Low levels of radiation exposure probably will become “a fact of life” for U.S. military forces flying relief and rescue missions to aid victims of Japan’s earthquake as they near areas affected by leaks from a damaged nuclear plant, according to a U.S. Navy spokesman.
“Having crews return with detectable levels of radiation is going to be a fact of life with this mission for the foreseeable future,” said Lieutenant Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet in Japan. “As long as we take every precaution to ensure that the risk is contained and mitigated, these folks will be just fine.”
The Navy treated two Seventh Fleet air crew members with potassium iodide pills as a precaution this week after they became contaminated with radiation emitted from the damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima.
Of the 17 air crew members who the Navy said three days ago showed “low levels of radioactivity,” all but one were contaminated only on their outer clothing, Falvo said.
One crew member had radiation on his skin, and “that was easily remedied with soap and water,” Falvo said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The levels of radiation that our crew members have received are very, very low.”
The treatment with potassium iodide, which blunts the effects of radiation exposure, is among the precautions the U.S. military is taking as it powers its disaster assistance with vessels that include an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, and four guided-missile destroyers. The ships and their aircraft were moved out of the downwind direction from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant two days ago from their original position 100 miles northeast of the facility.
The maximum potential radiation dose received by any of the affected crew members was less than the typical amount from about a month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun, the Seventh Fleet said in a March 14 statement.
“Low levels of radioactivity” from the Fukushima plant detected yesterday morning by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, docked at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka about 200 miles, or 321 kilometers, south of the reactors, prompted cautionary advice from the U.S. commander in Japan, Falvo said.
The commander recommended that military personnel and their families at the base limit outdoor activities and secure external ventilation systems “as much as practical,” Falvo said.
“These measures are strictly precautionary in nature,” he said. “We do not expect that any United States federal radiation exposure limits will be exceeded, even if no precautionary measures are taken.”
Japan is struggling to provide humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue missions for hundreds of thousands of people stranded after the country’s worst earthquake on record, even while battling to cool three nuclear reactors damaged by the quake.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew 29 sorties yesterday to deliver 17 tons of supplies, including food, water and blankets, Falvo said. That brings the total provided so far to 25 tons for about 2,000 people.
Military aircraft with the mission also flew three coastal search-and-rescue sorties yesterday. The ships are positioned about 180 nautical miles away from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Japanese authorities on March 14 recommended evacuation of homes within 20 kilometers, or 12.4 miles, around the affected reactors and told residents who live up to 30 kilometers, or 18.6 miles, away to stay inside.
The USS Essex and two other vessels also are on their way to the area with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Because of radiological and navigation hazards on the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s biggest island, the ships will take up positions in the Sea of Japan on the west coast to launch disaster relief missions, Falvo said.