Percocet are his constant companions.

“When I asked if it might have something to do with the radiation from Fukushima, a doctor told me pretty gruffly no,” Wright says. “He showed me some inquiry report from the Defense Department, but the pain didn’t stop. I have been operated on seven times, always in military hospitals. Nothing has helped. There has been no diagnosis, just the pills.”

Wright was unable to return to active service before the four years he had committed to expired. Now, he simply sits at home waiting for his next doctor’s appointment. Mostly, he spends his time sitting in the kitchen, where he can look out the window at the forest, his dog at his feet. During a recent visit, his girlfriend was sitting on the sofa in the living room staring at her smartphone.

“What are you guys talking about?” she calls over at some point.
“About my balls,” Wright says.
“Ah, okay,” she says, without looking up from her phone.

The only sailor from Morales’ unit who received a clear diagnosis is Theodore Holcomb. He had cancer of the parathyroid gland and it killed him in April of 2014. He is the first casualty of the aid mission Tomodachi.

Morales only learned from Holcomb’s ex-wife how sick her fellow soldier was after he was too sick to talk on the phone. Holcomb never did talk much, particularly not about his problems, Morales says, but he was one of her most reliable seamen. He lived a long way away in North Carolina with his wife and then, later, with a friend in Reno, Nevada where he died.

“I think he was pretty messed up at the end,” Morales says, “and I don’t just mean his health.”

They all only know each other from the ship. They live together for half a year and then they go their separate ways, to the furthest flung corners of the US. Most of them had to deal with their health problems all by themselves.

Left Without a Job

Theodore Holcomb died in the arms of his best friend Manuel Leslie. The two knew each other since the sixth grade and joined the Navy together. When Leslie got married, Holcomb was his best man and when Holcomb got married, Leslie returned the favor. Neither one of the marriages was destined to last. The Navy kills relationships, Leslie said, the women have to be alone so long.

In January 2013, Theodore Holcomb turned up at Leslie’s house on the outskirts of Reno with a suitcase. The Navy hadn’t extended his enlistment — Holcomb had served for 14 years, but a pension only kicks in after 15. He was thus left without a job and his wife and daughter lived thousands of miles away. He had no idea what to do next. Leslie, who had left the Navy in 2006, could only imagine what his friend was going through.

Holcomb moved into the guest bedroom and the two unemployed veterans lived like school boys in a never ending summer vacation. Or like retirees. They spent a lot of their time outside, often going hunting together. Slowly, Holcomb left his life on the water behind and became used to his new reality. It took at least a year before his friend began to accept that it wasn’t his fault he had been discharged, Leslie says.

And then, Holcomb got sick.

Shortly before Christmas of 2013, he suddenly had trouble breathing and the doctors told him in January that he had thymus cancer. The thymus is a gland located behind the breast bone and thymoma, as cancer of the gland is called, is extremely rare. One of the risk groups for this sort of cancer, however, includes those who have been exposed to radiation. Holcomb was 35 when he was diagnosed with cancer and chemotherapy began immediately. He lost over 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in a single month, Leslie says. Normally, thymus tumors grow slowly, but in Holcomb’s body, the cancer spread extremely quickly.

Manuel Leslie drove back and forth to the hospital and organized a spot in a palliative care center once the end was near — a nice place with a rose garden where the two ex-soldiers in their 30s could sit waiting for death. Just before he passed away, Holcomb forgave his wife, but he still didn’t want her or his daughter to visit, preferring that they remember him as a strong man rather than, as Leslie says, the scarecrow he had become. Still, he wanted the opportunity to wish his daughter a happy fifth birthday. Leslie held the phone for him.

The girl said: But my birthday isn’t for another five days, daddy.
I know, Holcomb replied.
He died that night. Manuel Leslie was sitting next to his bed.

Day in Court

He was cremated and his ashes were divvied up. His ex-wife in North Carolina received a third of them, as did his parents in California. His friend in Reno got the remaining third and he keeps the urn, a box made of cherry wood, on the mantel of his fireplace.

Leslie is sitting in the cafeteria of a department store in the desert 10 miles outside Reno. He is a short, stocky man who visited 26 countries while in the Navy, but now he is taking care of his parents, who are also suffering from cancer. The department store is dedicated to hunting and behind him are gun safes and mounted animals: antelopes, wolves and grizzly bears, but also elephants, lions and rhinos. Men and their children are standing in front of glass display cases and ogling machine guns worth $15,000.

