(File Photo 2011) Sailors scrubbed the external surfaces on the flight deck and island superstructure to remove potential radiation contamination. USS Ronald Reagan is operating off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi. A 9.0 magnitude strong earthquake struck offshore on March 11 at 2:46pm local time, triggering a tsunami wave of up to ten meters which engulfed large parts of north-eastern Japan, and also damaging the Fukushima nuclear plant and threatening a nuclear catastrophe. The death toll continues to rise with numbers of dead and missing exceeding 20,000 in a tragedy not seen since World War II in Japan.
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 $100 million in damages.
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.
“Digestive issues have been coming up. It’s frustrating,” said Cooper.