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Two Quakes Strike Near Fukushima as US Sailors Sue Over Cleanup

<p>Two quakes hit near Fukushima prefecture a day after dozens of U.S. sailors sued over alleged health impacts of the 2011 Japanese quake.</p>
IMAGE: Sailors wash USS Ronald Reagan
Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan washed down the flight deck to remove potential radiation contamination 11 days after the March 11, 2011, Fukushima earthquake.Nicholas A. Groesch / Reuters file

Two magnitude-5 earthquakes hit Friday off the coast of Japan's Fukushima prefecture, site of the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered a nuclear disaster in the Pacific region.

The quakes — which the U.S. Geological Survey measured at magnitudes 5 and 5.1 — caused no notable damage, and no tsunami warnings were issued.

But they served as another reminder of the March 2011 Tohoku quake, which created an environmental disaster and has led to hundreds of lawsuits against the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant and the manufacturers of the reactors that failed.

Seventy-nine U.S. sailors or their relatives sued the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., for $1 billion in medical costs and damages this week, alleging that the sailors were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation when the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was diverted to Japan to help with evacuation and rescue efforts.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Diego (.pdf), revives claims that were dismissed in November, when U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino ruled that she didn't have jurisdiction to decide the sailors' claim that the Japanese government committed fraud.

At the time, the suit listed about a dozen plaintiffs. The new suit now lists 79 plaintiffs and intentionally drops the fraud claim. It alleges that the Ronald Reagan's crew drank and bathed in water contaminated with radiation, leading to cancer, fertility problems and other medical issues.