March 15, 2011 / 4:49 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. aims to shield Japan forces from radiation risk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military took new steps to safeguard its personnel from radiation spread by Japan’s earthquake-crippled nuclear plant on Tuesday, moving arriving warships to safer waters and cautioning some forces to limit outdoor activity.

But the U.S. Navy said it would not stop flying relief missions to help Japan after its devastating earthquake and tsunami, even as more U.S. crews were exposed to low-level — but higher than normal — radiation.

“This is not going to sway us from the mission,” Lieutenant Anthony Falvo at the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said.

“All of our crews that are out there are going to be exposed to some level of radiation. These are very low, manageable levels.”

At least 17 Americans on helicopter missions have so far been exposed to the equivalent of a month’s worth of normal radiation.

New explosions on Tuesday at the Fukushima plant, 180 miles north of Tokyo, released low levels of radiation, worsening Japan’s nuclear crisis.

At the Yokosuka Naval Base, 200 miles south of the plant, the U.S. Navy recommended personnel and families to take precautions after detecting low levels of radiation there. The same instructions were given to personnel at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, which is about 150 miles from the nuclear plant.

The precautions included limiting time outdoors but also closing off external ventilation systems “as much as practical.”

“These measures are strictly precautionary in nature,” the Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement. “We do not expect that any United States Federal radiation exposure limits will be exceeded even if no precautionary measures are taken.”

The U.S. Navy also said some arriving warships will be stationed off the west coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, instead of heading to the east coast as planned because of “radiological and navigation hazards.”

The ships are the USS Essex, a large amphibious assault ship; USS Harpers Ferry, a dock-landing ship; and USS Germantown, an amphibious dock-landing ship, the Navy said.

The Navy earlier repositioned eight other warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, after they were caught 115 miles downwind of the nuclear plant.

Editing by Eric Beech and John Whitesides

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