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Lawmakers seek data on sailors' exposure to Fukushima radiation

Jan. 14, 2014 - 02:31PM   |  
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House and Senate lawmakers want answers on whether U.S. sailors received high doses of radiation while supporting humanitarian operations in Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In the fiscal 2014 omnibus budget bill, lawmakers direct Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson to provide Congress a full accounting of those who served on the carrier Ronald Reagan during the operation and any medical problems they later developed.

A group of sailors has filed suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., alleging they suffered health issues as a result of exposure to radiation leaked from the company-owned Fukushima nuclear power plant when it had a meltdown after the earthquake and subsequent tidal wave.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, has 71 plaintiffs with ailments ranging from leukemia and thyroid problems to eye diseases and polyps.

The Pentagon has released data on the levels of radiation seen during and after the disasters and established a registry for 70,000 troops and family members who worked or lived near the affected region to monitor their health.

Officials have said that the Fukushima leaks were not a threat to health. They have said that, at least for the ground troops who served in the operation, the radiation doses they received were three times lower than those absorbed by an airline flight crew during a typical cross-country trip.

According to the Navy, the worst-case radiation exposure for Ronald Reagan crew members was less than a quarter of the annual radiation received from background exposure such as from rocks, sun and soil, of the average individual living in the U.S.

But Congress wants the Defense Department to provide answers nonetheless. Lawmakers requested not only an inventory of any adverse medical conditions experienced by Ronald Reagan sailors, they want a detailed account of actions taken by the service to prevent radiation exposure, minimize it or treat it among affected personnel.

The lawsuit alleges that TEPCO officials knew the seriousness of the radiation leak but did nothing to warn the U.S. of the danger.

In November, a judge granted TEPCO’s motion to dismiss the case but attorneys for the plaintiffs said they will drop some of the allegations to continue the suit.

If the omnibus bill becomes law, the report is due to Congress by April 15.

Staff writer Meghann Myers contributed to this report.

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