[Note Added: I have been unable to confirm the story described below from any source other than the original one — the lawyer who stands to benefit from it. At this point, based on remarks by my readers, I’m inclined to think the story is implausible.]
It’s been a little quiet on the blog, because I’ve been working very hard, with a dozen colleagues, to finish a monster project that will appear later today on the public physics archive (arXiv) for professional theoretical physicists to present their work to the their colleagues. More on that tomorrow.
But in the meantime, I have come across a very disturbing update to a story regarding the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster— nothing to do with what is going on there now, but something that happened immediately after the accidents following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The latest update, though widely reported around the internet, is currently attributed only to a lawyer for plaintiffs… hardly a reliable source of information. Nevertheless, the story might be true, and I’m looking for corroboration, if one of you has come across any.
The story is that dozens of sailors from the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (ironies, anyone), who I believe were right off the coast of Japan following the quake to help out with disaster relief, were exposed to radioactive sea water. Some were diving into the sea to help rescue people, and many were bathing in and even drinking desalinated sea water — and taking the salt out of seawater does not remove radioactive atoms of iodine, caesium, etc. Apparently it was a short but significant time before somebody realized the water was not safe. And now dozens of sailors — more than 1% of the total number on board (last year it was eight, and this summer the lawsuit apparently grew to more than 50) are suing TEPCO (the Japanese electric company) after suffering a variety of diseases, including various cancers, eye and thyroid problems, etc. So says their lawyer, anyway.
Does anyone reading this know anything else about this story? In particular, does anyone know someone who was on the ship?
A certain number of people get sick every year, just by chance; assuming the story is true, is this particular cluster of illnesses a chance event, or a real effect of radiation exposure? This is one of those situations where you could do a real scientific test, if the Navy would let someone do it. You could compare disease rates on the Ronald Reagan to disease rates for sailors who served on the same types of ships operating in other parts of the world, and see if they are significantly larger. The populations are plenty big enough for such a study… But will anyone be able to find out the truth when the truth becomes a football in a lawsuit?