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ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN — Navy officials halted air operations from USS Reagan on Wednesday so they could clean the ship of contamination from radioactive plume it hit while conducting humanitarian relief operations off the coast of Japan on March 13.

While the radiation did not pose any significant health risk, “it needs to go away,” Cmdr. Ron Rutan, chief engineer for the Reagan, said during an interview Tuesday night.

Rutan said the plan calls for a “very tedious and very difficult” mast-to-deck wash down mainly using seawater and high-pressure sprayers.

“We want to be able to do this quickly and well,” he said. One factor is ensuring that dirty, run-off water does not spill over areas that were already cleaned, meaning a methodical, top-to-bottom, front-to-back approach, Rutan explained. As flight deck areas are cleaned, aircraft would be scrubbed down and moved onto the clean areas until they clean the entire upper surface of the carrier.

He said he’s not aware of this ever being attempted before and said it will offer “great opportunities ... lots of lessons learned.”

He said the clean-up wasn’t held until Wednesday because officials needed to focus on constant flight operations to assist Japanese areas hardest-hit by a deadly earthquake and tsunamis on March 11.

More than 300 personnel were expected to take part in the effort.

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