Manuel Leslie hates the Navy, but he also loves it. It destroys lives, but it also saves them. It is both the meaning and the curse of his existence. His best friend became terminally ill because of his participation in a mission to help Japan. His grandfather was stationed on Hawaii with the Navy at age 16 when the Japanese attacked. He himself spent the best year of his life in Tokyo.

Leslie is now the executor of his friend’s will, though there are really only two things that he has to do. One is keeping in touch with Holcomb’s daughter. The other is ensuring that his friend gets his day in court. Leslie is representing his friend in the class-action lawsuit against Tepco, Toshiba, Hitachi, Ebasco and General Electric, all of which had a hand in operating or constructing the reactors at Fukushima.

The suit is being led by Paul Garner, an attorney who has already spent much of his life going after the companies for the damage they have done to the environment, for their violations of human rights or for making people sick. He is in his late 60s, is overweight and wears a sweaty red shirt. From the few hairs on his head, he has managed to create a thin braid. And he arrives to our meeting over one hour late.

He says that his old Mercedes wouldn’t start, so he had his brother Bob — a small, jumpy man in a Hawaiian shirt — give him a lift. When the brothers walk into the deserted restaurant on the outskirts of Palm Springs, they don’t look like two men preparing to file a billion-dollar liability suit.

But they were the first.

Screwing People Who Screw People

Bob Garner, who was part of Robert Kennedy’s campaign team in the 1960s and who has been working on a great American book of poetry since then, met the father of Lindsey Cooper two years ago at a gas station in the desert. Cooper had been on board the USS Ronald Reagan during its voyage to Japan and the father told Garner that his daughter had come down with a thyroid complaint and that he knew of other sailors who had likewise become sick. Bob told his brother Paul about the meeting who then told his partner Charles Bonner, who runs a small legal practice in Sausalito.

The two know each other from the civil rights scene: Garner is a Jew from New York and Bonner is a black man from Alabama. In their free time, the two old men sit on Bonner’s dock on a lake in the Californian mountains drinking wine and singing Pete Seeger songs. In their professional lives, the have sued companies like Chevron, Exxon and Shell. They were unimpressed by the report compiled on the Ronald Reagan by the Defense Department. Their motto is: We screw people who screw people.

Paul Garner sets a thick, greasy file folder on the table. After looking into the case, they contacted over 500 sailors who had become ill after the mission in Japan. Two-hundred-fifty of them answered and their stories form the backbone of the case they hope to argue before the court. Garner orders a soup and a sandwich and quotes from the dramatic stories told in his binder: The woman sailor who gave birth to a sick baby; the seaman who was told by the doctors that he had a genetic defect although his twin brother, a civilian, is completely healthy; the seaman who went completely blind after returning from Japan. There is another story of a seaman who was stationed in Japan with his family and became ill with leukemia. There is the Navy airplane mechanic who is suffering from an unexplained loss of muscle mass.

Garner runs down the list of illnesses and symptoms, a variety of different forms of cancer, internal bleeding, abscesses, tumors, removed thyroid glands, gall bladders extractions and birth defects. His brother Bob interrupts: “All that suffering, the pain. Those pigs.” As Bob Garner holds forth on the fates of the sick sailors, he quotes Martin Luther King and Marx; he talks about how Hillary Clinton was ensnared in the military-industrial complex during her term as secretary of state. He compares Vietnam with Afghanistan.

“The ship is named Reagan. Reagan himself was a spokesperson for General Electric in the 1950s. You just have to add one to one,” Bob Garner says. Will you finally shut up, his brother Paul interjects.

Moral Support

Paul Garner too wants to unmask capitalism. He too wants justice and compensation for the sailors who were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. He wants to show just how strong the global atomic energy lobby is. He wants the trial to become a stage on which Bonner and Garner can show just how recklessly we are treating our planet.

It will be difficult to prove that their clients received unhealthy doses of radiation during the mission and became ill as a result. It may even be impossible. Lots of money will be at stake, but first of all, they have to convince a district court in San Diego that they can proceed with the lawsuit in the first place. Their first attempt was denied.

Paul Garner had asked the sick sailors to come to San Diego for an August hearing as moral support. Most, though, didn’t dare show up, not even those who live in the city. Lindsey Cooper, for example. The woman who started the whole thing was torn apart on a CNN program by atomic energy experts and was later mocked on conservative radio shows. She doesn’t want to relive the experience.

