When a historic earthquake created a massive tsunami that destroyed part of the Fukushima Daiichi power station in northern Japan in March 2011, causing meltdowns at three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors, a radiological disaster ensued.
As part of the effort to control damage and lend assistance, President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. Navy to respond to what would become the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union in the mid-1980s.
Now, nearly three years later, some 100 sailors believe they are paying the price for their assistance in the form of debilitating and deteriorating health issues.
One of them, a Navy lieutenant from Maryland who can no longer walk, wants someone to take some responsibility for what has happened to him.
As reported by CBS News‘ Baltimore affiliate, WJZ:
On March 11, 2011, one of the largest earthquakes ever shook Japan. It triggered a tsunami. Waves more than 100 feet high slammed into the coast, killing thousands.
When the wall of water smashed into the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, an explosion spewed radiation into the air and water, creating yet another tragedy.
The United States military sped into the disaster zone to help, not knowing it was headed into the path of a radiation plume.
‘I don’t think anybody on board knew what was going on’
The report said that at least 100 sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, who acted as first responders to the accident, are currently suffering from some unexplained illnesses such as cancer, leukemia, hair loss and bleeding. Many of them are blaming radiation poisoning from Fukushima.
“When you’ve got a nuclear power plant that’s melting down, how can you not expect health risks to come from that?” Navy Lt. Steve Simmons told WJZ.
The USS Reagan was the first ship to arrive for Operation Tomodachi, the Japanese word for “friends.”
“I don’t think anybody on board really knew the full scope of what was going on,” Simmons said.
Several months later, after coming back home to his family in Maryland following that deployment, the Navy officer’s health began to deteriorate.
“One day, I was coming out of the bathroom and my legs just buckled on me and that was pretty much it,” he said.
‘No comment’ from TEPCO
Now, Simmons and more than 100 other sailors from the USS Reagan are taking action. They have filed a suit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owner/operator of Fukushima, claiming that the company hid the truth about radiation leaks at the plant following the tsunami and resultant destruction.
“The TEPCO people who ran the power plant never warned their government,” attorney Paul Garner told WJZ. “Their government never warned the world. The command never got the order, ‘Don’t go ’cause you’re going to get cooked.”
The CBS News affiliate reported that it contacted TEPCO offices in Washington, D.C., and in Tokyo, but essentially received this answer: “No comment.”
What is clear is that Simmons’ health has gotten worse since returning from his Fukushima mission, but the problem is actually linking his illnesses and condition to radiation poisoning from the plant.
More from WJZ:
At the Pentagon, the Department of Defense has been answering numerous questions from sick sailors about what happened at Fukushima, but government reports indicate that radiation levels on board the USS Ronald Reagan were well below what’s considered dangerous.
And for now, at least, that’s all the sailors have to go on — what the Defense Department is telling them.
‘She struggles with ‘dad’s going to die’ kind of thing’
“Drawing a cause and effect for individuals is exceedingly difficult,” said Johns Hopkins University Prof. Wayne Biddle.
Furthermore, say radiation exposure experts, even if there is a connection, it will be difficult to prove.
“They’re suffering. Clearly these individuals are suffering but they have no way of showing necessarily that their symptoms are related to that instance of radiation exposure,” Biddle said.
Adds Simmons: “The hardest part is the family because we have three children. Our oldest daughter struggles with ‘Dad’s going to die’ kind of thing.”
Congress has finally gotten into the act. Lawmakers are asking the Pentagon for more information regarding medical conditions of Reagan crew members and what is being done to assist them.