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INTERNATIONAL > U.S.

Former service members suffer from radioactive exposure from Operation Tomodachi

  • April 27, 2016
  • , Tokyo Shimbun , p. 24
  • Translation

Amy Tsujimoto is a Japanese-American journalist who closely follows the story of former service members exposed to radiation at the time of Fukushima nuclear accident including those on board the “Ronald Reagan.” She herself is a second-generation hibakusha [child of a parent who survived an atomic bombing]. “They are nameless service members who did their very best to help Japan in a crisis. Several of them have already died. I want people to know their predicament.”

 

When the “Ronald Reagan” and six other ships from the Seventh Fleet rushed to Tohoku to rescue survivors of the tsunami, they were not informed of the large-scale leakage of radioactive material.

 

They filed a suit at the San Diego Federal district court in December 2012 for compensation for exposure to radioactive materials during their mission in Fukushima. Many of the service members now suffer from illnesses including leukemia and bone cancer. So far, five have died from disease and one lost their 18-month-old infant son who was born after the service member’s return. The number of plaintiffs has increased from the original 8 to 387.

 

TEPCO has responded by saying, “There is no clear link between the Fukushima accident and damage to health.” The utility has requested the trial be moved to Japan.

 

Tsujimoto remonstrates that exposure to radiation often causes leukemia and bone cancer, and judging from the high level of radiation indicated in video and other documents, the linkage is clear. “These people worked hard to save the Japanese victims. That their voices are not heard now violates the spirit of Operation Tomodachi. Many had to leave the military to deal with their illnesses. The very idea, proposed by TEPCO, to move the trial to Japan is inhumane and cold.

 

Tsujimoto is a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose mother was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945. Her mother did not talk about the experience. But there was a period in Tsujimoto’s early childhood when she was bedridden with cysts and an illness affecting her eyes and ears. She is convinced her illness was caused by her mother’s exposure to radiation. As a journalist, she has been warning against the danger of nuclear power plants and following the issue of radiation exposure, especially its effects on young people’s health.

 

After the Fukushima accident, she has been active in protecting Fukushima’s children from exposure to radiation through lectures in Japan. “Exposure to radiation destroys a person’s genes and cells, causing health damage. We need appropriate and effective healthcare for young people so that they do not lose the opportunity to achieve things in society because of health issues.”

 

It has been five years since the Fukushima accident. Tsujimoto says: “I hope that by becoming aware of the former service members’ suffering the Japanese people will achieve a renewed understanding of the disaster in Fukushima. I intend to convey the danger of radiation to children as long as I live.”

 

Although the hearing has not started due to TEPCO’s refusal to participate, she stresses the importance of having the trial in the U.S.

 

“In the US, we have a system called ‘discovery.’ Under this system TEPCO must disclose ‘when, where, and to whom the reports were made’ about movements of radioactive materials at the time of the accident. This disclosure means a lot not only for the affected service members, but also for the people of Fukushima. It will help those who might have been exposed to prove the linkage between the nuclear accident and their health issues.” (Abridged)

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