Weeks after a judge dismissed the case, an attorney for U.S. sailors exposed to radiation after the 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan said he intends to refile the lawsuit.
Charles Bonner, who represents 51 sailors who served aboard the USS Ronald Reagan during disaster relief operations after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, said he plans to amend and refile the complaint against Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, in part to include another 25 to 50 service members.
The utility's Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant was crippled by the storm and became the site of the world's worst nuclear meltdown in decades. Like the previous version, the new complaint will allege the company knowingly withheld information from the U.S. military about the risk posed by radioactive material that contaminated the area and poisoned American sailors who responded with emergency aid.
"They lied to the public," Bonner said in a telephone interview. "They lied to the U.S. military about the leak that was going on. They didn't tell the U.S. military that they were in full meltdown mode."
Janis Sammartino, a federal judge in San Diego, last month filed a motion to dismiss the case. She argued that she didn't have the authority to conclude whether the government of Japan collaborated with the utility to commit fraud against the U.S. But she left open the possibility of another lawsuit.
Bonner, of the Sausalito, Calif.-based law firm, Bonner & Bonner, said the amended complaint will only be against Tepco. The filing was expected in coming weeks.
A spokesman for Tokyo-based utility didn't immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.
The suit, Cooper et al v. Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. et al, was initially filed last year in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego. The lead plaintiff, Lindsay Cooper, now 24, is a California resident and worked as an aviation boatswain's mate on the flight deck of the Reagan, which had a crew of about 5,500 sailors at the time of the incident, according to the complaint.
Three or four crew members aboard the Reagan have contacted Bonner about joining the case because they've since been diagnosed with various medical problems such as leukemia and testicular cancer, he said. His firm is also considering filing a separate suit involving contractors who were harmed in the incident, he said.
The crew members aboard the aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Reagan Strike Group, a formation of ships operating within the Navy's 7th Fleet area of responsibility, responded to the disaster in a mission known as Operation Tomadachi, the Japanese word for "friend," according to a copy of the complaint.
While ferrying food and water to the residents of Sendai, the nearest major city to the earthquake on the Fukushima prefecture, the sailors "were repeatedly exposed to ionizing radiation," a carcinogen linked to numerous health problems, the document states.
The Navy relocated the ship two days later after finding trace levels of contamination in the vicinity and on more than a dozen crew members. But ship remained in the area for almost a month to provide relief.
An official Navy photograph from March 23, 2011, shows sailors using brooms to wash down the ship's flight deck "to remove potential radiation contamination," according to the caption.
During the mission, Tepco and Japanese government officials claimed there was no danger of radiation to the Reagan or other ships in the fleet, according to the complaint. "They asserted that ‘Everything is under control,' ‘all is OK, you can trust us,' and there is ‘no immediate danger' or threat to human life, all while lying unashamedly about the reactor meltdowns," it states.
The sailors asked for the creation of a $1 billion fund to pay for their medical exams, monitoring and treatments, as well as reimbursement of lost wages and punitive damages, among other relief.