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Northrop Drone Flies Over Japan Reactor to Record Data

A Northrop Grumman Corp. Global Hawk drone flew over Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant today to collect data and imagery for the Japanese government, said U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz.

Schwartz confirmed the mission during a brief interview today in Washington after a Senate budget hearing.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said after the hearing that “it won’t be the last” mission of that type. The Global Hawk, based in Guam, is in a “pattern of regular reconnaissance in support of the Japanese government,” he said.

“Its tremendous contributions in this humanitarian assistance disaster relief operation is a testament to its value,” Lieutenant General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, said in an e-mail.

The drone, known for missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, is helping “assess damage to towns, industrial infrastructure, and other facilities,” U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in a statement yesterday.

The Global Hawk aircraft can fly as high as 60,000 feet and is equipped with sensors and cameras that can take infrared and electro-optical images as well as detailed synthetic aperture radar-based pictures. It is designed for flights as long as 35 hours, according to the company.

The 9.0-magnitude temblor and subsequent tsunami on March 11 have caused what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called the country’s worst crisis since the end of War II.

Worsening Crisis

Water cannons may have had some success in cooling one reactor at the damaged Fukushima plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. The United Nations nuclear agency said the situation remained “very serious.”

Cannons and helicopters were used to douse the plant as workers tried to stem radioactive pollution from the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 incident at the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine. Some water may have reached the No. 3 reactor, a Tepco official said. Engineers are working through the night to connect a power cable that may help get Fukushima’s cooling systems working again.

The U.S. military also is providing high-pressure water pumps to the Japanese government for use at the Fukushima plant, said Lieutenant Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Japan. The USNS Safeguard brought the latest installment of pumps to the U.S. Navy’s base in Yokosuka, Japan, two days ago for delivery onward.

Relief Efforts Grow

The Seventh Fleet conducted humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue missions off the coast of Japan yesterday, with more than a dozen vessels either there or on the way. They have delivered 40 tons of relief supplies.

The USS Ronald Reagan conducted three helicopter sorties delivering seven tons of food and water. Choppers from other ships in the Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew a dozen sorties with eight tons of food, water, milk, meals, clothing, medical supplies and other aid.

The USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, canceled a scheduled return to the base at Yokosuka so it could move north to meet the strike group.

The USS Blue Ridge, the fleet’s flagship, is headed to the vicinity of Okinawa to pick up reserve and other personnel coming in by helicopter.

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