USS Ronald Reagan Dodges Japanese Fallout

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The USS Ronald Reagan, now operating off the coast of Japan / DoD photo

More than 65 years ago, Japanese fled U.S. nuclear radiation in the wake of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Sunday, U.S. warships aiding Japan following Friday’s horrific earthquake fled radiation leaking from a damaged Japanese nuclear power plant.

Ships from the U.S. 7th Fleet have sailed away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant after detecting low-level radiation coming from it. U.S. officials said the maximum potential dose anyone might get was less than he or she would receive from a month’s exposure to the natural radiation given off by rocks, soil and the sun.

The nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan was about 100 miles northeast of the power plant when trace amounts of radiation were detected on 17 helicopter crew members from the carrier after their aircraft flew through a radioactive plume generated by the disabled power plant. It was likely released when Japanese officials vented pressurized vapor from inside the plant to avert a meltdown. Three choppers about 60 miles from the plant first detected the radiation using sensors aboard the aircraft, and it was later detected using similar devices aboard the Reagan. The ships and aircraft from the carrier are in the region helping with relief efforts around Sendai, the city near the power plant hardest-hit by the earthquake and resulting tsunami.

The crew members dealt with the contamination by washing with soap and water. Reagan and her escort vessels have moved outside the downwind direction of the stricken reactor as a precautionary measure. The U.S. Navy, one of the world’s most highly-trained nuclear operators, will continue its rescue efforts as it eludes the earthquake’s fallout, U.S. officials say.