Kristian William, a helicopter pilot from Texas who flew aid goods from the Ronald Reagan to the Japanese mainland, suffers from cancer of the parathyroid gland, a rare form of cancer that is usually triggered by a high dosage of radiation. But he still doesn’t want to go public with his suffering, he says on the telephone, because he is more afraid of being misrepresented in the media than he is of the cancer itself. Even Leticia Morales, the chief of the Ronald Reagan flight deck who encouraged her fellow soldiers to join the class-action suit, stayed away from the San Diego court. She didn’t want to be photographed, she said. She is, after all, a soldier.

Coverage of the USS Ronald Reagan has been astoundingly limited. Here and there, the fate of an individual seaman makes it into the local news, but then it’s gone again without anyone connecting the various cases. The Navy says it doesn’t want to comment on an ongoing case. The Defense Department refers to the report compiled for Congress.

The sailors themselves don’t want to be both ill and humiliated. They don’t want to stand up to the Navy, their Navy, their country. The United States is a country that values its military, but it is also a country of lawyers. The soldiers have become trapped between these two fronts.

Nobody’s Left Behind

Paul Garner told them that it took 20 years before the military recognized that Agent Orange, which was used liberally in Vietnam, was harmful to health and even life threatening. Twenty years is a long time.

In the end, only a single sailor from the USS Ronald Reagan appeared before the court in San Diego: Steve Simmons. A lieutenant in the Navy, Simmons is now confined to a wheelchair. A sticker on his wheelchair reads: Nobody’s left behind.

At the beginning of June, 2014, Simmons was honorably discharged from the Navy for medical reasons at the Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. He wore his white dress uniform for the occasion and thanked the Navy for 17 great years, adding that he would have liked to remain in service for 30. Few people attended the event — just one other wheelchair-bound serviceman who Simmons had met in the hospital and Nancy, his wife, who he had met over a dating-website belonging to his church. After his discharge, he moved with her and her four children to Utah, not far from Salt Lake City. The climate there is better for him than damp Washington DC, where he used to live. They built a ramp into their new house to make it wheelchair accessible.

Simmons got up at 4 a.m. so as to be on time for the court hearing that day, flying from Salt Lake City to San Diego via Los Angeles before driving to the courthouse in a rental car. After the hearing, he was to fly back home — a round trip that cost him and his wife $700. But it is important for him. He finally wants some certainty.

Simmons’ complaints began one year after he returned from Japan. His muscles began to fail and his hair started falling out by the handful. He got migraines, experienced bloody discharges, became incontinent and his fingers turned yellow, even brown on some days. His feet are now dark red in color and he experiences whole-body spasms; his liver test results are comparable to those of an alcoholic. Four years ago, he competed in triathlons and hiked in the mountains. Now, he can no longer walk — and nobody can tell him why.

On his darkest days, Simmons finds himself leaning toward conspiracy theories — toward the notion that a diagnosis has not been provided because it would require an admission that his suffering is caused by exposure to radioactivity. That, though, would mean that the Defense Department reports were intentionally inaccurate. He says there was one doctor who told him it was better that he didn’t know what was making him ill. Early on, he was in a military hospital in Washington DC together with three other men who had similar symptoms, he says. They had served on nuclear-powered submarines, but they disappeared from one day to the next, and when he asked what happened to them, everyone acted as though they had never been there in the first place.

Ship of Ghosts

Simmons doesn’t believe that the Navy is behind it, nor does he doubt the stated motives of their mission to Japan. He has participated in two tsunami-related aid missions and says he would join a third as well, were he able to. He says he frequently met Captain Burke at senior officer meetings during the critical period of their mission off the coast of Japan and says that he seemed concerned, but not heedless.

What bothers him, he says, is how quiet Burke has now become. Simmons believes his former captain is staying silent so as not to jeopardize his career. He is now in the Pentagon and would like to become an admiral, Simmons says.

“Personal, diplomatic and economic interests are all at stake,” Simons says. “They’re leaving us alone. They’re closing their eyes, keeping quiet and waiting for it to blow over. There are sick soldiers everywhere, many in the hospital in San Diego, or in the medical center in Hawaii. They are ordinary folks who are poorly insured, with family and kids. Loyal and scattered. Most of them don’t know how to react. Those who raise their voices are denounced in the Internet for being unpatriotic. You have to put up with a lot,” Simmons says.

That is why he wanted to go to the court proceedings in San Diego. He sees himself as their representative.

When he rolled into the courtroom, he saw the lawyers from a large Los Angeles firm on one side of the room together with their teams of researchers. On the other side, he saw Paul Garner and Charles Bonner, the two civil rights veterans. In front, the judge seemed to eye Garner’s shirt and hair-do with skepticism. Simmons says he’ll never forget the self-satisfied smirks of the Tepco lawyers in their $3,000 suits.

