CLEVELAND - An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has found new evidence connected to a leaking nuclear power plant that's led to a review of classified government documents.
These latest developments are the result of an ongoing 5 On Your Side investigation into claims by military veterans that a nuclear plant near their base may have caused deadly cancers.
The claims first surfaced in a NewsChannel5 report that aired March 2 and detailed cancer claims by Navy veterans serving at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, during the 1960s and 70s.
Our continuing investigation has now uncovered new details about radiation leaks and possible contamination.
The nuclear plant was known as PM-3A and was part of the Navy's effort to provide electrical power to remote areas. The plant was brought online in 1962 but experiened frequent mallfunctions until it was finally shut down in 1973.
The plant was disassembled and 7,700 cubic meters of rock and dirt were hauled away over the next several years.
Our original report found 438 malfunctions and 123 reports of radiation exposure in excess of allowable limits. The information was contained in the plant's final operating report issued after it was shutdown in 1973.
But our investigation has since found new evidence of serious problems with the plant that began shortly after it went on line in 1962.
The new information was found in a government report completed in 1967 by engineers contracted by the Navy to "locate defects and determine their cause" after the reactor core had to be replaced in 1964 after just two years of operation.
Engineers from the Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute found 30 cracks in the reactor core, a fuel leak of undetermined origin and increasing levels of fusion product in the primary coolant.
The reactor's core was replaced with another that continued to experience widespread malfunctions from 1964 to 1973.
Navy veterans who served at McMurdo have long suspected their cancers were caused by exposure to radiation from the nuclear plant.
At a recent reunion of the naval squadron based at McMurdo, one veterarn after another came forward describing their cancers and what they experienced while serving at a base just a few yards down the hill from the nuclear reactor.
Ed Wentling has twice been diagnosed with cancer and now breathes through a device implanted in his throat.
"My barracks were located right at the bottom of that hill," said Wentling.
It's the same hill mentioned in a Veterans Administration report that referred to "radioactive material that made its way to down to the men" who were living in barracks below the plant.
"Last night," said Wentling, "I found out three of us at the same time have cancer and two of us lived in the same hut -- all come down with multiple cancers."
Jim Bain is another veteran who served at McMurdo.
"It's kind of shocking. Why didn't they let us know we were being exposed. The Navy's good at keeping things quiet," said Bain.
Hoot Hartman, 77, had kidney, lung and lymph cancer and also served at McMurdo.
"I remember the sirens going off," said Hartman. "We were told that was the scramble signal -- that they were having a problem. But where could you go"?
One veteran remembered a close friend who worked inside the nuclear plant relating a chilling story about devices called dosimeters that workers were supposed to wear to gauge radiation exposure.
Tom Elder said his friend was dying of cancer when he told him, "We just threw the dosimeter away. They were maxed out the minute you walked in with 30 minutes, so they kept a spare dosimeter outside. You just throw that one away and get a new one and put it back on."
Following our original report, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking for a full investigation into radiation exposure at McMurdo. Brown has also asked Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki to determine if veterans are eligible for service related disability compensation if the cancers were caused by radiation from the plant.
Meanwhile, a VA spokesperson has confirmed that it is reviewing classified documents relating to the nuclear plant that were turned over by the U.S. Navy in response to Brown's letter to the Defense Department.
The VA also confirmed that the Navy has turned over a list of 109 veterans for the VA to review, but it would not elaborate.
In addition, in light of our evidence raised in our investigation, the Veterans Administration is now asking all veterans who served at McMurdo and who have been diagnosed with cancer to apply for possible benefits -- even if their claims for a service related disability were previously denied.
The VA said it will review all claims in light of any new evidence it recieves and make any decision based on what is discovered after carefully reviewing claims.
Navy veteran Izzy Gant, who is battling cancer, said, "My days are numbered. So I hope they find something and compensate appropriately so my spouse can