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US sailors sue Japan's TEPCO for post-quake radiation exposure

Nicholas A. Groesch / Reuters file

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan wash down the flight deck to remove potential radiation contamination while operating off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance in support of Operation Tomodachi on March 22, 2011.

A group of U.S. Navy personnel involved in the humanitarian effort after Japan's March 2011 earthquake and tsunami have filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Co. for more than $200 million in compensation, punitive damages and future medical costs for exposure to radiation that leaked from the damaged Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant at the time.

The plaintiffs include eight troops serving on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier — one of whom was pregnant at the time of the alleged exposure — and her daughter.

They charge that the utility, known as TEPCO, "knowingly and negligently caused, permitted and allowed misleading information concerning the true condition of the (plant) to be disseminated to the public, including the U.S. Navy Department," according to the complaint filed on Dec. 21 in a U.S. federal court in San Diego.

 The plaintiffs are suffering a variety of symptoms that attorney Paul Garner says were caused by the exposure, including rectal bleeding, thyroid problems and persistent migraine headaches, and all face an increased chance of developing cancer and requiring expensive medical procedures.

The U.S. carrier was positioned just offshore from the damaged Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, which and suffered a meltdown which triggered the release of high levels of radiation into the air and water.

"The carrier was less than two football fields away from the Fukushima Daiichi when it released a cloud of radiation," said Garner, speaking to NBC News on Thursday.

He said the crew was unknowingly exposed to high levels of radiation in numerous ways, including when they cleared the carrier's decks of snow that was contaminated, and washed down the helicopters with sea water that was contaminated.

Archival video: Of all the aftershocks that could hit Japan, nothing frightens the world more than the possibility of a devastating nuclear disaster. NBC's Anne Thompson.

The complaint said that by relying on misrepresentations about the situation by TEPCO, the U.S. Navy was "lulled into a false sense of security," believing it was "safe to operate with the waters adjacent to the FNPP, without doing research and testing that would have revealed the problems."

It goes on to charge that through its conduct, TEPCO "rendered the Plaintiffs infirm and poisoned their bodies. The Plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering which could have and should have been avoided."

Archival video: Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth discusses the potential dangers that still loom in Japan following an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

The suit is seeking $10 million in damages for each plaintiff, plus $30 million in punitive damages and a judgment requiring TEPCO to create $100 million fund to pay for their medical costs, including monitoring and treatments.

TEPCO could not immediately be reached for comment by NBC News.

A TEPCO spokesman reached by The Japan Times said the company had not yet received the complaint.

"We will consider a response after examining the claim," said Yusuke Kunikage, according to the Times.

Since the disaster, TEPCO has operated a fund to compensate victims in Japan.

Garner said that he didn't believe his clients would get justice through the Japanese system, which is why the suit was filed in a U.S. court. The complaint was served to TEPCO's office in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, he said.

"We need the U.S. justice system to make this right," Garner said.

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