Thursday, January 12, 2017

Irradiated Sailors and the USS Ronald Reagan's Operation Tomodachi

A friend sent a link to a recent update on US sailors' efforts to bring attention to their radiation exposure while serving on the USS Ronald Reagan while it was responding to the earthquake and tsunami damage. The sailors have an unexpected ally in a former prime minister:
MOTOKO RICH. January 2, 2017. Ex-Leader of Japan Turns Nuclear Foe. The Asahi Shimbun (originally published in New York Times)

TOKYO--William Zeller, a petty officer second class in the U.S. Navy, was one of hundreds of sailors who rushed to provide assistance to Japan after a giant earthquake and tsunami set off a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Not long after returning home, he began to feel sick.

Today, he has nerve damage and abnormal bone growths, and blames exposure to radiation during the humanitarian operation conducted by crew members of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Neither his doctors nor the U.S. government has endorsed his claim or those of about 400 other sailors who attribute ailments including leukemia and thyroid disease to Fukushima and are suing Tokyo Electric, the operator of the plant.

But one prominent figure is supporting the U.S. sailors: Junichiro Koizumi, former prime minister of Japan.
In 2013 while attending Helen Caldicott's symposium on the Medical and Environmental Effects of Fukushima (here), I listened to a sailor describing his experience with radiation exposure on the Reagan. He was told he had the highest exposure on the ship because he raised and lowered the flags, which blew in the wind. He was required to scrub skin off of his hands using a special solvent once the ship's medical authorities discovered how contaminated they had become. When I saw him in 2013 he had tumors that were visible on his face

I blogged briefly on his comments back then, in March 2013:
Press Conference with Navy Sailors

I'll have to post more on this later but the narratives provided by the sailors is sickening.

Case in point. The officers and pilots all received potassium iodide pills to prevent uptake of radioiodine but NONE of the enlisted people did.

One of the sailors stated his "body is falling apart" and he provided specific examples, I'll post on later.

The sailors were all required to sign a disclaimer saying they were healthy and would not hold the Navy responsible for any radiation exposure.

The sailor most impacted has discovered that all of his medical records are Missing, post- boot camp.
I think about him and wonder how he is doing.

In 2016, Al Jazeera published a distressing account of the plight of many of the exposed sailors:
USS Ronald Reagan sailors report cancers after Fukushima rescue mission. Al Jazeera, Fifty-one crew members of the USS Ronald Reagan say they are suffering from a variety of cancers as a direct result of their involvement in Operation Tomodachi, a U.S. rescue mission in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in March 2011. The affected sailors are suing Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), alleging that the utility mishandled the crisis and did not adequately warn the crew of the risk of participating in the earthquake relief efforts.

Crew members, many of whom are in their 20s, have been diagnosed with conditions including thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and leukemia. The Department of Defense says the Navy took "proactive measures" in order to "mitigate the levels of Fukushima-related contamination on U.S. Navy ships and aircraft” and that crew members were not exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

Charles Bonner, attorney for the sailors, says the radiation the USS Ronald Reagan crew was exposed to extended beyond the tasks of Operation Tomodachi. Deployed ships desalinate their own water, so crew members were unknowingly drinking, cooking with, and bathing in contaminated water due to the ship's close proximity to the disaster site, according to Bonner. The USS Reagan was ultimately informed of the contamination after a month of living approximately 10 miles offshore from the affected region.
It is saddening to hear these accounts, and to see them flatly contradicted by official authorities.

Nuclear risks are probably considered national security matters because if the public really understood the full extent of biological hazards, they would demand de-nuclearization.

Meanwhile, the USS Reagan appears to be back in service in Japan, although still troubled:

Sailor dies aboard USS Ronald Reagan after brief illness. STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 12, 2016

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A sailor died aboard the USS Ronald Reagan on Monday after getting sick, Navy officials said. Seaman Danyelle Luckey, a personnel specialist on the Yokosuka-based aircraft carrier, died suddenly after a brief illness, Task Force 70 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Kakiel said in an email to Stars and Stripes. The cause of death is under investigation

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