Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan.
“I was standing on the flight deck, and we felt this warm gust of air, and, suddenly, it was snowing,” Cooper recalled of the day in March 2011 when she and scores of crewmates watched a sudden storm blow toward them from the tsunami-torn coast of Fukushima, Japan.
Now, nearly three years after their deployment on a humanitarian mission to Japan’s ravaged coast, Cooper and scores of her fellow crew members on the aircraft carrier and a half-dozen other support ships are battling cancers, thyroid disease, uterine bleeding and other ailments.
Tokyo Electric Power also knew that radioactivity was leaking at a rate of 400 tons a day into the North Pacific, according to the lawsuit and Japanese officials.
“We were probably floating in contaminated water without knowing it for a day and a half before we got hit by that plume,” said Cooper, whose career as a third-class petty officer ended five months after the disaster for health reasons.
The toxic seawater was sucked into the ship’s desalinization system, flowing out of its faucets and showers — still radioactive — and into the crew member’s bodies.
“All I drink is water. You stay hydrated on that boat,” said Cooper, who worked up to 18 hours at a time on the flight deck loading supplies onto a steady stream of aid helicopters for four days, all the while drinking out of the two-gallon pouch of water hooked to her gear belt.
By the time the Reagan realized it was contaminated and tried to shift location, the radioactive plume had spread too far to be quickly outrun.