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7th Fleet moves ships, aircraft away from stricken Fukushima plant

SEOUL -- The U.S. 7th Fleet has moved its ships and aircraft away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan after low levels of contamination were detected in the air and found on the crews of three helicopters returning from disaster relief missions near Sendai.

The contamination found on the 17 crewmembers was easily removed by washing with soap and water, and the ship and aircraft move is only temporary, according to a 7th Fleet release.

Later, a message from Capt. Thom Burke appeared on the Reagan’s Facebook page, confirming that the radiation levels detected were very low.

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“To put this into perspective, the maximum radiation dose received was equal to the amount of natural background radiation one would receive in one month from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun,” the message said. “I have not seen any levels of radiation or contamination that would cause me to have any significant concerns at all.”

The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was en route to South Korea to participate in a joint South Korean-U.S. military exercise this week, when it was diverted to Japan in the wake of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

As the search for survivors and victims of the disaster continues, officials are primarily concerned with the fate of two Fukushima nuclear reactors that are overheating.

The Reagan strike group arrived Sunday to provide support for operations in the Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, two of the hardest-hit areas of Japan. It was operating in waters about 100 miles northeast of the plant when precautionary tests done on crews returning to the Ronald Reagan revealed contamination that was blamed on a radioactive plume released from the nuclear plant.

After the crewmen washed off, no further contamination was detected, officials said.

“As a precautionary measure,” the release said, the USS Ronald Reagan and other 7th Fleet ships in the area were moved out of the downwind direction of the plant “to assess the situation and determine what appropriate mitigating actions are necessary.”

rabiroffj@pstripes.osd.mil

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