More U.S. military join lawsuit over Fukushima exposure

Story highlights

Lawsuit over radiation exposure to crew of USS Ronald Reagan expands

Lawyers say number of plaintiffs rises to 26 from initial 8

Amended suit now seeks more than $2 billion in damages

Crew members claim they suffered health problems after aid mission to Fukushima

CNN  — 

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) faces mounting damages from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster as more U.S. servicemembers joined a lawsuit accusing the Japanese national utility of lying about the risks involved in an aid effort to the stricken area in 2011.

Attorneys said the number of plaintiffs had grown to 26 from an initial eight, who filed their original lawsuit in December, and that 100 more were ready to join the lawsuit which is now seeking more than $2 billion, the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported late last week.

READ: TEPCO accused of lying over Fukushima

TEPCO confirmed that more plaintiffs had been added to the court petition filed with the U.S. District Court in California in December but did not give details.

“We would refrain from responding to the matter in relation to the contents of the detailed procedure of the lawsuit. In any case, we would like to properly cope with this lawsuit, following U.S. legal proceedings,” the company said in a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange obtained Monday.

The amended lawsuit increases the amount of damages lawyers are seeking for crew aboard the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and other service vessels in the area who say they are suffering continuing health problems from the rescue effort that followed the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, crippling reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Lawyers will still sue TEPCO for $40 million in compensation and punitive damages for each crew member but have increased the demand of $100 million for ongoing health monitoring and medical expenses to $1 billion, Stars and Stripes reported.

“At all relevant times, the defendant knew that the reactors and storage tanks at the [Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant] were then leaking and emitting high levels of radiation,” the report said, citing the complaint.

It claims TEPCO knew the U.S. Navy would send the USS Ronald Reagan and other vessels to help, relying on what the utility was saying about the risks, adding: “At all relevant times herein, the defendant failed to warn the plaintiffs, the U.S. Navy and public officials of the properties and actual levels of radiation detected at the [plant] at that time.”

The plaintiffs say they are suffering a range of disorders related to radiation exposure, from headaches and difficulty concentrating to rectal bleeding, thyroid problems, cancer and gynecological bleeding.

“At all times relevant herein, the Japanese government kept representing that there was no danger of radiation contamination to the USS Reagan (CVN-76) and/or its crew, that ‘everything is under control,’ ‘all is OK, you can trust us,’ and there is ‘no immediate danger’ or threat to human life, all the while lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdowns at FNPP,” lawyers stated in the complaint.

The Navy “was lulled into a false sense of security” because it relied on TEPCO’s “misrepresentations regarding health and safety,” it continued.

The suit also accuses TEPCO of failing to conduct adequate testing, designing a defective product, conducting deceptive business acts and practices, acting as a public nuisance and as a private nuisance and fraud.

“The Plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering which could have and should have been avoided,” lawyers said.

Last October, TEPCO acknowledged that it had played down safety risks at the facility out of fear that they would lead to a plant shutdown.

The company said in a report that “severe accident measures” were taken in 2002, which included “containment venting and power supply cross-ties between units,” but additional measures were never put in place.

Part of the reason, the report said, was a concern that implementing the new safety measures “could spread concern in the sitting community that there is a problem with the safety of current plants.”

TEPCO added that taking such measures could also have added to “public anxiety and add momentum to anti-nuclear movements.”

CNN’s Junko Ogura, Tom Watkins and Lateef Mungin contributed to this report.