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USS Reagan Sailors: One step closer to justice

Lawyers for U.S. sailors suffering illnesses associated with radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe presented oral arguments before the 9th circuit court in Pasadena, CA in September. This follows two victories before the district federal court in San Diego, CA and two legal appeals by TEPCO who is being sued for compensation in this first-of-its-kind case. Determination in this case is expected within 60 days.

According to Nuclear Hotseat, present at the arguments, the sailors are experiencing a number of health impacts including, leukemia, ulcers, gall bladder removal, brain cancers and tumors, testicular cancers, thyroid illnesses, stomach complaints, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, and still births and birth defects among their children. A number of these maladies are rare for the sailors’ age and condition, and were not present before the relief operation Tomadachi, undertaken by the U.S. in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan. According to statements at a press conference, filmed here by Ecological Options Network, seven people have already died including a child who was riddled with tumors. The number of sailors in the lawsuit is currently 400 and additional plantiffs continue coming forward.

Radiation diseases are so complex, the Veterans Administration cannot figure out how to treat many of the ill. As a result, they are often diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which is a catchall meaning they don’t know what the malady is. This type of unclear diagnosis also occurred after the atomic bomb explosions (bura-bura disease) and after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown(vegetative distonia).

Lawyers for the sailors say any delay in the case is a delay of justice and proper health resources for these radiation-affected people. It’s been about 4 years already since the suit began and only judicial and legal wrangling has been undertaken in court. Specifics of the catastrophe, exposure scenarios and health information has not been allowed as of yet. According to plantiffs’ lawyers, this is a ploy by TEPCO to keep case from being heard.

TEPCO is trying to deny the sailors compensation claiming that the sailors should be able to fit into the compensation plans already established within Japan. But most of the sailors never set foot in Japan and participated in operation Tomadachi while they were technically in US territory. TEPCO also contends that the case must be heard in Japan, because TEPCO is a Japanese company. In reality, TEPCO is a multinational corporation, a status which would allow the case to be tried outside Japan, a course of action highly recommended as a case in Japan would be cost prohibitive and dangerous for the ill sailors. As a final insult, TEPCO is asking whether the Navy acted reasonably under the circumstances, this despite the fact that the U.S. was asked by the government of Japan to provide aid. And during it all, TEPCO wasn’t revealing the true scope of the catastrophic meltdown or what radioactive poisons were being released.

Outside parties have been weighing in. The Koch brothers issued a report from one of their think tanks that parrots the TEPCO arguments while claiming to be neutral. Higher levels of the U.S. Government are saying “go ahead” with the case. The law firm of John Edwards, former governor and Vice Presidential candidate, is considering helping with the case, and past prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, had some powerful words on the sailors’ behalf. He believes they were exposed and as a result, they are suffering illness. He is concerned because the Japanese people haven’t been told about the sailors’ plight. He contends any logical person would recognize that the health impacts of the sailors are from radiation. He used to support nuclear power but no more.  He is upset to see that even U.S. doctors refuse to confirm that radiation is the cause of the sailors’ disease. He believes TEPCO purposely hid the truths of the catastrophe and that it seems the U.S. Navy is following suit. For wonderful video and audio coverage of the sailors’ plight, see EON and Nuclear Hotseat. Information in this piece is taken from these sources.