Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi spent three days in San Diego hearing from sick U.S. Navy sailors. Many of them served on USS Ronald Reagan.
The sailors participated in Operation Tomodachi five years ago, providing aid to Japan after its earthquake and tsunami.
A magnitude 9.0-earthquake struck off Japan's shore on March 11, 2011 and triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people. The ocean flooded the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant leading to a loss of the plant's cooling systems. Several explosions releasedn radiation into the atmosphere.
Many of the sailors say doctors refused to connect their illnesses with the radiation exposure.
“You have to experience it,” said William Zeller. “You have to experience the doctor telling you to your face. You have to experience the years of pain when everyone tells you ‘You know you’re fine.’”
More than 400 sailors, including the 10 who met Koizumi in Carlsbad, are involved in a lawsuit trying to reconcile the service members’ illnesses and the radiation exposure. Amidst politics and lawsuits, the sailors called Koizumi’s visit an incredible act of kindness.
“To see [our issue] move forward and to have the honor and privilege of such an esteemed individual show us concern, that may not have provided financial help, but it provided emotional support moving forward,” said Zeller.
Through a translator, Koizumi shared his thoughts.
“I realize this is not something that can be just skipped over and can’t be ignored any longer,” he said.
“Everyone played a role in not shedding more light on this problem. I recognize I bear some responsibility because I simply went along with expert opinion when I was Prime Minister,” Koizumi said.
Throughout his term as Prime Minister, Koizumi was a proponent of nuclear power. However, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, he was one of the first to change his stance to an anti-nuclear position.
He ended Tuesday’s meeting with, “There’s a very famous proverb in Japan that says ‘Once you’ve recognized your own mistake you must act quickly. Don’t mess around anymore. Do it. Do something and that’s what I’m trying to do. Don’t wait to rectify your mistake.”
The sailors’ attorney said they have won their case against Tokyo Electric Power Company twice, however the company has appealed the judge’s decisions. It is still unclear how exactly the sailors will be compensated, but that is something Koizumi said he is actively working on.
The Department of Defense has established a registry that includes nearly 75,000 government-affiliated people who were on or near Japan between March 12 and May 11.
The Operation Tomodachi Registry includes a map that shows the estimated doses of radiation possible at specific installations and bases.