US Sailors Speak Out and Sue Over Contamination During Fukushima Duty
By John LaForge
U.S. Navy navigator Maurice Enis wasn’t told that there was a cloud of radiation engulfing his aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan when he was ordered to retrieve its U.S. flag. The stars-and-bars were to be a gift to the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima, site of the Great Northeast Japan Earthquake of March 2011. The USS Reagan had been sent to the scene for rescue and evacuation work (as many as 20,000 people died or disappeared in the quake), and the carrier spent two months moving in and around plumes of highly-contaminated wind and seawater spewing from three reactor meltdowns that occurred simultaneously with a waste-uranium fuel pool fire.
Enis stepped out on top of the giant carrier and into a howling wind that wrapped the radiation-contaminated rag around him like a shroud. The fog-clouded wind was so contaminated that when Enis came back inside he set off alarms and was rushed to decontamination.
This March 11, the second anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe, I attended the New York City press conference by Enis and his partner, Jaime Plym, both of whom were contaminated by their duties onboard the Reagan. Plym and Enis have joined 108 other Navy veterans in suing the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the Japanese utility responsible for the radiation disaster.
Two years since Fukushima’s triple meltdowns:
Four of six reactors at Fukushima-Daiichi were wrecked by the 2011 quake. All the site’s electronics, radiation monitors and emergency backup systems were disabled by the Richter 8.4 – 9.0 quake. Forty-five minutes later, a tsunami overtopped the compound’s inadequate tidal wall and flooded the site under 12 feet of water. Having been placed in the basement by geniuses from General Electric, all the reactors’ backup diesel generators were destroyed.
Fukushima’s reactor operators were literally in the dark as the uranium fuel rods began overheating and melting. Cooling was halted because of massive leaks from smashed pipes and cracked reactor vessels, and because no electricity was available to power circulation pumps. Fuel in three reactors eventually melted through steel vessels, through so-called “containment” structures, and caused massive radiation releases — to the atmosphere and to the sea. While greatly reduced, these releases continue to this day, and thousands of tons of contaminated water now in storage will have to be dumped into the sea.
Unfortunately for the 5,500-plus crew of the USS Reagan, the carrier was sent into the plumes of cesium-137, iodine-131, xenon, krypton and other dangerous isotopes spewing from the smashed reactors and waste pools. The Navy told crew members that their external radiation doses were too low to warrant concern. After returning home, they were all obliged to sign waivers swearing that they were not sick and freeing the Navy of liability for radiation damages that may appear later.
Sailors describe their treatment by Navy:
At the press conference, Enis and Plum explained the Navy’s cynical treatment of them and the devastating health effects of their contamination. Enis said the skin on his hands was scrubbed by the decontamination team and that the team kept scouring his naked body again and again until the radiation monitors fell silent.
“Two months later, a lump appeared between my eyes and another on my thigh,” Enis said. He suffers fatigue, weight loss, stomach ulcers and hair loss — all symptoms of radiation exposure. Ms. Plym is suffering “dysfunctional urinary bleeding,” as well as bronchitis and asthma.
Enis said the officers onboard the Reagan were issued potassium iodide tables to protect their thyroid glands from the radioactive iodine-131 spewing from the burning reactors. Yet enlisted sailors — the ones outside scrubbing contamination off the decks — got no PI tabs whatsoever. “We were told our exposure was the same as standing next to someone smoking a cigarette,” Enis explained.
“As navigators, we were aware sooner than others that the ship was in a plume of radiation,” Enis said. “And we were told not to tell the rest of the crew about our exposures.”
Plym reminded the press, “Helicopters flying aid supplies to Fukushima were contaminated. So the Air Department people had to scrub ‘copters with brooms and mops.” When the ‘copters lift off, she said, “they need winds so they can move away from the deck, which increased our exposures. Yet there were no tests of our blood or urine.”
Health care coverage sought:
The sailors’ law suit accuses Tepco of deliberately and criminally issuing disinformation during and after the crisis. The company appears to have issued fraudulent under-estimates of the volume of radiation its burning reactors dispersed. Tepco has been sued by thousands of Japanese residents as well. Ever-growing estimated amounts of spewed cesium-137 and iodine-131, etc. continue to be made official. But neither Tepco, the Japanese government, the U.S., nor the Navy have estimated the amount of radioactive xenon and krypton gases that escaped — other than to say “all of them.” These gases engulfed the Reagan when it arrived off Fukushima March 12, 2011, and they were inhaled by untold numbers of U.S. sailors.
The 110 that are suing Tepco want reimbursement of their medical expenses. Since they left the Navy they have lost their coverage, and they can’t yet prove their illnesses are service related. How could they, when the Navy says their exposures were no worse than second hand smoke?
Enis and Plym were asked if they felt betrayed by their officers who took potassium-iodide but didn’t share it. Plym just said, “We are brainwashed to trust the Navy.”
— John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, edits the Nukewatch quarterly newsletter.