A California federal appeals court ruled Thursday that U.S. Navy personnel can sue the government of Japan for $1 billion over illnesses allegedly caused by radiation in the aftermath of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowed sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that was dispatched to waters off north-east Japan after the nuclear accident, to sue Japan and the power company that owned the Fukushima
The U.S. Navy vehemently denies the sailors were exposed to levels of radiation that could affect their health during the Fukushima recovery mission. Independent nuclear safety experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation there’s no way the sailors could have been harmed.
“This is a sad situation where some law firms are taking advantage of individuals, companies, and governments to try to make big money off an unfortunate situation,” Lake Barrett, former deputy director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, told TheDCNF. “The sailors radiation exposures were small fractions of what millions of people normally received from medical exposures and I am sure much less that airline crew members normally receive from natural cosmic radiation.”
The sailor’s lawyers claim that they were healthy and physically fit before being exposed to radiation, but have suffered from leukaemia, ulcers, brain cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid illnesses and stomach complaints since the mission.
The Navy says that the maximum potential radiation dose received by any of the Reagan’s crew was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation sources like rocks, soil, and the sun.
“There were many thousands of sailors on the fleet helping Japan after the earthquake/tsunami and in normal life there are always going to be medical issues to some of them over a six plus year time period,” Barrett said. “I doubt there is any real medical difference between sailors on those ships from any other US Navy ships that were not off Japan.”
The lawsuit claims that the Japanese government should be held financially responsible for the sailors’ medial treatment because it failed to inform the U.S. that radiation leaking from nuclear reactors posed a threat. It also places part of the financial blame on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), because the company allegedly failed to accurately inform the Japanese government of the scale of the problem.
“TEPCO had notified the Japanese and the US governments (and I am sure the US Navy knew as well) that there was a nuclear emergency situation at Fukushima,” Barrett said. “The Ronald Reagan is a nuclear powered ship, and more importantly, it is designed and operationally capable to function under severe chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks which are many orders of magnitude higher than anything experienced off Japan during the accident.”
The case was originally filed in California in 2012, but was repeatedly delayed over the question of where it should be heard. TEPCO had sought to dismiss the suit on the grounds that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction.
“But there is plenty of emotion and if someone develops a later medical situation, real or perceived, there is a natural tendency to feel like a victim and blame someone to try to see if additional money can be obtained from someone,” Barrett said. “It is sad, as I am sure there are some statistical difficult medical situations that some sailors developed, but those are not likely to have been caused by the nuclear accident.”
Barrett noted that the in any large population group, a certain portion of them will develop illnesses and that it is extremely unlikely TEPCO and Fukushima are to blame.
“I just get frustrated with lawyers taking advantage of some of these naturally distressed and sick sailors, using them to try to win big class action damage awards for themselves,” Barrett said. “They look at large companies and governments as deep pockets to pick on an emotional basis independent of the science evidence otherwise. And then off course, those with a social/political anti-establishment agenda join in making it a three rink circus in the media with sensational heart-rendering stories. So sad.”
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