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Navy Says Japan Radiation ‘Easily’ Cleaned Off Ships

In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors scrubbed the external surfaces on the flight deck and island superstructure to remove potential radiation contamination. Photographer: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors scrubbed the external surfaces on the flight deck and island superstructure to remove potential radiation contamination. Photographer: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The U.S. Navy, which is helping with recovery efforts following an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, said radiation on vessels from a leaking nuclear-power plant can be scrubbed off with soap and water.

“These are extremely low levels and are easily cleaned off,” Commander Jeff Davis, a spokesman for Seventh Fleet, said by phone today. “Even if they weren’t, they still wouldn’t rise to the level where they would cause any harm to human health.”

Concerns about radiation have disrupted commercial shipping with Hapag Lloyd AG halting services to Tokyo, the Japanese government barring vessels from within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the plant and overseas authorities scanning cargos. The MOL Presence was rejected by a port in China last week because of “abnormal” radiation levels after passing more than 120 kilometers off the coast of Fukushima prefecture.

The U.S. fleet has taken steps to avoid contamination, including trying to keep ships upwind from the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, Davis said. The navy is working with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to clear ports of debris from the March 11 tsunami and helping deliver aid, Davis said.

MOL Presence

The vessel, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., is heading for Kobe, Japan, according to AISLive Ltd. ship-tracking data on Bloomberg. Eiko Mizuno, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K., said today she couldn’t comment immediately on what will happen to the ship. Calls to the port of Kobe were referred to the shipping line, which operates a terminal there.

The ship sailed past Fukushima on March 16, according to Mitsui O.S.K. It called in at Tokyo on March 17 before sailing to Xiamen with 4,698 containers onboard. The nuclear-power plant, damaged following Japan’s strongest recorded earthquake on March 11, is about 220 kilometers north of Tokyo.

The MOL Presence was rejected in Xiamen because of “abnormal” radiation amounts on its deck and containers, according to a March 25 notice on the website of the Xiamen Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau. The notice didn’t say how much radiation was detected on the ship or what type it was. The berth used by the vessel wasn’t contaminated, it said.

Radiation Cleaned

Radiation on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and helicopters using the ship as a base was cleaned off after the vessel passed through a plume from the reactor on March 13, Davis said. There was both surface and air contamination, Davis said. The navy didn’t identify the type of radiation, he said.

“It’s absolutely possible to protect our people against the possible effects of radiation while carrying out our mission to help the Japanese people,” Davis said. “It is a risk that absolutely can be mitigated and managed.”

For sailors on some land missions within 50 nautical miles of the power plant, the U.S. Navy is administering potassium iodide, he said. It is also asking helicopter pilots to fly with windows closed and cabin sealed, he said.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington last week left port at Yokosuka, 175 miles south from the plant, to avoid getting residual traces of radiation on the vessel, which could trigger alarms and require extensive cleanup.

Plant Proximity

Japan has barred ships from sailing within 30 kilometers of the nuclear plant because of radiation concerns and it is advising against going within 80 nautical miles (148 kilometers) because of debris, Hidefumi Akagi, who is responsible for advising shipping lines on sea routes at the Japan Coast Guard, said today by phone.

Nippon Yusen KK, Japan’s largest shipping line by sales, hasn’t seen any major impact on schedules because of the exclusion zone, Jun Katayama, a spokesman, said today by phone. Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the nation’s third-largest shipping line, has no plans to operate ships in Fukushima and the rest of Tohoku region, said Makoto Arai, a spokesman. There are no major ports in that area, he said.

NOL Ships

Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.’s APL Ltd. unit is keeping ships 200 nautical miles away from the plant, Mike Zampa, a spokesman, said yesterday. The shipping line is continuing its regular calls to Kobe and Yokohama, he said. It has stopped taking bookings for cargos to be hauled by land or barge into “high-risk” areas near the nuclear plant, he said.

Hapag-Lloyd has omitted stops in Japan’s Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama port because of “the current situation,” according to a March 22 statement on its website. That was still in effect March 25. A Hapag-Lloyd spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

Orient Overseas (International) Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest container line, is continuing services to all Japan ports except those shut because of damage from the tsunami, said Stephen Shen, a spokesman. The company has been affected by Hapag-Lloyd’s decision to skip Japan port calls because it has an agreement to use space on those services, he said.

Hanjin Shipping Co., the operator of a container terminal in Tokyo, began inspecting cargo for radiation a few days after the quake, Sonya Cho, a spokeswoman, said today by phone from the company’s Seoul headquarters. No contamination has been found, she said. The inspections take two or three hours and are causing few disruptions to cargo movements, she said.

Tokyo Port

Tokyo port has tried to ease fears through steps including posting information about radiation levels online. The levels of radiation around Tokyo port were safe as of March 27, according to the Transport Ministry’s website.

Overseas ports have stepped up scanning of containers arriving from Japan because of radiation concerns. U.S. Customs and Border Protection scanned 355 boxes at the port of Los Angeles onboard the first container ship to arrive in the country from Japan following the quake, according to operator APL. All boxes on the vessel, the APL Korea, were cleared for delivery.

Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., based in Seoul, is operating its usual services, Lee Jun Ki, a spokesman, said by phone today. STX Pan Ocean Co., South Korea’s biggest bulk carrier, also is operating its vessels normally at Japanese ports, Lim Wang Joo, a spokesman, said yesterday.

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