Tepco Faces Growing Suit by U.S. Troops Over Radiation Exposure

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s bill for its Fukushima nuclear disaster may swell as more U.S. military personnel charge the utility lied about radiation levels they faced while assisting in relief efforts after Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Twenty-six plaintiffs refiled a suit this week, with as many as 100 others in the process of joining the legal action, in demands for more than $2 billion in compensation, the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported March 16, citing attorneys. An initial complaint was filed Dec. 21 by eight sailors.

The amended suit filed in California seeks at least $40 million in compensatory and punitive damages for each plaintiff, as well as a fund exceeding $1 billion, up from an earlier demand for $100 million, for monitoring health and payment of medical expenses, according to the report.

Tepco, as the Japanese utility is known, and the Japanese government conspired to create the false impression radiation leaking from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant didn’t pose a threat to the sailors, according to the original complaint. As a result the plaintiffs rushed into areas that were unsafe and too close to the power plant, exposing them to radiation, the sailors’ lawyers said.

‘Under Control’

The Japanese government was “lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdown” as it reassured the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan that “everything is under control,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in the December complaint. “The plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering.”

Tokyo Electric “confirmed” changes, including an addition to the number of plaintiffs, were made on March 12 to a lawsuit originally filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, the utility said in a filing to the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The company “has not formally received the written complaint as of March 15,” it said in the filing. “Once the complaint is formally delivered to us, we will handle the case appropriately after reviewing the plaintiffs’ claims and demands,” Tokyo Electric said in the filing.

Tokyo Electric hasn’t responded to two Bloomberg News requests for comment, left on the answering machine at its Tokyo offices outside business hours.

Compensation Estimate

In July, Japan’s Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund took control of Tepco in return for a 1 trillion yen ($10.5 billion) capital injection after the disaster left the utility on the brink of bankruptcy. The utility projected compensation payments would exceed 2 trillion yen by the end of March, according to a statement released Feb. 22.

Four suits were filed against the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric on March 11 by about 1,700 people who were living in northern Japan at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Kyodo News reported on March 11, citing lawyers representing the cases. The plaintiffs in the four cases demand a total 5.4 billion yen in damages, Kyodo said.

The original case is Lindsay R. Cooper against Tokyo Electric Power Co. 12-cv-3032. U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).