A federal agency investigating the link between veterans cancer and a leaking nuclear reactor found years of key records documenting exposure have been lost.
BOSTON - Journalism judges around the country have honored Chief Investigator Ron Regan with the Peabody, Edward R. Murrow and regional Emmy awards in recent weeks, but something Regan received Thursday may be his most prized keepsake of all.
Navy veterans who served at McMurdo Naval Station in Antarctica during the 1960s and 1970s presented Regan with a special gift during a surprise visit to the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Boston. They wanted to personally thank Regan for his exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into a possible link between a nuclear plant at McMurdo and cancer.
The wife of an Ohio veteran, Charlie Swinney, called Regan after her husband passed away and asked him to probe the death of her husband and other veterans who contracted cancer. The investigation took him across the country in pursuit of finding answers for the military members who needed medical help.
McMurdo veteran Jim Landy presented Regan with a special clock that has the "Operation Deep Freeze" insignia on it.
"Had it not been for Ron and his investigative team, our cause would still be floating out there. Ron, we would like to thank you telling our story," remarked Landy during his speech to Ron.
Thom Wilborn another McMurdo veteran also presented Ron with his own medallion given to veterans stationed at McMurdo. Wilborn served as a communications specialist at McMurdo and worked as a journalist after his tour of duty.
"It's important this story was told," Wilborn told Ron. "If it wasn't for you, the stories of these veterans may never have been broadcast or published and for that the DAV is grateful."
The McMurdo Nuclear plant was built in Antarctica in the early 1960s and provided power to the base until it was shut down in 1972. Swinney, Landy and an estimated 15,000 other veterans served at McMurdo Station as part of a support team throughout the plant's operation.
The Navy's final operating report found the plant had 438 malfunctions over its history, including leaking water surrounding the reactor and hairline cracks in the reactor liner as early as 1964.
The plant was finally shut down in 1972 and later dismantled when "possible stress corrosion cracking" in the piping system was discovered.
Though the Navy's report found no evidence of excessive radiation exposure, veterans like Charlie Swinney have emerged across the country with similar concerns after being diagnosed with cancerous tumors.
"Charlie had over 200 tumors in his body," said Swinney's wife, Elaine. "He kept saying, this isn't right. Why is there so many of us in this close group getting sick like this."
Other veterans Regan talked to said repeated efforts to have the U.S. Veterans Administration look into cancer claims as a service-related disability have failed. In March, a government advisory panel finally admitted there was radiation exposure at McMurdo and the water was tainted.
As a result of Ron's investigation, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is pressing Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki to look into whether veterans are eligible for service related compensation due to radiation exposure at McMurdo. And, Sen. Brown doesn't rule out eventually calling for congressional hearings into what the Navy knew about radiation leaks and how the plant functioned.
Federal hearings prompted by an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into radiation exposure among McMurdo Navy veterans are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.