SAN DIEGO (CN) — Families of five Navy service members who died after responding to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown have sued Tokyo Electric Power Co., blaming the deaths on radiation illnesses contracted from the March 2011 disaster.
The families wish to join a lawsuit from 152 other members or survivors of members of the 7th Fleet who performed humanitarian response from March 11, 2011 until March 14, when the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was moved away from Fukushima due to detection of nuclear radiation in the air and on helicopters returning to the ship.
The new plaintiffs want to join in the third amended complaint Cooper, et al. v. TEPCO, et al., originally filed in the same court in 2012. They say it is only recently that they discovered the extent of the injuries, real and/or expected, due to exposure to radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
The federal lawsuit was filed Friday and made available Monday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California. They sued General Electric in addition to Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO.
The Navy servicemen and -women want a $5 billion survivor fund for medical expenses.
They say General Electric designed the defective GE Boiling Water Reactors at Fukushima, which was run by TEPCO, Japan’s largest electric utility. The 7th Fleet’s Operation Tomodachi provided humanitarian relief after the tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster. The sailors say they will need medical monitoring for life, payment of medical bills, and health monitoring for their children, including for possible radiation-induced birth defects.
“These harms include, but are not limited to, the following: illnesses such as leukemia, ulcers, gall bladder removals, brain cancer, brain tumors, testicular cancer, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, thyroid illnesses, stomach ailments, birth defects, death, and a host of other complaints unusual in such young adults and victims,” the complaint states.
The 81-page lawsuit contains few details about the five service members’ deaths, three of whom died in 2016.
Ruby Perez, who died of ovarian cancer, is the only plaintiff whose illness is specified.
The families are represented by Paul Garner and Charles Bonner, with Bonner & Bonner of Sausalito, who did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The families say the prime minister of Japan has effectively admitted the negligence of TEPCO. “This negligence was underscored on Dec. 12, 2013, by admission of the former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, who was in office when the Fukushima disaster took place. It was at that time that he admitted, for the first time: ‘People think it was March 12th (2011) but the first meltdown occurred 5 hours after the earthquake.’
“Unaware of either the meltdown or any potentially harmful radioactive release, the U.S. Sailor First Responders arrived off the coast of Fukushima during the afternoon of March 12, 2011 in order to carry out their mission of providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami disaster. At no time did this mission include, nor expand into a response to a meltdown or a nuclear emergency at the FNPP. Rather, plaintiffs were carrying out their mission to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Japan by coming to their aid by delivering clean water, blankets, food, and other aspects of providing other humanitarian relief to the inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture.”
The plaintiffs claim that though the nuclear meltdown was induced by a natural disaster, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission found in July 2012 that the meltdown was manmade because GE and TEPCO did not take adequate precautions for earthquakes and tsunamis.
They claim TEPCO ignored warnings of risk of damage by a tsunami, dismissed the need for better protection against seawater flooding, and failed to inspect, maintain and repair critical pieces of equipment.
Radiation exposure came not just through the air but by radioactive seawater used to cool the reactors that was pumped back into the Pacific Ocean after it had been contaminated, then sucked into the Navy ship, according to the complaint.
It adds: “One plaintiff declared: ‘ship was still taking in sea water — but obviously the ship can’t filter out the radiation. Water we all showered with, drank, brushed our teeth, and had our food cooked with …’”
Citing a March 14, 2011 statement from the Navy, the plaintiffs say at least 17 service members on helicopter air crews had measureable levels of radioactivity after returning to the ship.