TOKYO, Japan — A Marine Corps biological response team that was brought to Japan to help save lives in the event of a large-scale radiation release is heading back to the States thanks to the improving situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, U.S. and Japanese officials said Tuesday.

After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to a near meltdown at the nuclear plant, 144 members of the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force deployed to Japan in case local officials needed help responding to fallout from the damaged plant, according to mission commander Marine Maj. Michael Johnson.

But successful efforts to reduce temperatures at the nuclear plant and plans to control contamination and reduce risk means the U.S. team can go home, a spokesman for Japan’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Instead of putting on radiation suits and rescuing frightened survivors, the Marines spent the deployment training at Yokota Air Base and communicating with Japanese and U.S. officials, Johnson said.

It was the first overseas mission for the unit, which was created in response to the 1995 Sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway trains. The force was on stand-by at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and helped protect workers in Washington, D.C., following the anthrax and ricin attacks of 2001 and 2003, Johnson said.

It include experts in urban rescue, emergency medical personnel, Marines who test soil, air and water for radiation and other toxins, explosive ordnance disposal technicians and troops who can decontaminate fleeing civilians, he said.

“The exact timeline of the redeployment of all [unit] assets has yet to be finalized,” said 1st Lt. John Norton, a spokesman for Operation Tomodachi – the U.S. military earthquake relief effort.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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