KOCHI – A group of former fishermen Monday filed an unprecedented lawsuit seeking compensation from the government for failing to disclose, for decades, records of their exposure to radiation from U.S. hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean in 1954.
A total of 45 people, mostly from Kochi Prefecture and including families of deceased fishermen, are seeking ¥2 million each, according to the lawsuit filed at the Kochi District Court.
It is the first time a compensation lawsuit has been filed against the state in connection with the hydrogen bomb tests conducted on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The tests began with an explosion code-named Castle Bravo on March 1, 1954, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.
Castle Bravo was the largest nuclear weapons test ever conducted by the United States and spewed radioactive fallout over a vast area. The tuna trawler Fukuryu Maru No. 5, also known as the Lucky Dragon, was in the fallout zone, and one of its 23-man crew died about six months later.
The plaintiffs are crew members from other ships that were also in the vicinity around the time of the H-bomb tests. They include 10 people who applied in February for workers’ compensation for cancer and other diseases they say were caused by the radioactive fallout.
“Among my peers, there are people who died in their 40s. I feel angry about how the state responded,” Yutaka Kuwano, an 83-year-old plaintiff, told a gathering earlier in the day in Kochi.
Details on the amount of radiation likely received by members of other ships remained largely unknown because the government did not disclose records of the radiation checks that were conducted on ships in the area.
However, retracting its earlier position that no such records exist, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released them in September 2014 after repeated requests from a Kochi-based civic group and others studying the issue.
The health ministry acknowledged that members of 10 ships, among some 500 vessels in the vicinity of the tests, were exposed but asserted the doses did “not reach levels that could damage their health.”
The former crew members plan to argue that the state intentionally hid the records. As a result, they were deprived of the chance to exercise their right to seek damages from the United States and suffered emotional distress.
They will also point out that the government failed to conduct follow-up health studies on the crews of ships other than the Fukuryu Maru and failed to offer compensation after Japan and the United States reached a political settlement in January 1955.
The United States paid $2 million to compensate for injuries and damages caused the 1954 nuclear tests without admitting liability.
The payment was also agreed to represent “full settlement” of any claims against the United States over the issue.