SAN DIEGO (CN) - The Fukushima nuclear disaster exposed Navy rescue workers to dangerous levels of radiation, which the government-owned power plant covered up, eight U.S. sailors claim in court.
Eight crew members of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, whose home port is San Diego, sued the Tokyo Electric Power Co. in Federal Court.
They claim the utility company, "a wholly owned public benefit subsidiary of the government of Japan," misrepresented radiation levels to lull the U.S. Navy "into a false sense of security."
Lead plaintiff Lindsay R. Cooper claims Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) intentionally concealed the dangerous levels of radiation in the environment from U.S. Navy rescue crews working off the coast of Japan after the March 10, 2011 earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear disaster.
"TEPCO pursued a policy to cause rescuers, including the plaintiffs, to rush into an unsafe area which was too close to the FNPP [Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant] that had been damaged. Relying upon the misrepresentations regarding health and safety made by TEPCO ... the U.S. Navy was lulled into a false sense of security," the complaint states.
There were 5,500 sailors aboard the Reagan, the plaintiffs say, but this is not a class action. Six of the eight plaintiffs worked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier; two worked in air contamination or the "air department." One sued also on behalf of her infant daughter.
Japan called the relief effort Operation Tomadachi.
The complaint states: "Defendant TEPCO and the government of Japan, conspired and acted in concert, among other things, to create an illusory impression that the extent of the radiation that had leaked from the site of the FNPP was at levels that would not pose a threat to the plaintiffs, in order to promote its interests and those of the government of Japan, knowing that the information it disseminated was defective, incomplete and untrue, while omitting to disclose the extraordinary risks posed to the plaintiffs who were carrying out their assigned duties aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan."
It adds: "Defendant represented and warranted that the levels of contamination to which the plaintiffs would be exposed were less than harmful to them and that their presence during 'Operation Tomadachi' would not cause any different or greater harm to them than they may have experienced on missions in the past. ...
"At all times relevant times, the defendant, TEPCO, was aware that exposure to even a low dose of radiation creates a danger to one's health and that it is important to accurately report actual levels.
"As a consequence of the earthquake and tsunami, the reactors were damaged and power to the cooling mechanism of the FNPP was interrupted, resulting in a meltdown of the fuel and reactor itself, thereby triggering the release of high levels of radiation."
And, they say: "Defendants had actual and/or constructive knowledge of the properties of radiation that would ensure that, once released into the environment, radiation would spread further and in concentrations that would cause injury to the plaintiffs."
The plaintiffs claim the government deliberately misled them: "the Japanese government kept representing that there was no danger of radiation contamination to the U.S.S. Reagan ... and/or its crew, that 'everything is under control,' 'all is OK, you can trust us,' and there is 'no immediate danger' or threat to human life, all the while lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdowns at FNPP.
"Such reports were widely circulated with the defendant, TEPCO's, organization at the time it was published, despite the fact that the defendant knew that higher levels of radiation existed within the area whereat the plaintiffs and their vessel would be and were operating."
TEPCO controlled all activities at the power plant, so it is responsible for the plaintiffs' radiation exposure and subsequent damages, the sailors say.
"According to then-existing data uniquely known to the defendant at the time, the plaintiffs' consequent exposure to radiation within their zone of operation, then indicated that radiation levels had already reached levels exceeding the levels of exposure to which those living the same distance from Chernobyl experienced who subsequently developed cancer," the complaint states.
"Consequently, the potential for the development of cancer in the plaintiffs has also been enhanced due to the levels of exposure experienced by them during 'Operation Tomadachi.'"
The sailors say they "face additional and irreparable harm to their life expectancy, which has been shortened and cannot be restored to its prior condition."
The plaintiffs are Lindsay Cooper, James Sutton, Kim Gieseking and her daughter, Charles Yarris, Robert Miller, Christopher Bittner, Eric Membrila and Judy Goodwin.
They are seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages for fraud, negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, public and private nuisance, and defective design. They also want TEPCO ordered to establish a fund of $100 million to pay for their medical expenses.
They are represented by Paul Garner.
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