As we noted Monday morning, 17 U.S. Navy sailors had a health scare after being exposed to low-level radiation during aid missions to the earthquake-stricken mainland, about 60 miles from the nuclear plant. Fortunately, the military personnel were cleared after their contamination threat was found to be the equivalent of about one month's worth of natural radiation exposure.
After taking precautionary measures and moving American fleet ships out of the immediate contamination zone, the Navy continued to make helicopter runs to deliver food, water and medical supplies.
The Navy’s Pacific-based 7th Fleet announced on its Facebook page that the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan had been moved away from the Fukushima Daiichi plant after finding low-level radioactive contamination “in the air and on its aircraft operating in the area.” But the Navy said that operations to provide disaster relief had resumed north of Sendai.
The Navy released this video of crew from the Ronald Reagan loading SH-60 Seahawks to deliver “water, blankets and food,” and to scour the devastated landscape for possible survivors:
The contamination may be spreading. But so is the Navy’s assistance role in the relief effort. The 7th Fleet said it expects the U.S.S. Tortuga to arrive on Tuesday at the eastern coast of Hokkaido, carrying two heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters. It’ll pick up Japanese troops and vehicles and send them on to Aomori, in northern Honshu. Four more ships are expected to arrive starting on Wednesday: the Blue Ridge, the Essex, the Harpers Ferry and the Germantown.
Retired Capt. Jan van Tol, who commanded the Essex during the 2005 tsunami relief missions in Indonesia, explained that heavy-lift helicopters are needed “given the likely damage to coastal transportation infrastructure and the rugged Japanese terrain.” He told Politico, “Essex is on her way up from Malaysia (means a week away…), and other big decks will no doubt be assigned. They’re the real assets for this given their heavy helo lift capacity, though the carriers will no doubt get the headlines with their SH-60s. Remember that operating the heavy helos is not merely a matter of the deck space (of which the CVNs obviously have a lot more), but also of the aircraft maintenance capability needed to keep the helos operating (and I expect they’ll be worked very heavily).”
May God keep them all safe.