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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan - Japan's science ministry provided data to U.S. forces about levels of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant far earlier than it informed the public, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. forces received the data on March 14, three days after the 2011 tsunami led to a meltdown at the plant, according to Itaru Watanabe, an official with the Foreign Ministry's science bureau. The public was not provided data until March 23.

Watanabe, a member of the investigative panel probing the nuclear disaster for the Diet, said at a meeting Monday that the science ministry had released the information to the U.S. "to seek support from them" in dealing with the emergency, according to the AP.

It's unclear what U.S. Forces Japan did, or could have done, with the data. No spokesperson for USFJ was immediately available for comment.

U.S. troops arrived at the disaster zone in a matter of days to provide humanitarian relief and assist in rescue operations. The U.S. Defense Department is still in the process of determining how much radiation each of its 61,000 personnel in Japan was exposed to during the crisis.

In November, DOD officials said they expected to release the data by the end of the year, however, Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in an email in December that the data could not yet be released. She did not give a reason for the delay.

Critics say that releasing radiation information to the public could have helped local municipalities and residents decide whether and how to evacuate.

The panel investigating the disaster was appointed by the Diet in December and is tasked with examining what roles the magnitude-9 earthquake and monster tsunami each played in causing the meltdown.

From staff reports

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