Thursday, December 27, 2012

BBC: TEPCO Sued by Eight US Soldiers Over Radiation Disclosure

The soldiers were part of the Operation Tomodachi, which was such a tremendous help to the people in the disaster-affected areas in Tohoku in the early days of the earthquake/tsunami disaster in March last year. Unfortunately, the disaster also involved the nuclear accident, but at that time hardly anything about radiation exposure for the US soldiers, or SDF soldiers, or Japanese and international volunteers, were even mentioned in the news.

Asahi Shinbun reports that these soldiers were on board USS Ronald Reagan.

See, people in Japan, this is how much you should also sue TEPCO for - demanding US$10 million each (860 million yen), plus punitive damage of US$30 million. Add one or two zeros on your claim form.

The problem of course is that that money, or any money being demanded out of TEPCO, will eventually come from Japanese taxpayers' pockets, now and in the future. TEPCO is owned by the national government.

USS Ronald Reagan was in the Korean Peninsula region when the March 11, 2011 disaster struck. The carrier was diverted to Japan, and was used as a floating base off the coast of Sendai, Miyagi. From Wiki entry:

The ship departed for an Asian deployment on 2 February 2011. On 11 March 2011, Reagan was in the Korean peninsula region for a long-planned exercise off Korea, but was redirected towards Japan to provide support after the massive 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The ship, stationed off Sendai, was used as a floating refueling station for Japanese military and coast guard helicopters flying relief missions in the area.[28] US Navy helicopters also flew relief missions from the carrier. On 14 March 2011, the ship was forced to relocate to avoid a radioactive plume from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents which had contaminated 17 crewmembers of three helicopter crews.[29][dead link] On 23 March, the Reagan's crew conducted a radiation decontamination operation to remove any further radiation hazards from the ship, which included scrubbing down any surface that could have been contaminated, including the flight deck and aircraft.[30]

The report on March 14, 2011 about the ship relocating is here. It says the 17 helicopter crews were exposed to one month worth of background radiation, and they were on a relief mission to Sendai, Miyagi.

From BBC (12/27/2012; emphasis is mine):

Japan's Tepco sued by US sailors over radiation

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), owner of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has been sued by eight US sailors over radiation exposure.

They claim that Tepco lied about the threat posed by the leaks after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant.

The soldiers were involved in relief operations after the natural disasters.

They have each sought $10m (£6m) in compensatory damages and $30m in punitive damages from Tepco.

The soldiers, who have filed the case in a US Federal Court in San Diego, also want Tepco to set up a $100m fund to pay for their medical expenses.

They have claimed that the utility provider created an impression that the level of radiation leaks from the nuclear plant did not pose any threat.

As a result, the sailors say they went to areas that were unsafe and were exposed to radiation.

When contacted by the BBC, Tepco acknowledged that it has been sued, but said that it had not received the actual complaint and so was not in a position to comment.

The lawsuit is the latest setback for Tepco which is already facing billions of dollars in compensation claims.

The radiation leaks resulted in thousands of people and businesses being evacuated from the areas surrounding the plant.

On Thursday, the firm said that it now expects the compensation costs to total at 3.24 trillion yen ($38bn; £23bn), up 697 billion yen from its earlier projection.

The firm has already received nearly 1tn yen in government aid.

The utility was, in effect, nationalised after the government took a 50.11% stake in the group in exchange for the capital injection.

In September this year, the US Department of Defense set up a special registry for the participants of the Operation Tomodachi.


Anonymous said...

"The problem of course is that that money, or any money being demanded out of TEPCO, will eventually come from Japanese taxpayers' pockets, now and in the future. TEPCO is owned by the national government."

This is no PROBLEM at all. The Japanese government has demonstrated that they have not learned the lessons of Fukushima, and have not permanently sworn off nuclear power. The only way they will learn is if they are made to pay for the externalities of this technology. More people should be suing, and if it sinks Japan, so be it.

It might be possible to forgive the Japanese government and even TEPCO for their actions if they demonstrated contrition, but this has not been the case. Instead they insist on spreading radioactive debris and products across Japan while at the same time restarting idle reactors. No. Law suits seem to be the only way to get them to understand that the costs of nuclear power outweigh the benefits.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Well, the sad thing is that the government won't be punished, but the Japanese citizens will be, including those who have been vehemently opposing nuclear plants. And the foreign residents in Japan who will pay tax without representation.

Anonymous said...

In the filing it claims sailors washing and scrubbing down the USS Reagan decks were using contaminated seawater, contaminated already with Fukushima fallout.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the general public is perceiving this as nothing more than a money grab. Anything short of an undeniable catastrophe fails to shake up the sheep, huh...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how a US court would have jurisdiction. The incident happened in Japan, the seat of TEPCO is in Japan.

But let's assume the court has jurisdiction, claiming compensatory and punitive damages doesn't seem to make sense, assuming that so far no actual damages have occurred in terms of health effects.

And even assuming there were medical expenses for check-ups or whatever, they would have been provided by the US government for those soldiers.

Somehow to me this all doesn't make a lot of sense. It is not helping either that the US is infamous for excessive lawsuits and monetary rewards. Third degree burns from hot coffee that you just ordered and placed negligently in an inappropriate place on your body already get you 3 Million dollars (Liebeck v. McDonalds).

