A federal agency investigating the link between veterans cancer and a leaking nuclear reactor found years of key records documenting exposure have been lost.
CLEVELAND - An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered a possible link between a nuclear plant and cancer after an Ohio man died from multiple cancerous tumors throughout his body.
Charlie Swinney died one year ago from cancer that ravaged his body for more than a decade, but the Navy veteran may have left behind an important clue into what caused his death.
Our exclusive investigation uncovered multiple letters that Swinney sent to the U.S. Veterans Administration describing a nuclear plant that was built at a base he served at in Antarctica.
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 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."
Our investigation spoke with veterans from California to Florida and Wisconsin to North Carolina.
Navy veteran Jim Landy of Pensacola is fighting stomach, liver and brain cancer.
"I believe it was a greater risk than we all assumed," said Landy.
Another veteran in Wisconsin survived testicular and lung cancer.
"It makes you kind of wonder, when the doctor scratched his head and said, you're kind of old to have testicular cancer," said Jim Chock of Green Bay.
Navy veteran Bob Boyles survived thyroid cancer and remembers a similar question from his physician.
"The first thing he said was, when were you exposed to radiation?"
But veterans said repeated efforts to have the U.S. Veterans Administration look into cancer claims as a service-related disability have failed.
"Charlie just felt like he got kicked to the curb. He felt like he didn't count. He felt betrayed,"said Elaine Swinney.
Check out the final operating report for the McMurdo Station nuclear power plant: http://bit.ly/dMjFVl
Federal hearings prompted by an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into radiation exposure among McMurdo Navy veterans are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.
A Navy veteran who helped trigger a federal probe into a leaking nuclear plant at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, has died of cancer just weeks before a government report on radiation exposure is due to be released.
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.