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Commander: Decision to evacuate bases in Japan would come from State Department

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 15, 2011

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — Any decision to evacuate military personnel and their families from Japan would come first from the State Department, Atsugi’s base commander told Stars and Stripes following a town hall meeting with concerned residents Tuesday night.

Spurred by concerns after the announcement of very low-level radiation detected at Atsugi on Tuesday morning, audience members asked Capt. Eric Gardner if there was an emergency evacuation plan, and he initially told them that there was not.

He then mentioned that if there were an evacuation, the sick would go first, followed by noncombatants.

Afterward, Gardner elaborated on his remarks with Stars and Stripes, stating that evacuations have always been thought of in terms of a war contingency.

“The decision [to evacuate] would come from the Embassy, and then the war plans would go into effect,” said Gardner, who added that any details on those plans were made at higher levels than his command.

For many years, Pacific military planners have thought of Japan as they place they would bring noncombatants who had to evacuate from other places. Civilians at U.S. bases in South Korea practice evacuating in the event of an attack from North Korea, with Japan as the hypothetical landing spot.

Gardner reiterated Rear Adm. Richard Wren’s statement at Monday night’s Yokosuka Naval Base town hall meeting that evacuation wasn’t foreseeable under the current circumstances. Both Atsugi and Yokosuka are about 200 miles from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor core.

“Again, I don’t really see that happening at all and we would get the word out well before that happened,” Gardner told the audience.

Gardner and a medical officer also the audience members at the packed theater that the radiation detected Tuesday at the Atsugi flight line was .05 millirems, a miniscule amount that posed no health risk.

U.S. standards do not require an evacuation until 5,000 millirems are detected, Gardner said.

Nevertheless, he added that the recommendations to avoid unnecessary outdoor activity made earlier Tuesday by Commander Naval Forces Japan would stay in effect as a precaution. Remaining indoors cuts exposure by 60 to 70 percent, Navy officials said.

Also announced at the meeting:

— Atsugi received 3,700 gallons of gas Tuesday, a fraction of its normal capacity. It is currently limiting purchases to five gallons per day. The base expects continuing daily shipments.

— Atsugi aircraft have flown 25 tons of relief supplies to the affected areas since Friday’s earthquake, said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, commander of 7th Fleet’s patrol and reconnaissance force.

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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