Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the earthquake-damaged Fukashima nuclear plant, must face the legal claims by U.S. Navy personnel who were exposed to radiation during a 2011 Navy relief effort, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the company claim June 22 that the lawsuit should be dismissed on grounds that it was filed in the wrong country or that the U.S. courts lack jurisdiction.
The international convention on compensation for nuclear radiation “did not strip U.S. courts of jurisdiction over claims arising out of nuclear incidents that occurred prior to the CSC’s entry into force on April 15, 2015,” the court held.
In March 2011, a 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami on the coast of Japan left 15,000 people dead and mass damage to the region’s infrastructure. One consequence was severe damage the Fukashima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP), in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Russia.
An estimated 300 tons of contaminated water from the FNPP began to seep into the sea after the meltdown, according to the court.
On March 12, 2011, the day after the quake, the Navy arrived in the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to provide humanitarian aid. The sailors allege TEPCO spread false information regarding the extent of the plant’s damage, misleading the public, Japanese officials and the U.S. military.
The lawsuit contends the military was unaware of the extent of the radiation leak and would not have deployed as close to the FNPP if they had the correct information.
The plaintiffs seek a judgment compelling TEPCO to create a billion dollar fund to cover medical monitoring costs and damages for lost wages, economic damages and punitive damages. Although they could have sued in Japan they chose to file suit in the U.S.
The United States filed friend-of-the-court papers in support of the Navy plaintiffs’ argument to pursue the case in the U.S.
The trial judge in Los Angeles refused to dismiss the lawsuit.
Judge Jay Bybee, writing for the panel, agreed but did say that the district court may reconsider dismissal as a matter of political comity with Japan or as a political question.
Case: Cooper v. Tokyo Electric Power Co., No. 15-56424