The judge didn’t ask Simmons a single question, so he remained silent. But Paul Garner built him into his speech, using Lieutenant Simmons as the face of suffering and speaking of him as an American hero and a pioneer. With Simmons’ help, Paul Garner was able, during the 90 minutes available to him, to erase the grins from the faces of the industry lawyers from Los Angeles.
The court decision came in the mail a few weeks later. The class-action lawsuit, the court ruled on Oct. 28, may proceed. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin on Feb. 26.

The complaint is 100 pages long and contains the names of 247 sick sailors along with details pertaining to reactor construction, water samples taken, Navy tactics and Japanese politics. It assails company greed just as it does the negligence of those who built the Fukushima reactors — and goes on to censure global politics and the cynicism of humankind. A kind of Old Testament fury infuses the text, and the complaint is so sweeping that it almost loses track of its true target. The USS Ronald Reagan appears therein as humanity’s last ship. An aircraft carrier. A ship of ghosts. ”

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View another article and video on Operation Tomodachi by Komo 4 News, “Fukushima fallout suit: ‘Sailors were marinating in radioactive particles.’

Question of negligence hangs over nuclear firms in U.S. case over Fukushima fallout — The Japan Times

” Dear Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa,

As you may be aware, a federal judge in the U.S. recently ruled that a class-action lawsuit filed by about 200 U.S. Navy sailors can proceed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other defendants they blame for a variety of ailments caused by radiation exposure following the nuclear reactor meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1.

The sailors allege that Tepco knowingly and negligently gave false and misleading information concerning the true condition of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to the public, including the U.S. military. They further allege that Tepco knew the sailors on board the USS Ronald Reagan would be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation because Tepco was aware three nuclear reactors at the site had already melted down.

In this connection, the lawsuit notes that on Dec. 14, 2013, Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time of the disaster, told a gathering of journalists regarding the first meltdown: “People think it was March 12 but the first meltdown occurred five hours after the earthquake.”

The sailors in question were participating in Operation Tomodachi, providing humanitarian relief in response to the Japanese government’s calls for assistance. In accordance with the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, these sailors literally risked their lives to aid and protect the people of Japan.

The sailors accuse Tepco of negligence, failure to warn of the dangers, and design defects in the construction and installation of the reactors, among a total of nine claims for damages. To date, the sailors have experienced such illnesses as leukemia, ulcers, brain cancer, brain tumors, testicular cancer, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, thyroid illnesses, stomach ailments and a host of other complaints unusual in such young adults.

One of the major questions to be decided by the lawsuit is who will pay for the military members’ ongoing and possibly lifelong medical treatment. In addition to addressing specific illnesses, funding will be required for future medical monitoring for themselves and their children, including monitoring for possible radiation-induced genetic mutations. Some of the radiological particles inhaled by these service personnel have long half-lives, from six to 50 or even 100 years.

Needless to say, the Japanese government has a wealth of information about what actually happened, and when, at Fukushima No. 1. Thus it would seem legally as well as morally appropriate for the government to share its Fukushima-related knowledge with the Federal Court in the Southern District of California.

This could be done, for example, in the form of an amicus curiae brief — that is, a brief submitted by someone not a party to a case who nevertheless possesses relevant information that may assist the court. My first question to you, Minister Miyazawa, is: Are you and the Japanese government willing to submit such a brief?

It is significant that the builders of the Fukushima No. 1 reactors — General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba and Hitachi — are also defendants. This is because the reactors for Units 1, 2 and 6 were supplied by General Electric, those for Units 3 and 5 by Toshiba, and Unit 4 by Hitachi. General Electric, however, designed all six reactors, and the architectural plans were done by EBASCO.

In particular, GE knew decades ago that the design of its Mark I reactors installed at Fukushima No. 1 was faulty. Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming convinced that the Mark I’s design was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident. They publicly testified before the U.S. Congress on the inability of the Mark I to handle the immense pressures that would result if the reactor lost cooling power.

Their concerns proved all too accurate at Fukushima No. 1, a disaster that has yet to end given the continued massive radioactive contamination of the ocean.

In light of this, Minister Miyazawa, I end this message with one final question: Why hasn’t the Japanese government, like the American sailors, filed its own lawsuits against these same companies to determine their legal liability? In other words, why are the Japanese people being forced to pay for the possibly negligent actions of some of the world’s largest corporations?

BRIAN VICTORIA

Yellow Springs, Ohio ”

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