January 3, 2014

In August, 2012, a group of US Navy sailors from The USS Ronald Reagan filed a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Company and Japan’s government. It claimed that Tepco lied about the events at Fukushima Daiichi during the first few days of the accident, resulting in excessive exposure and a wide range of negative health effects for members of the ship’s deck crew. The issue hinged on whether or not the radioactive releases from the hydrogen explosions with units #1 and #3, which was blown out to sea, had inflicted exposures sufficient to cause the problems. On November 26, a San Diego judge dismissed the suit because there was not enough evidence to determine if Tepco and Japan’s government had committed fraud. (1)

After the suit’s dismissal, internet sites and some American news media gave it some journalistic traction. I had covered the suit in my updates, beginning in 2012. I admit I didn’t give it much credence, based on my personal experience in the Navy on a nuclear-powered submarine. All nuclear-powered warships are literally riddled with sensitive radiation monitoring devices. From reports in Stars and Stripes (2)  and Navy Times (3), the Reagan’s monitors detected an increase in radiation above background on March 14, 2011 (date of the unit #3 explosion), while operating about 100 miles off-shore in support of the tsunami recovery effort. When the radiological increase was detected, the ship moved quickly out of harm’s way. Some helicopter crewmembers were mildly contaminated. A total of seventeen personnel were found to have received an exposure equal to a a few months of background radiation. Based on these reports, and my background as a Navy radiation monitoring specialist, I found the notion of the lawsuit’s validity literally unthinkable. Navy spokesperson Lt. Greg Raelson seemed to verify my feelings when he said, “For perspective, the worst-case radiation exposure for a crew member on USS Ronald Reagan is less than 25 percent of the annual radiation exposure to a member of the U.S. public from natural sources of background radiation, such as the sun, rocks and soil.”

I also felt that the sailors in the suit were really experiencing negative health symptoms, but most of the suit’s stated health effects have never been associated with radiation exposure other than in high-level exposures many orders of magnitude greater than what happened on the Reagan. Some of the symptoms had nothing to do with radiation. Two weeks ago, I googled the buffet of listed symptoms which included rectal bleeding, gastrointestinal distress, hair loss, headaches, and fatigue. What came up on the search was “vegetative dystonia” (4). Last week, a message from radiation expert Dr. Jerry Cuttler suggested the same disorder as a possibility. That’s when I decided to put my findings to pen, if you will.

Could it be possible that most, if not all of the sailors claiming radiation-based issues have actually suffered vegetative dystonia? Symptoms for vegetative dystonia include pressure in the heart, heart palpitations, sweating, headache, dizziness, nausea, mood swings, insomnia, irritability, and impaired function of the intestine. The disorder causes a “violation of body function”, which is not organic in nature. Symptoms are almost always associated with emotional stress and bodily fatigue. The medical consensus says vegetative dystonia is usually spawned by psychological factors and should be considered in a group of psychic disorders called “somatoform autonomic dysfunction”, which can be understood as physical responses to mental stress. Its symptoms suggest a physical disorder, but there is no demonstrable organic cause and there is strong evidence for links to psychological factors or conflicts. (5) It was first identified as being a psychological problem in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume III. Treatment includes calming-down and using relaxation techniques. In severe cases, sedatives can be prescribed. The goal of treatment is to “restore psychological balance”.

Any military veteran can verify that there is considerable emotional stress with serving our country. Fatigue is part of the process and can be severe. Let’s add to this the popular notion of there being no safe level of radiation exposure, perpetual mention of a controversy over the biological effects of low level radiation exposure in the world’s Press, and numerous irresponsible websites tying all sorts of diseases to radiation exposure that have never been found to be the case by the medical community, and one can understand why the Reagan sailors filed their unfortunate lawsuit.

Radiophobia has significantly increased around the world because of the Fukushima nuclear accident, exacerbated by speculative news stories coming out of Japan posted by a decidedly antinuclear Japanese Press, and the fact that most people have no understanding of the biological effects of ionizing radiation with near-background exposures. It is one of the prime misunderstandings behind the Hiroshima Syndrome (a mortal fear of nuclear energy). As long as the Hiroshima Syndrome continues to infect a significant number of people, the Press will exploit it and literally bend over backwards to keep it alive. As long as pseudo-scientific propagandists are given equal news media time with authentic scientific experts concerning low level radiation health effects, unreasonable lawsuits like the Reagan sailor’s will continue to manifest. Radiation is not a bogeyman, but there are powerful popular voices who exploit public ignorance to promote the belief that it is a real-world Freddy Kruger. As Will Rogers so eloquently said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that counts. It’s what you know that ain’t so.”


1 – http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html (12/19/2013)

2 – http://www.stripes.com/in-growing-lawsuit-servicemembers-fault-tepco-for-radiation-related-illnesses-1.230512

3 – http://www.navytimes.com/article/20131228/NEWS08/312280004/Reagan-sailors-press-radiation-lawsuit

4 – http://www.medical-enc.com/vegetative_dystonia.html

5 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3146190/