SAN DIEGO, California, January 3, 2014 (ENS) – Seventy-one U.S. Navy sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan are filing suit against the Japanese utility Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, after they were allegedly exposed to radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant when they arrived in Japan with aid.

On March 11, 2011, a severe earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and emergency generators at the TEPCO nuclear plant on Japan’s Pacific coast, leaving the power plant’s nuclear fuel without cooling water. The radioactive fuel rods melted down, releasing high levels of radioactive substances into air, ocean and on land.

USS Ronald Reagan

U.S. sailors swab the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in an attempt to remove radioactive contamination (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

The sailors’ lawsuit alleges that TEPCO officials knew how serious the radiation leak was and knew that American troops were heading to Japan to offer relief, but did nothing to warn them of what they were sailing into. The American relief effort is known as Operation Tomodachi.

According to the lawsuit, radiation experts who assisted in the decontamination say the USS Ronald Reagan sailed straight into a plume of radioactivity, which entered the ship’s water supply. Crew members washed, brushed their teeth and drank potentially contaminated water.

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