Local Sailors Sue Japanese Utility Over Radiation

Saturday, Dec 29, 2012  |  Updated 2:33 PM PDT
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Eight U.S. sailors are suing a Tokyo utility, claiming the company lied about the high level of radiation in an area where the sailors were carrying out a humanitarian mission. NBC 7 s Lea Sutton speaks with local sailors Lindsay Cooper and Kim Gieseking, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Eight U.S. sailors are suing a Tokyo utility, claiming the company lied about the high level of radiation in an area where the sailors were carrying out a humanitarian mission. NBC 7 s Lea Sutton speaks with local sailors Lindsay Cooper and Kim Gieseking, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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Eight U.S. sailors are suing the Tokyo utility that operates the Fukushima nuclear power plant, charging that the company lied about the high level of radiation in the area where they were carrying out a humanitarian mission after the tsunami that triggered the reactor crisis.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego last week against Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is owned by the Japanese government. Plaintiffs include the infant daughter of two of the sailors who was born seven months after the March 2011 disaster.

The sailors served on the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which was carrying out "Operation Tomadachi" ferrying food and water to citizens in the city of Sendai in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.

The sailors claim the Japanese government repeatedly said there was no danger to the carrier crew "all the while lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdowns" so rescuers would "rush into an unsafe area."

The U.S. Navy, the suit said, relied on information from the Japanese government, which only belatedly admitted that radiation had leaked into the atmosphere from the damaged power plant.

An email seeking response from the utility's corporate office in Tokyo was not immediately returned.

The 37-page suit, which cites numerous reports about the Fukushima crisis and response, said that after discovering the truth of how much radiation they were exposed to, the sailors have undergone extensive medical testing and will be required to undergo periodic examination in the future.

They say they are at risk for developing cancer and a shorter life expectancy, and are undergoing considerable mental anguish as a result.

The sailors are suing for more than $200 million in damages. Each sailor is suing for more than $10 million a piece.

Two of the sailors met with their attorney in Encinitas Friday.

Lead plaintiff Lindsay Cooper told NBC 7 she became sick after serving in Japan aboard USS Ronald Reagan.

Cooper says breast cancer runs high in her family and she now believes she has a greater risk of developing cancer herself due to radiation exposure.

She's also been experiencing digestive issues, which are commonly linked to radiation exposure, weight control and thyroid issues and migraines. Cooper says she suffers emotionally too from her time aboard USS Ronald Reagan.

“Digestive issues have been coming up. It’s frustrating,” said Cooper.

Local Kim Gieseking is also one of the plantiffs involved in the lawsuit. She told NBC 7 she's had several health issues stemming from her time serving on USS Reagan's flight deck.

Gieseking was unknowingly pregnant with her daughter, Autumn, while carrying out Operation Tomadachi. The infant is the ninth plaintiff in the lawsuit. Gieseking worries Autumn may develop health issues in the future due to radiation exposure.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. has not yet issued a statement in response to the lawsuit. NBC 7 reached out to the company for comment, but the company has not yet responded.

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