WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military is ramping up relief operations in Japan even as families of troops stationed there weigh whether to leave the country under a voluntary evacuation program.
Here are some questions and answers about the U.S. efforts to help victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami and ways it is grappling with radiation from the Fukushima nuclear complex.
The bulk of U.S. assistance to Japan on the nuclear crisis is coming from other parts of the government. But the military is participating.
A drone aircraft is flying over the Fukushima nuclear complex providing surveillance data. The Pentagon said it was also sending a nine-member team specializing in biological and nuclear hazards to advise Japan’s military.
The U.S. military also has provided nuclear, biological and chemical firefighting suits and masks to Japan for use at the nuclear plant, as well as water pumps and fire trucks.
U.S. troops are not expected to be called into the most affected areas around the plant.
The U.S. military is prohibiting troops from going within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant and preventatively prescribing medication for radiation in some cases.
Air crews have taken potassium iodide tablets ahead of missions that were within 70 miles of the plant. The Pentagon is also bringing potassium iodide from the continental United States to Japan for use if necessary.
Crews that have come back with some degree of contamination have had to discard old clothing, scrub with soap and water or take potassium iodide tablets.
When flying relief missions, they are told to keep the helicopter windows shut and the sleeves of their flight suits rolled down and wear gloves and boots to minimize exposure.
There are 14 ships positioned around Japan, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which is staging search-and-rescue and aid delivery flights.
The Navy initially got caught in a radioactive plume that forced it to reposition the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group farther north. It also repositioned some arriving warships to the west coast of Japan’s Honshu island, instead of heading to the east coast as planned because of “radiological and navigation hazards.”
Forty tons of aid have been delivered to date. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had authorized up to $35 million in initial humanitarian assistance to Japan from the U.S. military.
The Pentagon announced a voluntary evacuation of dependents of military personnel on Japan’s Honshu island, where some families have grown very anxious about radiation. There are about 20,000 eligible dependents on Honshu, according to the U.S. military in Japan but some of them live on bases that are well beyond the danger zone.
If the demand is too great for commercial and chartered aircraft, the Pentagon says it will use military aircraft to fly out military families.