(NaturalNews) The first death has occurred among US Navy sailors who were exposed to radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, news outlets reported on June 11.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northern Japan. At the time, the Navy vessel USS Ronald Reagan was on maneuvers off the Korean Peninsula. The Reagan is considered one of the newest and most technically sophisticated nuclear-powered supercarriers in the entire naval fleet.
Sailors exposed to radiation for days
When the disasters hit, the Reagan was redirected for Japan to provide emergency aid.
"[B]efore the USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group 7 arrived 2 miles off the coast, Fukushima Unit 1 blew up," reads a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the radiation-exposed sailors. "Then Unit 3 exploded, releasing plumes of hydrogen gases migrating through a shared vent, which destroyed the containment building at Unit 4, exposing the spent fuel pool to the air. Unit 2 followed suit."
Sailors who were on the flight deck at the time reported that they felt a warm gust of air followed abruptly by a snowstorm - the result of radioactive steam escaping from the plant. Yet the ship was not ordered to change its position for another two days, after "three helicopter aircrews returning to USS Ronald Reagan after conducting disaster relief missions near Sendai identified [measurable] levels of radioactivity on 17 air crew members," the lawsuit reads.
Within just three years, dozens of the sailors who were on board the Reagan that day developed cancer, and one gave birth to a child with birth defects. All of them, the lawsuit says, "must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering which could have and should have been avoided."
The first of the sailors to die was former aviation mechanic Theodore Holcomb, a 38-year-old father of one and, until his death, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi plant. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as synovial sarcoma in the area of his heart and lungs in late 2011. He died on April 26, 2014.
Lawsuit seeks to determine blame
More than 70 sailors from the Reagan have filed a lawsuit in US District Court, alleging that TEPCO deliberately withheld the information that Fukushima Daiichi was in full meltdown.
"I think TEPCO lied to the world, and our government sent these people in there on a humanitarian mission without consideration of whether or not they were sending these people into a zone where they had a nuclear explosion," attorney Paul Garner said.
Yet questions have also been raised about the US military's role in deliberately exposing the sailors to dangerous radiation levels.
"It is wholly implausible - absent some additional facts that the [complaint] does not [and cannot] allege - to posit that military commanders in charge of thousands of personnel and armed with some of the world's most sophisticated equipment, relied instead only on the press releases and public statements of a foreign electric utility company," TEPCO said in response to the suit.
Some of the plaintiffs agree that the US military is partly to blame. Lt. Steve Simmons, who lost the use of his leg muscles within months of the Fukushima disaster, questions the Defense Department's assertion that the amount of radiation he was exposed to fell within safe levels.
"How do you take a ship and place it into a nuclear plume for five plus hours, how do you suck up nuclear contaminated waste into the water filtration system and think for one minute that there's no health risk to anybody on board?" he said.