WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Navy says it moved several U.S. ships away from a troubled Japanese nuclear plant after detecting low-level radiation on 17 helicopter crew members who returned to USS Ronald Reagan, which has been positioned there for relief efforts.
7th Fleet officials stressed the low-level radioactivity was easily removed from affected personnel by washing with soap and water. They were subsequently surveyed, and no further contamination was detected.
Spokeman Cmdr. Jeff Davis said Monday that the Navy is committed to continuing the operation to help the Japanese after last week's earthquake and tsunami and that officials had to figure out how to continue safely.
By moving the ships in the carrier group out of the downwind path of the power plant, Davis says the navy can continue with less risk to Americans participating.
In the upcoming days, the Ronald Reagan will serve as an afloat platform for helicopters from the Japan Self-defense Force, the Japanese coast guard and other civilian authorities.
"We conducted air operations today with 10 helicopters from the Naval Station in Atsugi and the USS Reagan flying relief missions identifying people in need of assistance in the region of Minato, and delivered food and blankets," Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan. "The choppers also flew surveys of the at-sea debris field and flew search-and-rescue missions along the coast."
The Pentagon said Monday that USS Tortuga, with heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters, is steaming toward the eastern coast. Lapan said 300 Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and 90 vehicles will be brought aboard and delivered to the northern tip of Honshu.
Other U.S. ships are expected to arrive in the area March 17. The Navy has P-3 Orion aircraft flying to help in area surveying efforts. Lapan said no U.S. bases are in the danger zone for radioactivity, and that there are no plans to evacuate any U.S. personnel or their families.