MOSCOW The Pentagon is monitoring radiation from Japan's crippled nuclear reactors, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday when asked about the possibility of bringing home U.S. troops stationed there.
Reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, have leaked radiation after they were struck on March 11 by a massive earthquake and tsunami that led to the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century.
The U.S. military has declared a 50-mile no-go zone around the plant and last week announced a voluntary evacuation of families of troops stationed on Japan's main island of Honshu. The United States has at least 55,000 troops in and around Japan, including those brought in for the relief mission.
The Pentagon has ramped up a massive relief operation for its close ally and has emphasized that they can be kept safe with the right precautions. Gates, speaking to reporters in Moscow, did not appear to suggest any departure from that view.
"We're watching it very carefully. We're very concerned about the health of our men and women in uniform," Gates said.
"But we're also deeply concerned about the well-being of our Japanese allies. So we will do what's best both for our men and women in uniform and our alliance," he said.
He said the U.S. military has so far "erred on the side of caution" when it came to offering dependants of U.S. military personnel the opportunity to leave Honshu.
Mounting evidence of radiation in vegetables, water and milk has stirred concerns in Japan and abroad despite officials' assurances that the levels were not dangerous.
The plant operator has said radiation was found in the Pacific Ocean nearby and Japan's Health Ministry said residents of five municipalities in Fukushima should not use tap water for baby powder milk.
Authorities have also stopped shipments of milk and some vegetables from the area.
Although not harmful, minuscule numbers of radioactive particles believed to have come from the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected as far away as Iceland, but do not pose any danger, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Louise Ireland and Steve Gutterman)