While I firmly believe that TEPCO should be held accountable for any and all damage and suffering they have caused, I see neither a justification for this lawsuit, nor for the claimed amounts - at least not with the limited information here provided.

Anonymous said...

I don't see this lawsuit going anywhere the soldiers are going to have a hard time proving damages especially over a months worth of "background" exposure. I'm sure the exposure rate was much higher than the official numbers indicate but that is going to be next to impossible to prove in court. In addition, the sailors claim that TEPCO lied but that doesn't matter their commanding officers knew exactly what they were sending their men into the Reagan was diverted to assist a country with an ongoing nuclear accident not a cherry blossom festival.

The sailors claim the utility company, "a wholly owned public benefit subsidiary of the government of Japan," misrepresented radiation levels to lull the U.S. Navy "into a false sense of security."

This isn't going to fly in court the US navy has the ability to detect and categorize radiation contamination if their people were over exposed it was done with their commanders full knowledge. Since the Japanese were depending on the American's Global Hawk system to map contamination levels it's kind of hard to say the Japanese knew anything. If this lawsuit is valid then soldier should be able to sue the Iraqi government for lying about WMD's. According to this NYTimes article the entire world was in the dark about radiation releases.

"the episodes showed that the prevailing winds were picking up radioactive material from crippled reactors in northeastern Japan. Ever since an earthquake struck Japan on Friday, the authorities worldwide have been laying plans to map where radioactive plumes might blow and determine what, if any, danger they could pose to people."

In addition since TEPCO is owned by the government the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act might block any court action. (you can't sue a sovereign nation unless they allow you to).

Anonymous said...

It won't go anywhwere if the BBC have their way.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope the Japanese don't know how to use the Internet or they'll find stuff like this that will take the wind out of the plaintiff's sails. Below is the Captain of the Reagan's Facebook page dated March 13, 2011 he is pretty clear about the safety of the crew and the "extensive technical expertise onboard to properly monitor such types of risks, and if necessary, rapidly resolve the situation". The Captain even says, "we have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that everyone is safe". This is going to make it pretty hard for the sailors to prove any damages. No damages, no payout. Note the Captain even acknowledges that they were operating near the radioactive plume he says nothing about being surprised by TEPCO's lies.

"Friends and Family of USS Ronald Reagan:

I want to take this opportunity to personally assure you that first and foremost all personnel aboard the USS Ronald Reagan are safe and healthy.

During our mission to assist our close allies of Japan, we were operating near the radioactive plume from Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant. As you may have already heard, radioactivity was detected on 17 personnel from our ship, however, we promptly took the proper precautions and the radioactivity was easily removed by using soap and water. The levels that were detected were very low levels. To put this into perspective, the maximum radiation dose received was equal to the amount of natural background radiation one would receive in one month from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun.

Ronald Reagan has since repositioned away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

As a nuclear-powered aircraft carrrier, we have extensive technical expertise onboard to properly monitor such types of risks, and if necessary, rapidly resolve the situation.

We have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that everyone is safe. We have closely monitored spaces, evaluated everyone who has flown or worked on the flight deck and cleaned the aircraft.

I have not seen any levels of radiation or contamination that would cause me to have any significant concerns at all.

As we continue to assist Japan in this terrible catastrophe, our Sailor's--and your loves ones'-- safety will remain at the top of my priority list.

Capt. Thom Burke"

As for proving TEPCO lied good luck with that I'm sure TEPCO will claim their best radiation detection devices could only read 100mSv/hr and one man's lie is another man's "We couldn't panic the public". I think the sailors lawyer's realize their case is weak but the bad PR could force an out of court settlement. The Japanese government is going to have a hard time explaining why a handful of people that were barely exposed for a few days are lavishly compensated while the general public is told to sit and spin in contamination. With that in mind I can see a quick and quiet settlement behind closed doors.

VyseLegendaire said...

This is a frivolous lawsuit. 100m dollar fund to do what? Pay for your zeolite water filter and once yearly toothaches? Typical American-style extreme self-centeredness, go spend time actively fighting against nuclear instead.

Anonymous said...

Actually $10M per person is not unreasonable - even if you consider only the emotional and mental anguish caused by the lifetime of worry TEPCO and the Japanese government have inflicted on so many people. They had better hope I don't get called for that jury. In the US punative damages can also be very high, as they are intended to cause enough pain on the perpetrators that they will not likely repeat their crimes in the future. And of course the lawyers will get a big piece of it.

Would have been much better if TEPCO and Japan government had simply acknowledged that not creating a panic also has a cost, and that TEPCO and Japan government would have to pay that cost. Instead the current compensation program is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Uh... sailors on nuke aircraft carrier claiming they were totally in the dark? Sure.

Anonymous said...

They may have panicked and leapt overboard,probably it would have been better if they had leapt overboard,all of them.

An enduring mystery of a ghost ship such as the Philadelphia Experiment has to be better than the tangled web of deception and payoffs.

VyseLegendaire said...

I slightly rescind my pervious comment. If you are able to bankrupt the nuclear company, and therefore show how expensive nuclear externalities really are, then I suppose that is a strong anti-nuclear move.

Anonymous said...

Vyse, they're financially already in pathetic shape, and so far it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference. As long as a government can and does back up the industry with our taxpayer money, there's not much incentive to change. We taxpayers are paying ourselves the compensatory and punitive damages.

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